I often get questions about the rehearsal dinner from the couples I work with. Whether you can (or elect to) have an actual ceremony rehearsal or not, a rehearsal dinner is a wonderful way to start the wedding celebrations! The rehearsal dinner is a chance to take a deep breath and enjoy the moment; it should be a stress-free/low-key event. Plus, for those couples with friends and family traveling from afar, it is an added opportunity for you to mingle with some of your guests in a more intimate setting, as it often feels like there is not enough time to spend with everyone on the wedding day itself.
So, then, what are the basics of a typical rehearsal dinner?
Traditionally, the groom’s parents hosted (aka paid for) the rehearsal dinner. This is still a common practice but, like many traditions, it has become less strict with time. It’s completely acceptable for the couple, the bride’s parents or another friend or relative to take the lead on the planning of the event, and on covering the bill.
There’s no specific rule on who should be invited. Some of my couples choose to only have those participating in the wedding (perhaps the wedding party, readers and parents) attend, while others choose to invite a larger list. For the weddings I have planned, the rehearsal dinner has ranged from 10 to 60 attendees
A rehearsal dinner is most often held the evening before the wedding so that those traveling for the wedding can attend. However, some venues often require a weekday (Monday-Thursday) rehearsal, since they may be booked for weddings all weekend (Friday-Sunday), so a couple of days before the wedding or the weekend before the wedding works as well. A bit of advice, though: if you host the rehearsal the night before the wedding, it should start earlier in the evening and the bar should close fairly early. It’s good for everyone (especially the bride and groom) to get a good night’s sleep before the wedding day!
If you are able to do a ceremony rehearsal at the ceremony venue, I recommend staying on site or selecting a place nearby for the dinner, so guests do not need to travel far. If you plan to do a rehearsal but it is not going to be held at the ceremony site, I recommend finding a venue with enough space to run through the rehearsal at the dinner location. Restaurants, hotels or clubs near where most guests are staying are great options for the rehearsal dinner because things like food, staff and furnishings will already be in place. Another option is to have a relative host a small rehearsal dinner in their home.
When you create your guest list, think through who should be invited to the rehearsal dinner. I recommend sending out the rehearsal invitations with the wedding invitations, or just after they go out, so that those out-of-town guests who need to make travel arrangements can plan accordingly.