The Ultimate Guide to Rehearsal Dinner Etiquette

All the Answers About the Second Most Important Meal of Your Wedding

Photography by Erich McVey

As you start to plan your rehearsal dinner, you'll naturally have questions about rehearsal dinner etiquette. It's an important part of your wedding weekend, and you're wondering who to invite, when to invite them, who pays, how formal it should be, etc. We're here to help! Read on for answers to the most common rehearsal dinner etiquette questions.

Rehearsal Dinner Etiquette
 Julie Bang/Brides

Who Pays for the Wedding-Rehearsal Dinner?

Traditionally speaking, general etiquette suggests that the groom's side organizes and pays for the rehearsal dinner, under the traditional assumption that the bride's family is fronting the wedding. We all know that modern times, finances, etiquette, and tradition have expanded and changed, but for super-traditional couples, this is the general rule of thumb.

For all couples, a general rule is to have an open and honest discussion, similar to that of who's footing the wedding bill, about your plans, budget, and hopes with both families to ensure a drama- and stress-free rehearsal dinner.

What's the Proper Way to Invite Guests to the Rehearsal Dinner?

When it comes to rehearsal dinner invitation etiquette, it's not as strict as wedding invitation etiquette. While everyone coming should receive some kind of invitation, it doesn't have to be a formal invitation. For a rehearsal dinner, an online invitation or phone call is perfectly acceptable. Typically, more formal affairs come along with a formal invitation via post, and more casual, laid-back gatherings come with a phone call or e-vite.

When Do You Send out Formal Wedding-Rehearsal Dinner Invitations?

As with any organized event, invited guests should be informed four to six weeks prior to the rehearsal-dinner date for planning purposes. Rehearsal-dinner guest lists cannot be assumed, as some couples opt for immediate family only and others invite nearly half their wedding guest list. Let your guests know in a timely and considerate fashion.

Who Comes to the Rehearsal Dinner?

Here's the shortlist of who to invite to your wedding-rehearsal dinner (but remember, it's always your choice):

  • Your parents and siblings
  • The wedding party and their dates
  • The officiant
  • Any readers or ushers

Depending on how large your families and bridal party are, that can add up to a pretty sizable crowd right there. Beyond that, many couples also invite:

  • Extended family
  • The ring bearer and flower girl, depending on their ages and closeness to the couple
  • Out-of-town guests

For traditional Saturday weddings, rehearsal dinners are most often hosted on the wedding's eve, directly after rehearsing the wedding ceremony. Couples that don't have an actual rehearsal often opt to still celebrate with a dinner or gathering. For the increasingly popular Sunday or Friday weddings, dinners can be hosted the Thursday, Friday, or Saturday prior. In regard to timing, plan so that all guests (and the soon-to-be bride and groom, of course) don't have too late of an evening. After all, the main event is yet to come!

Where Should the Rehearsal Dinner Be Held?

Proximity is key. Aim to have your rehearsal dinner celebration within 20 or so miles of the hotel where your guests are staying and/or nearby the actual rehearsal venue where your ceremony is taking place. Keep in mind that your guests are traveling to celebrate your weekend, so they shouldn't be expected to travel much more than 45 minutes to your rehearsal dinner. Wherever possible, it's always appreciated if you provide clear directions or even transportation.

How Formal Should the Rehearsal Dinner Be?

That's entirely up to you! The rehearsal dinner can be as formal or informal as you like, depending on your budget and desires. There's no right or wrong way to have a rehearsal dinner.

Many couples try to keep the rehearsal dinner on theme with the wedding, however, so the dinner feels like an extension of the wedding itself and blends seamlessly into the rest of the weekend. This can be done with flowers, colors, or even food choices.

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