An Unconventional Approach to the Rehearsal Dinner—Make Sure to Have Fun and Do What You Want!

Real Weddings
Ilana Stern Rehearsal Dinner

Photography by Erich McVey

What do real brides have to say about the wedding planning experience? Well, it's not all indulgent cake tastings and happy tears at the bridal boutique. Over the next few months, guest blogger and Weddington Way founder and CEO Ilana Stern will share the ins and outs of planning a California wedding, running a business, picking the perfect wedding planner, and customizing your dream dress.

When it was time to plan our rehearsal dinner, Jeff and I really wanted a casual and super social get-together (think a fun Friday night out as opposed to a stuffy sit down dinner). To get that open, laidback feel, we knew we had to do a few things differently.

First, we chose to have the ceremony rehearsal at The Viceroy in Santa Monica, the hotel where most of our guests were staying, instead of our actual wedding venue. Keeping everything in one place meant we didn't have to miss a minute of the rehearsal dinner fun (and force our guests to slog through 45 minutes of Labor Day LA traffic). Plus, cutting down the back and forth travel reduced a lot of stress—it's something I would highly recommend if it makes sense for you.

The Viceroy Santa Monica Rehearsal DinnerIlana Stern Rehearsal DinnerGuests at The Viceroy Santa Monica Rehearsal Dinner

Photography by Erich McVey

Next, even though we had a really large guest list for the wedding, we wanted to make sure that we had a smaller group (if you consider 100 people a smaller group!) to share that special evening with us before the ceremony. Although this may seem like a lot of people, it felt more intimate because the guests were only family, the bridal party, and friends who had traveled internationally. As for the space, we opted for a hip outdoor pool that was chic yet informal, with just the right splash of Hollywood glamour. Picture cabanas, a beachy breeze, and festive lanterns lighting the dining area at sunset. It was the perfect way to give our guests a taste of the LA vibe that we were striving for the entire weekend.

Ilana Stern Weddington Way Co-Founder

Photography by Erich McVey

Another unconventional way we celebrated? We didn't serve a sit-down dinner! Instead, we hosted a big cocktail party with lots of fabulous food stations like brick oven pizza and a barbecue carving station. This non-traditional set-up gave us a chance to catch up with old friends and encouraged everyone to mingle. To make sure everyone enjoyed themselves, we had an open bar (complete with a delicious blood orange margarita signature cocktail!). But here's the catch: it closed at 9 p.m., which helped us keep everyone from burning out on the first night!

The smaller guest list at our rehearsal dinner allowed for more heartfelt moments. Everyone loved the touching photo slideshow that my mom put together, featuring childhood pictures of Jeff and me. The dinner's intimate setting also gave us the chance to express our thanks to our parents, who played a huge role in our wedding journey (and the chance to present some unexpected thank you gifts!).

The Viceroy Santa Monica Rehearsal DinnerThe Viceroy Santa Monica Rehearsal Dinner

Photography by Erich McVey

At one point I looked around the room and realized that most of my bridesmaids were wearing dresses from Weddington Way and many of my other girlfriends looked super stylish in our new party frocks. I was very touched to see the significant women in my life show support for what I've worked so hard on at such an important moment of my life.

Looking back on that night, I think one of the best (though somewhat untraditional) decisions we made was to invite our wedding photographer to document it. It was great because he got a ton of cute, candid shots of all of our friends and family having a great time celebrating with us on the eve of our wedding. Our rehearsal dinner was such a joyful start to our wedding weekend for both our guests and for Jeff and me was because we decided to scrap the tradition and do things our way. If you do what really makes you and your fiancé happy, your friends and family can't help but have a good time!

—Ilana Stern

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