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Whether you're planning a weekend full of wedding events or keeping things relatively simple, your celebration will likely kick off with a rehearsal dinner. What is this event? Generally speaking, it's a party that occurs immediately following the wedding ceremony rehearsal the day before the wedding, and it's traditionally planned and hosted by the parents of the groom. Typically everyone in both families, members of the wedding party, and any out-of-town guests are invited to the event, but the final guest list is ultimately up to the discretion of the couple. For many couples, rehearsal dinners have evolved into full-blown events complete with their venue, décor, and specialized menu, but you should feel empowered to make it your own and keep things as formal or informal as you'd like.
Ready to start planning your own rehearsal dinner? From creating a seating chart to selecting a unique venue to coming up with a menu, you'll have plenty of creative freedom when it comes to crafting your event. Whether you want to host an intimate affair or a larger shindig, the possibilities are endless. With that in mind, we talked to wedding planners Layne Povey and Sunna Yassin and asked them answer etiquette questions and share their best tips for planning a rehearsal dinner.
Meet the Expert
- Layne Povey is the principal designer and planner at The Lynden Lane Co., a California-based wedding and event design and planning boutique.
- Sunna Yassin is the owner of Bash Please, a full-service creative event production company with studios in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Rehearsal Dinner Etiquette
Rehearsal dinners may be part of the wedding weekend, but they come with their own set of etiquette rules. Here are answers to the most common questions couples have about this pre-wedding event.
Who throws the rehearsal dinner?
While the groom's parents traditionally plan and host this pre-wedding event, times are certainly changing. "In years past, it was expected that the groom's family hosted and threw the rehearsal dinner, but today, it can be the couple themselves or either of the couple’s family. Sometimes it will even be a mix of all parties," says Povey. If you have very specific ideas for what you'd like this event to look like, taking control of the planning process might be the right decision for you.
Who pays for the rehearsal dinner?
Under the traditional assumption that the bride's family is footing the bill for the wedding, general etiquette suggests the groom's side organize and pay for the rehearsal dinner. We all know that in 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.
Who gets invited to the rehearsal dinner?
Generally speaking, you should invite "immediate family members, the wedding party, their guests, and sometimes out-of-town guests if they've traveled a long way," Povey says. Additionally, the officiant and any readers or ushers may be added to the wedding rehearsal dinner guest list. Depending on how large your families and wedding party are, that can add up to a pretty sizable crowd right there. Beyond that, many couples also invite extended family and the ring bearer and flower girl (depending on their ages and closeness to the couple).
What's the best 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 printed iteration. 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. "We like to include the invite with the main invitation suite so that the design is cohesive," says Yassin.
When do you send rehearsal dinner invitations?
As with any organized event, guests should be informed four to six weeks prior to the 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.
When do you throw the rehearsal dinner?
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 or near the actual 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?
The rehearsal dinner can be as formal or informal as you like, depending on your budget and desires. Many couples try to keep the rehearsal dinner on theme with the wedding, which ensures that this celebration feels like an extension of the wedding itself and blends seamlessly into the rest of the weekend. "Sometimes when the couple is having a really traditional wedding, they want an equally traditional rehearsal dinner to set the tone. Sometimes, though, they want to have something that feels more relaxed and easy. There are no rules. We have done fantastic rehearsal dinners where the guests never sat down and music played all night," Povey says.
How to Plan a Rehearsal Dinner in 10 Steps
Ready to plan a wedding rehearsal dinner? We've taken the guesswork out of the planning process and broken it all down into simple 10 steps.
1. Decide who will host.
Traditionally, the groom's parents take care of the rehearsal dinner, but these days, anything goes. If both sets of parents are splitting the cost of the wedding, then perhaps you and your partner may want to pay for the rehearsal dinner. Talk with your partner and your parents to find the best solution for your situation.
2. 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.
Pick a theme that's unique to you and your partner's interests. Consider an outdoor barbecue, a seaside bonfire with s'mores, or a backyard fiesta featuring your favorite food trucks.
3. Pick a unique location.
Whether you pick a favorite family restaurant or a place that has sentimental value to the couple, you definitely have options. "We love a rehearsal dinner that is intimately held at a family home. Or, if your wedding venue is at a hotel, consider spots in the hotel that are more unique than the traditional wedding locations. Around the pool of the hotel, in a charming bar, or even a large guest suite with a view," suggests Povey.
4. 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.
5. 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. 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 on the morning of the wedding is also a possibility.
6. Plan your menu.
Whether you plan on hosting the rehearsal dinner at your favorite restaurant or a banquet hall (in which case, you'll need to hire catering), be sure to get your menu squared away early on in the planning stages. When in doubt, consider serving up hometown favorites as a way of introducing out-of-town guests to your local cuisine. Who doesn't love Chicago pizza, New Orleans Cajun, Tex-Mex, or Maine lobster? Your guests will eat it up.
7. Plan to pass the mic.
While it's customary for the host to welcome guests at the beginning of the party, some guests may also want to get up and give a quick toast. Yassin encourages couples to "pick an emcee for the evening who can oversee all of the toasts and speeches." 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).
8. Give gifts to the wedding party.
The rehearsal dinner is 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). Feel free to also take a moment to thank your parents for their love, guidance, and support—any gifts you have for them can also be handed out at this time.
9. 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.
10. Remember to have fun.
After you and your partner 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.