Photo: Bright Bird Photography
Rehearsal dinners have evolved into full-blown events, but there's no need to stress out about planning your own. Here's how to organize a flawless one — effortlessly.
1. Decide Who's Hosting
Traditionally, the bride's parents paid for the wedding and the groom's parents took care of the rehearsal dinner. These days, anything goes. If both sets of parents are sharing the costs of the wedding, then perhaps you and your fiancé may want to pay for the rehearsal dinner.
2. Consider Casual
More and more couples are opting to keep the rehearsal dinner relaxed and low-key. Aside from ensuring that it won't upstage the more formal wedding, a casual rehearsal dinner will loosen up guests who are meeting for the first time. The dress code can come down a notch or more from the wedding attire. To encourage conversation among guests, you might consider open seating rather than assigned tables and buffet or family-style food service.
3. Choose a Fun Theme
A fun way kick off the wedding weekend is to incorporate a theme into your rehearsal dinner. You can build the party around your cultural background, for example (as in a colorful tapas-and-paella fiesta to reflect a bride's Spanish heritage), or play up the wedding's location (say, a wine-and-cheese-tasting party if there are some vineyards in the area). Here are a few more rehearsal-dinner themes:
Outdoor Barbecue: A grilled feast and a game of softball is an inexpensive, relaxed, and easy-to-prepare party for groups both large and small.
Seaside Clambake: Lobster and clams on the sand at sunset is a deliciously low-key and informal treat. Add a bonfire and s'mores for a sweet ending.
Sports Night: Baseball-stadium boxes are a fun party spot for all ages. Serve ballpark faves such as hot dogs and beer.
First-Date Celebration: Chances are, the place was romantic enough to inspire the two of you; let that same spirit infuse your dinner. Hold the party at the site of your first date and name tables after other spots that are meaningful to you.
Hoedown: A country-themed bash, complete with a square-dance caller, will keep guests entertained. Serve southern favorites like fried chicken and cornbread so guests can do-si-do the night away.
4. Pick a Perfect Spot
Hosting the party in a unique location can also give the celebration a different feel. Venues to consider: a bowling alley, a beer garden, or even a local park for a casual barbecue. Restaurants are a popular choice for good reason: The staff can handle every aspect of the evening, from cocktails to menu to music to flowers.
5. Create the Guest List
The rehearsal-dinner guest list typically includes close family members and anyone participating in the wedding ceremony (including the officiant), plus their spouses or dates. It's also considerate to invite your out-of-town guests to the festivities. However, if you end up with a long list of people to include, you can keep costs down by serving only cocktails and hors d'oeuvres or desserts as opposed to a full meal.
6. Time It Right
The rehearsal dinner is traditionally held the night before the wedding, most often a Friday. Usually, the ceremony rehearsal begins around 5:30 p.m. (which gives wedding-party members enough time to get out of work and head to the venue) and typically lasts about 30 to 45 minutes. The dinner takes place immediately after the rehearsal, usually around 7 p.m. For a Sunday or holiday wedding, you have more options, and some couples decide to hold the rehearsal dinner two nights before the wedding so that everyone has more time to relax and recuperate before the big day. If most attendants won't be arriving until late on the eve of your wedding, a breakfast celebration the morning of the wedding is also acceptable.
7. Pass the Mic
It's customary for the host to welcome guests at the beginning of the party. But because the atmosphere at a rehearsal dinner tends to be relaxed, some guests may also want to get up and say a few words about you, so consider opening the floor. Don't be surprised if there's as much roasting as there is toasting — and take it all in good humor. You and your groom should also plan on making short speeches yourselves (either after the host does or just before the evening ends).
8. Give Gifts
The rehearsal dinner is also the traditional time to present gifts to members of the wedding party (especially if the gifts are items you'd like them to wear during the wedding), as well as to the parents, to thank them for their love, guidance, and support.
9. Friendly Reminders
Before the dinner comes to an end, take a moment to slip in any announcements about the wedding day. Double-check that everyone in the wedding party knows what items they're supposed to bring and when and where they're expected to arrive to get ready. If you have a larger audience, remind guests about any activities for them the next day, as well as pickup times and locations for transportation you've arranged to get them to and from the ceremony.