Let’s start with the basics here, shall we? Wedding rehearsal dinners are typically held right after your wedding rehearsal the night before your big day. It’s always best to schedule these one after the other to alleviate any invitees becoming lost in the commotion of the day. The rehearsal dinner is a great way for your two families, and groups of friends to spend time together in a relaxed setting before your wedding. Savor the special moments with everyone you can in this intimate setting. When can you say you’ll ever have your closest friends and family together in one weekend ever again? Come wedding night, you’ll most likely be pulled in too many different directions to put in quality time with anyone. The ultimate goal here is to relieve pre-wedding stress!
Location + Style
The great news? You can opt for a rehearsal dinner that’s formal (banquet or garden party) or casual (outdoor picnic or barbecue). The style of the rehearsal dinner can complement the wedding, but it should not copy or overshadow it. Some couples opt for a complete contrast. For example, a crab feast can be a great choice for a black tie wedding!
You’ve just spent months planning a wedding, rehearsal dinners should not add to that stress. Many rehearsal dinners are held at restaurants, maybe a favorite date spot or one of your favorite restaurants that has a special meaning to the two of you. For example if Mexico is where you’re going on your honeymoon, a Mexican restaurant would be fun selection! Ultimately, the setting of the rehearsal dinner depends on the budget, how many guests there’ll be and what kind of party the host envisions.
Speaking of hosts, who traditionally is responsible for the rehearsal dinner? That would be the groom’s family, more specifically his parents. But the choice can be up to you! Especially with more relaxed modern standards the couple may pick up the tab if their parent’s are collectively footing the bill for the wedding to say thank you. You’ll want to give yourselves enough time to scout venues so plan on booking your location four to six months in advance to ensure you have a prime selection.
Who to Invite?
Typically only those who take part in the rehearsal (the couple, their parents, immediate family, the officiant, the wedding party (including any child attendants), and readers—plus their spouses or dates), but you have the option to make it larger if need be. You might want to include other family members (such as grandparents) and close friends, for example. And many couples invite their out-of-town guests as well, turning the dinner into a welcome party!
If you have family or friends that traveled far to be at your wedding, extend the invitation to them as a thank-you for their extra effort. If you’re throwing a destination wedding or a party where at least half of the guests are from out of town, show your appreciation by inviting everyone to some kind of night-before festivity. If you’re working with a limited budget, stick to a more exclusive group for the rehearsal dinner and consider having an informal welcome party or dessert party for out of towners later in the evening.
So We Eat, and Then What?
I always encourage to have my guests initiate a very casual happy hour beforehand to allow everyone a chance to arrive at the rehearsal dinner location and meet before sitting down and breaking bread. This could be something as simple an an impromptu meet-up at the bar before you’re seated, if a more formal cocktail hour is not preferred. Be sure to walk around and catch up with loved ones and meet more of your in-laws throughout the evening, as during your actual wedding this may be harder to do.
This is also the time to hand out any wedding party gifts! Parent gifts can also be presented at the rehearsal dinner as well.
Toasts are also a big part of the evening, and unlike those at the wedding reception, where the order may be well planned, rehearsal dinner toasts tend to be spontaneous. In this intimate and casual setting, guests will often feel comfortable sharing their memories of the couple and wishing them well. If the groom’s parents are hosting, his father might begin by welcoming all the guests and offering a toast to the couple. At this time the couple also has a chance to say a few words for people taking part in the wedding the next day.
Lastly, while everyone is still seated and you have their attention, it’s also your chance to slip in a few last-minute reminders and announcements about the next day. Before calling it a night, double-check that everyone in the wedding party knows exactly where to go the next day, what they’re supposed to bring, and when and where they’re expected to arrive to get ready.