How to Plan a Rehearsal Dinner in 11 Easy Steps

We're breaking down how to prep for the most memorable rehearsal dinner, ever

Rehearsal dinner table set-up with bright linens

Jenn Byrne

For many couples, rehearsal dinners have evolved into full-blown events, but there's no need to stress out about planning your own. With less than 24 hours until you and your partner tie the knot and the arrival of your friends and family, it really is the perfect time to throw a fun party. But there are a few things to consider as you're planning.

Traditionally, the rehearsal dinner was given the night before the wedding by the parents of the groom. Everyone in both families, in the wedding party, and from out of town was invited to the dinner, and it was a more formal affair. But like many other wedding traditions, couples are starting to make these pre-nuptial parties their own. Rehearsal dinner agendas are sometimes much more casual or more intimate and, really, the way you plan it is all up to you.

In whatever way you choose to use your rehearsal dinner to kick off the festivities—whether strictly for pre-ceremony practice or a little bit of fun—there are a few key points to think about. To help with your planning, read on for our ultimate rehearsal dinner checklist.

How to Plan the Perfect Rehearsal Dinner
Jessica Olah/Brides 

1. Decide Who Will Host

Traditionally, when it comes to rehearsal dinner history and etiquette, 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. Talk with your partner and your parents to find the best solution for your situation.

2. Consider Keeping It Casual

More and more couples are opting to keep the rehearsal dinner relaxed and low-key, while still adding in memorable touches. Consider planning something outdoors if you have a friend or family member willing to let you host at their home or opt for a gorgeous garden patio. Aside from ensuring that it won't upstage the more formal wedding, a casual rehearsal dinner will relieve any pressure on guests who are meeting for the first time. Plus, then the dress code can come down a notch if you desire. To encourage conversation among guests, you might also opt for open seating rather than assigned tables and buffet or family-style food service rather than a formal, seated option.

3. Choose a Fun Theme

A fun way to kick off the wedding weekend is to incorporate a theme into your rehearsal dinner. You can build the party around your cultural background or play up the wedding's location.

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 Soiree

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.

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.

Taco Night

Keep things casual with this fun option. More and more, food trucks are being booked for rehearsal dinners, so why not ask your local favorites? Host a backyard fiesta with your favorite food.

4. Pick a Unique Location

Hosting the party in a unique location can also give the celebration a different feel. Consider venues like a bowling alley, beer garden, winery, or even a local park for a casual barbecue. Restaurants are also a popular choice for good reason, since the staff can handle every aspect of the evening, from cocktails to the menu and even the music.

Remember, when it comes to decorations, it's not the wedding reception, so you don't necessarily need linens and centerpieces. If you're hosting on the beach or in a pretty backyard, the space will require little decoration, which will help with your overall budget. Opt for pops of color and simple decor where needed, and sit back and enjoy the time to celebrate with your guests.

Hold your party at the microbrewery where the two of you met, the Italian restaurant where you had your first date, or the beautiful park where your significant other proposed.

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. Consider Timing

The rehearsal dinner schedule is traditionally held the night before the wedding, most often on 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 attendees won't be arriving until late on the eve of your wedding, a breakfast celebration the morning of the wedding is also a great idea.

7. Think About Your Menu

The easiest way to choose the food? Host the rehearsal dinner at your favorite restaurant. You know you'll be getting top-notch food right from the start. Or, if you've opted for a different type of venue, serve up hometown favorites. Especially if you'll be introducing your out-of-town guests to your local cuisine, consider items like Chicago pizza, New Orleans Cajun, Tex-Mex, Maine lobster—your guests will eat it up. Plus, with fewer guests than you'll be feeding on the big day, you will have fewer likes and dislikes to worry about—so feel free to be daring.

8. Plan to 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 give a quick toast, 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 partner should also plan on making short speeches yourselves (either after the host does or just before the evening ends).

9. Give Gifts to the Wedding Party

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.

10. Take Care of Any Last-Minute 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 any pick-up times and locations for transportation you've arranged to get them to and from the ceremony.

11. Remember to Have Fun

After you and your fiancé have worked so hard to plan your wedding together, you deserve to enjoy this evening with each other and your loved ones. Plan for something fun, and your rehearsal dinner will be totally stress-free.

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