A rehearsal dinner usually takes place the night before your wedding day right after the ceremony rehearsal. The guest list will include:
- the happy couple
- the wedding party plus spouses/dates
- siblings plus spouses/dates
- the officiate and his/her spouse or date
- out-of-town guests
If you’re having a more intimate rehearsal dinner, you can omit out-of-town guests from the attendee list. If you would still like to do something special for them, host a separate gathering; perhaps a brunch at your aunt’s home or cocktails at the hotel’s restaurant for an hour after check-in.
Rehearsal dinner invitations should be sent after the wedding invitations but should still provide plenty of advanced notice (i.e., four weeks before the actual event). It’s easier also to wait to send rehearsal dinner invitations until after you’ve received wedding RSVPs. Plan the dinner during the early evening because many of the attendees—including the couple!—will need to get a good night’s sleep before the big day!
Rehearsal dinner invitations can be more casual and fun than the wedding invitations and don’t necessarily have to match the same style.
If you want to stick to tradition, usually the groom’s parents will plan and pay for the wedding rehearsal dinner (a.k.a. groom’s dinner); this is assuming the bride’s parents are paying for the majority of the actual wedding. Modern couples are paying for their own rehearsal dinner or asking that both sets of parents share the cost.
No matter who hosts, make sure to set a clear and comfortable budget for the funders before making any big decisions about the night.
Where to Host
With a shorter guest list than your wedding, you have more venue choices at your discretion. Some typical places to host a rehearsal dinner are a restaurant with a private room, someone’s home/backyard, or a casual eatery. It’s best to keep the dinner simple so everyone can have a comfortable time preparing for the wedding.
The dinner’s formality—although leaning on the casual side—will be at the discretion of the hosts. A golden rule to follow is that the formality of the rehearsal dinner should never exceed the formality of the actual wedding.
A few other items to consider when choosing a venue is the host’s budget, comfortable accommodation for your guests, whether or not the venue is convenient for out-of-town guests (if it’s not, make sure to provide transportation for them), and how far away the venue is to your ceremony rehearsal if you’re driving there directly after.
Moments to Capture
Even though the rehearsal dinner is a prerequisite for the wedding, it is still a time to celebrate and remember. Toasts are a major part of making the rehearsal dinner stand out from the wedding and funny, longer toasts are perfect for this more intimate evening. If the groom’s parents are paying, the groom’s father traditionally welcomes guests as they sit down for dinner. The best man can also welcome guests. After the welcoming toasts, allow an open floor for anyone else who feels like standing up to make a toast. Towards the end of the dinner, the couple should thank everyone for their attendance and remind everyone of anything important for the next day’s festivities.
This is also a great time to exchange presents. Thank you cards and gifts should be given to bridesmaids and groomsmen on this night, especially if the wedding party should wear the gifts during the wedding. The couple can also give gifts to their parents as thank yous and/or each other in preparation for the next day.
Any other performances, like poem readings, songs, videos, etc. that you might think are inappropriate for the wedding would be great to include during the rehearsal dinner!
Remember, this is the last big event right before the wedding, so make sure to celebrate casually and have a fun time, but to get plenty of rest!