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, the couple often pays for the rehearsal dinner, especially if both families are footing the wedding bill.
"Now more than ever, couples are opting to have low-key rehearsal dinners," says celebrity party planner Mindy Weiss. 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," Weiss says. The dress code can come down a notch or more from the wedding attire (there's no reason you can't do shorts and flip-flops, for example, if that's your style). To encourage conversation among guests, you might consider open seating rather than assigned tables, and buffet or family-style food service.
A great way to set apart your rehearsal dinner from your reception is to incorporate a theme. 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).
Pick a Perfect Spot
Hosting the party in a unique spot can also give it a different feel. Weiss has held rehearsal dinners in a bowling alley, where beer, burgers and fries were served, and at a sushi bar, where customized chopsticks were given as favors. 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. That said, if you and your fiancé prefer a dinner at a private home, there are important things to consider: Will there be enough easily accessible parking? How many bartenders will you need? Will everyone have a place to sit at mealtime?
Check Your List Twice
"A rehearsal-dinner guest list typically includes close family members and anyone participating in the wedding ceremony, plus their spouses or dates," says planner-to-the-stars Yifat Oren, who adds that it's also considerate to invite your out-of-town guests. 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.
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). This is your chance to thank your families and wedding attendants for all that they've done.
Rehearsal Dinner Ideas
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.