Jillian Mackey had seen wedding favors that seemed like an afterthought, and she knew she did not want to give one of those — an impractical trinket that would likely get tossed in the trash or thrown in a drawer.
So during her year-long engagement to Jason Simms, the couple picked blackberries, strawberries and rhubarb in Oregon, where they lived; gathered cactus pears in New Mexico, where he grew up; and plucked blueberries and apricots when they relocated to her home state, Connecticut. By the time they married on Aug. 2 in New Haven, Conn., the bride, who learned to make jam as a girl, had turned their bounty into dozens of jars of jam for their 135 wedding guests.
The idea was to create a favor that was personalized and different, "something I could really feel came from us as a couple, that we had actually put time and effort into," Jillian Simms said.
The wedding favor — that little thank-you-for-coming gift — has risen to new heights.
"It's not just Jordan almonds and chocolate truffles anymore," said Jennifer Condon, wedding style and registry director for Brides magazine. "It's anything that's meaningful to the bride and groom. It's really anything goes with favors."
With so many choices, made even more numerous with personalization and online inspiration, favors have become more specific to the couple, their wedding theme or the venue.
"It used to be more tchotchke-type items — candles, bottle stoppers, picture frames — just really generic things that you can get in bulk easily without putting too much thought into it," said Amy Frugoli, a wedding planner in San Jose, Calif. "And now it's more personalized, well-thought-out and usable items."
Great favors nowadays include food and photos — things that guests can enjoy immediately and that aren't "going to clutter their house," said Frugoli, who also co-owns a sweets company.
When the party is over, guests can find bags and containers to fill with decorated cookies, candy from a colorful buffet, popcorn in fun flavors or the fixings for s'mores.
"It goes back to a nostalgia thing," said Frugoli. "People are looking for a lot of comfort food and fun things."
Baked goods — cake pops, pie pops and cupcakes — can be decorated to fit a theme or color scheme.
Heartier fare, like pizza and crepes, is sometimes served up after a night of drinking and dancing.
"We've been seeing a lot of people doing a food truck at end of the night," Condon said. "As guests are leaving, they can pick up a midnight snack for the ride home."
Foodie couples may give a gourmet gift, such as an herb-infused salt or a small bottle of wine, or vinegar or olive oil in a distinctive flavor.
Couples with a cooking specialty might offer homemade goodies, often with custom labels and packaging. Frugoli recalls a groom who made his famous barbecue sauce; a couple that gave honey, and another that did marinated olives.
"If there's something they're known for or they do well or they want to share with people, I'm seeing them make their own stuff," she said.
Instant gratification also comes by way of the photo favor, a strip of pictures from a photo booth, an instant photo that gets popped into a frame, or a flip book made from a short video taken at the event, sometimes with silly props.
The bridal couple often gets a copy of the images too. "They get to see everybody, like Grandma in a moustache and glasses," said Frugoli.
A favor can also do double duty.
"Instead of one large centerpiece, a bride will do eight tiny little vases that create a centerpiece together, and each person takes one home as a favor," Condon said. Or there might be picture frames holding the table numbers.
Frugoli has seen couples grow "braver," more willing to eschew tradition and give what feels right to them. Those with an outdoor ceremony in a cool setting might give fleece blankets; others might hand out hangover kits with mints and pain reliever. Or they can customize a drink cozy or tin of tea.
"The result is phenomenal," Frugoli said. "They feel happy giving those things out because it has a purpose. The guests are happy because they are getting something fun, cool and unique."
As she labeled the half-pint jars of jam with her guests' names and table numbers, Simms, 30, gave each guest a flavor she felt would be special to them.
"I got a really good reaction," she said. "Each person had something that was clearly made just for them."
And how does Frugoli know that guests appreciate these modern favors?
"They actually take them," she said. "You can always tell when it's a bad favor when you find a bunch at the end of the night."