Progressive Rehearsal Dinner: What Is It & How to Host One

Why settle for one venue when you can have three?

Updated 10/10/17

Melissa Marshall

Your rehearsal dinner marks a few important wedding milestones all at once: a successful wedding rehearsal, the coming together of two families, and the first opportunity for your bridal party and your closest family members to start celebrating your impending marriage in the same space. This can be a tricky event, though: out-of-town guests might be arriving on late flights and need to time to freshen up, and others might have had a long day of travel and need to retire early.

A traditional rehearsal dinner held in a single venue for a standard amount of time doesn't take into account the individual challenges of meeting up with everyone the night before the nuptials. So, let us introduce the progressive rehearsal dinner: a flexible, moving event where each section (cocktails, dinner, dessert) happens at a different location, letting friends and family decide which parts they can attend.

When Gail Johnson's namesake wedding and events company was tasked with planning a progressive rehearsal dinner, she was excited to find a new way for families to come together. "Some people haven’t even met before the rehearsal," she says. "A progressive dinner gives people a chance to meet both sides of the family. It’s always kind of nice for everybody to be familiar with each other and have already met before walking down the aisle."

One of Johnson's most important suggestions is that couples hire a planner or coordinator if they opt for a progressive rehearsal dinner. Between food, drink, and venue negotiating, it's best to have one person focused on the details while everyone else focuses on enjoying the night. "You have to be really focused to do this," she says. "You need some help to pull it all together."

If you can't think of where to host an event like this, remember that a nontraditional layout calls for nontraditional venues, too. "Have fun with it," Johnson suggests. "If you have a favorite dessert place, this is the time to incorporate all the things that you love that you may not be able to include in the wedding."

For couples having the wedding in their hometown or where family lives, ask parents or other close family to host part of the event. For example, attendees can stop by the bride's parents' house for cocktails—an informal start to the evening will make it truly optional for those who need to check-in at their hotels or settle in after a long flight. Then, move the party to a restaurant for the dinner. Stress on your invitations that this will be the main portion of the evening in order to maximize your chances for everyone to attend. Round out the night with dessert or after-dinner drinks at a local favorite. Or head to the host hotel on the last stop, so your guests can filter in and out as needed.

Johnson cautions, though, that a progressive rehearsal dinner is "not for everybody, so it would have to be thought out. It’s not a one size fits all." Before you make this decision, think about your budget and expectations for the night before your wedding.

If you choose to do a progressive dinner, all of the necessary wrangling and coordinating will be worth it in the end. Breaking the big event into smaller sections makes it more accessible to more of the VIPs you want to share your night with. And if you, your spouse-to-be, and the in-laws have been struggling with who will host the dinner and where, you can please more people if you create more opportunities for input. Most importantly, everyone in attendance will get a chance to see more of the place where you've chosen to tie the knot, and you'll have lots of fun, food, and conversation along the way!

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