The Who's Who of Rehearsal Dinners: Which Guests to Invite and When

Not everyone should make the cut

Updated 11/01/19

Photo by Emilie White

Practice makes perfect, and all that ceremony practicing can make a bride hungry. Enter the rehearsal dinner, an often exclusive pre-wedding celebration that’s usually hosted by the groom’s parents. It’s a great way to kick off the festivities before you head down the aisle, but who’s supposed to join you?

Our experts are here to break down the rehearsal dinner etiquette.

Who’s Invited

If you’re planning to keep your rehearsal dinner on the small side, start the list off with those who will be at the ceremony rehearsal: Your parents and siblings, wedding party (and their dates), any readers or ushers, and your officiant. Anywhere from 10 to 25 people, this group is the perfect size for an intimate dinner with your VIPs, and you can definitely leave it at that. Here’s a detailed breakdown of each set of guests:

Immediate Family

This might seem fairly obvious, but the immediate family of the soon-to-be newlyweds should always be invited to the rehearsal dinner. This means parents, siblings, and grandparents. Your wedding symbolizes not only the joining of you and your soon-to-be spouse in marriage, but also your families merging, as well. This dinner is the perfect opportunity for some quality family time before your wedding, when no matter how hard you try, you won't have nearly as much time to spend with them.

Close Extended Family

Here's where it gets a little ambiguous. By no means should you feel obligated to invite your aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. However, if your families are small and you only have perhaps two or three on each side whom you'd really love to join you, go for it. Often, couples will invite their godparents, or closest extended family members to join them at this celebration before the celebration.

Bridal Party

Traditionally, all bridal party members should be invited to the rehearsal dinner. Essentially, it's a must. Plus-ones, however, is where it gets tricky. Some etiquette experts suggest that if the bridal party member is invited to your wedding with a date, they should also be able to bring the date to the dinner party on your wedding eve. Others argue that the "plus-one" option need only apply on your actual wedding date. If you have a flower girl or ring bearer, technically they should be invited, too—but this largely depends on their age and relationships. If they are a child of a bridal party member, it would go a long way to invite them. If not, a non-invitation makes more sense.

Out-of-Town Guests

For guests that are traveling for your big day, it's a nice token to extend a rehearsal dinner invitation. They're taking on the expense of time and money to celebrate you, so including them in your pre-wedding celebrations is often customary. However, each situation is unique. If you're having a destination wedding, for example, everyone is traveling, so if you're having an intimate rehearsal dinner, you clearly can't invite everyone. Unlike your bridal party and immediate family, this one's entirely up to you. If you don’t invite all the out-of-towners to dinner, you may want to consider hosting a welcome party later in the evening. Plan for cocktails and desserts to have a little fun while still keeping the costs down. A rolling reception, where guests can come and go as they please, is a great way to welcome guests into town no matter when they arrive, and make them feel comfortable heading to bed early if they’ve had a long day of travel.

Officiant

Many couples choose officiants they have close relationships with. If this is the case, whether it's a religious leader you've grown close with through the years, or your best friend—invite them to the rehearsal dinner with you. Typically, it will be immediately following your actual rehearsal, and it's a customary gesture that will surely be appreciated, and welcomed.

What It Should Look Like

Your rehearsal dinner can be as casual or as formal as you’d like it to be. If the hosts have the budget for it, a more formal sit-down dinner in the private room of a local restaurant is a great way to celebrate in a quiet setting. Or go casual, with a keg of beer and catered barbecue by the hotel pool. Choose a setting that fits your crowd, your budget, and your weekend’s events so it feels like an extension of the wedding, even with a different host.

What You Should Do

A post-rehearsal dinner party is also a great time to open up the mic for toasts from those who won’t be speaking at the reception the next day. Now’s the time for your grandma or childhood best friend to say a little something. You could also have all your toasts during the welcome party (save a welcome toast from the hosts of the wedding and a thank you from the newlyweds) so you can get straight to the dance party after dinner on your wedding night.

How to Inform Guests

Whether you’re serving dinner for the whole gang or are just planning to invite the rest of your guests for a drink post-rehearsal dinner, make sure to send invitations so everyone knows where to be, and when to be there. You can include the information as an insert in your wedding invitation, or go casual with an e-vite instead.

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