Your rehearsal dinner sets the tone for the rest of the wedding weekend. To ensure a perfectly executed event, Danielle Harrity, director of events at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, New York, gave us her take on the ideal pacing for a seated dinner, plus take-home tips to keep things running smoothly.
5:00-6:00: The Rehearsal
Your event planner, your house of worship's coordinator, or the officiant will run the show. Bring readings, your marriage license, and any props (unity candle, flower-girl basket, etc.). Invite only those involved in the ceremony to attend—more will slow things down.
6:00-6:30: Travel to the Venue
Unless you want to spend half the night driving, pick a location that's within 30 minutes of the rehearsal site.
6:30-7:30: Cocktail Hour
Extend it to 90 minutes for more time to mingle. Drink lots of water, less champagne.
7:30: Guests Sit Down
Avoid uncomfortable run-ins (e.g., your mom and your new 25-year-old stepmother) by assigning tables. During a short welcome speech, point out the groups in the room (California cousins, Ole Miss frat pals), and thank whoever is hosting.
7:35-7:45 First Two Toasts
Whether your crowd is raucous and needs to be kept to a time limit, or shy and needs to be prodded to speak, asking a friend to emcee the toasts is a good idea to keep the evening on track.
7:45-8:45 Appetizer and Main Course
If you're up for it, you can see more of your friends and family by switching tables with each course.
Wait until everyone has dessert in front of them before starting a new round of speeches.
8:50-9:10 More Toasts
Conventional wisdom says to limit toasts to no more than five in a night. Rather have an open mic? Do it after dinner, when people are full and relaxed.
9:10-9:30: Coffee and Mingling
Make a point of saying hi to everyone before you go—yes, even Cousin Bernice.
9:30-9:45: Wrap-Up and Travel Time to the After Party
If you're keeping the dinner small, an after-party is a great way to raise a glass with the rest of your wedding guests. On a budget? Invite everyone to an informal meet-up at your favorite bar.
9:45-11:30: After Party
You've got somewhere to be tomorrow, so be sure that you and the groom leave early.
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