How to Plan Memorable Rehearsal Dinner

From backyard barbecues to rooftop hotels, there are some fabulous places you can choose to have your rehearsal dinner which will be the perfect kick-off for your wedding weekend.

This popular wedding tradition is usually held the night before the wedding, right after the ceremony rehearsal.  Its purpose is to gather the people who are most important to the bride and groom together for a time of celebration in a relaxed atmosphere the evening before the wedding.

Rehearsal Dinner Sign
Photo by WishfulPaperie

It is customary for the rehearsal dinner to be hosted by the groom’s parents. A bride has many tasks to take on before the wedding day, but this one she can scratch off her “to do” list. Most parents of the groom are excited to play a part in the wedding planning and the rehearsal dinner is their moment to shine. If the groom’s parents are not able to take on the responsibility of this event, it is completely acceptable for the bride and groom or another relative or friend to host. (P.S. The host holds the title of Creative Director; so if you’re a bride who wants to be involved, be sure to communicate that clearly from the beginning.)


Planning a Rehearsal Dinner

We have simplified the planning process by offering this step-by-step list to make sure the rehearsal evening is a relaxing, unforgettable night.

1. Determine the guest list.

When deciding who will be invited to the rehearsal dinner, start with those that are part of the rehearsal. Be sure to include everyone participating in the wedding such as the officiant, any child attendants and their parents, vocalist, readers etc. You should also include the spouses and “plus ones” of those in the wedding party and your immediate family members. Next, consider inviting aunts or uncles that have been important in your life. Although not required, you can also consider inviting family traveling from out of state and any other special people that you would like to attend.

2. Find a location.

There are a few things to consider when choosing your rehearsal dinner location. The first thing you want to do is determine your budget and the number of people attending. That will determine which venues match your needs.

Rehearsal dinners can take any form, from a casual backyard BBQ to a formal dinner. The only requirement is that you don’t outshine the wedding.

You can choose a memorable location, such as the restaurant where the couple had their first date, or a convenient location. If a lot of out of town guests will be attending, consider a location convenient to where they are staying and where the wedding will be held.

Rehearsal dinner invite
Photo from Walmart

3. Send invitations.

Traditionally, paper invitations are sent through the mail, but these days it is also acceptable to extend the invitation digitally. There are many lovely digital invitation options, like this one from Minted.

The invitations should be sent at the same time as, or just after the wedding invitations so that guests can plan their travel accordingly.

Be sure to include the following information on an invitation:

  • The names of the couple
  • The event date, time and location
  • The RSVP deadline and method (email is often easiest)
  • Any additional information to know: wedding website information, dress code and so on.
rehearsal dinner table
Photo from Love & Lavender

4. Plan your menu and choose a theme.

The type of food you serve is key when planning your evening. Choosing your food is a great way to determine your theme. Do you want it to be formal or casual? If the wedding is in the summer or at the beach you may want to incorporate a fun lobster or clam bake. In the fall and winter consider harvest foods like soups and roasts, whereas spring celebrations call for lighter fare such as grilled veggies and fruit.

My son and his future bride are getting married in Lexington, Kentucky which is known for thoroughbred farms, horse racing and bourbon. Most of the bride’s family will be traveling from out of state and will be invited to the rehearsal dinner. To show off the best of Kentucky, the theme of the dinner will be based around regional favorites such as the traditional Hot Brown, beer cheese grits and the groom’s bourbon of choice, Weller. The table centerpieces will be set with bourbon barrels lids used to display candles and sterling silver mint julep cups will serve as vases containing red roses in honor of the Kentucky Derby.

5. Create an agenda.

You want to be conscious of time so that everyone at the rehearsal dinner gets plenty of rest in preparation for the big day. In order for things to run smoothly and stay on track it’s a good idea to have an agenda.

Anyone actually involved in the wedding will meet at the place of the ceremony to practice for the wedding. The rehearsal usually takes 1-1½ hours, so a good time to schedule the wedding rehearsal is around 5:00 p.m., but the time may be dictated by the wedding venue. After the rehearsal time is set, you can then make a schedule for the rehearsal dinner.

Depending on the number of people and timing, you can start with a cocktail hour which gives everyone time to get there and mingle. Once dinner is started you can add the touches to make the evening extra special.

Toasts are traditionally a main feature of the rehearsal dinner. The host (often the groom’s father) makes the first toast, welcoming guests and expressing his pleasure about the upcoming nuptials. Consider opening the floor for anyone who would like to say a toast or share a story about the bride and groom. For a special touch, a slide show can be shown featuring milestones of the bride and groom as well as special moments throughout their courtship.

Plan a time for last-minute reminders and any announcements regarding the wedding day. And most importantly, leave time for thank you’s from the bride and groom.

6. Things not to forget.

  • A guest book, even for the rehearsal dinner, is a good idea for remembering who attended for years to come.
  • Plan to have someone there to take pictures.
  • Make sure that everyone in the wedding party is prepared for the next day. Remind them of what items they are supposed to bring and when they are expected to arrive to get ready for the wedding.

7. Be flexible.

Go ahead and prepare for the fact that not everything is going to be perfect. The schedule may get a little off track. You might have someone not able to come at the last minute. Don’t let these little things ruin your night. Afterall, you want this night to be a special time for the bride and groom. A chance to spend quality time with those they love before the next day when they walk down the aisle to say “I do”.

Jennifer Coffey
Jennifer Coffey

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