How to Plan an Unforgettable Rehearsal Dinner

Typically held the night before the wedding ceremony and right after the wedding rehearsal, the rehearsal dinner often kicks off the wedding weekend. It’s a way for the wedding party and the bride and groom’s families to get to know each other and offers another chance to celebrate the happy couple. And yes, it’s another event to organize, on top of the wedding ceremony and reception. Here’s everything you need to know about rehearsal dinners, along with planning tips.

Rehearsal dinner etiquette and tips

1. Hosting and paying

Traditionally, etiquette dictates that the groom’s family hosts and pays for the rehearsal dinner, since the bride’s family takes care of the wedding itself. However, these days, that standard has relaxed significantly, and it’s not unusual for either family, the couple themselves, or even friends and other family members to take care of the rehearsal dinner. 

Just be sure to have a discussion with your partner and your respective families to come to a decision beforehand to avoid any unnecessary last-minute drama or stress.

A server pours some champagne into a flute sitting on a table with flowers, candles and plates

2. Timing

For a Saturday wedding, the rehearsal dinner is typically held on the Friday night just before the wedding, regardless of whether or not there was an actual wedding rehearsal. For weddings held on other days, the rehearsal dinner is still usually held one or two nights before. 

Regardless, try to end the festivities at a reasonable hour so that the bride and groom can get enough rest for the wedding the next day. If you can’t fit a dinner in, a breakfast on the day of the wedding can work as well.

3. Guest list

Traditionally, the guest list for the rehearsal dinner included the wedding party, close family members, and anyone else who has a part in the ceremony, such as the officiant, ushers, and readers, along with their spouses or guests. If you have out-of-town guests at your wedding, it’s considerate to invite them as well, especially if they have traveled a long way. 

You can certainly invite more people to the dinner if there are other friends and family members you would like to include. Alternatively, you can keep the dinner intimate and meet with a larger group for drinks after dinner.

4. Invitations

If your rehearsal dinner will be on the more formal side, or it will be a fairly large event with lots of guests, including those from out-of-town, then you should send invitations. They can be sent along with the wedding invitation, or separately, after the wedding invitations have gone out. 

Ask your guests to RSVP if you need a headcount for the restaurant or caterers. Emailed invitations are fine. Just make sure you give your guests enough notice and make sure everyone knows where they need to be and when.

5. Rehearsal dinner venue

It’s a good idea to host the rehearsal dinner close to the actual venue of the wedding ceremony or where your wedding guests are staying, particularly if they have traveled a long way to attend. Particularly for out-of-town guests, directions (or even arranged transportation to the dinner) will be much appreciated. Common rehearsal dinner venues include restaurants, banquet halls, hotel venues, country clubs, or someone’s home.

6. Formal or informal

The rehearsal dinner does not need to be formal. Increasingly, couples are choosing to hold their rehearsal dinners at interesting venues or with an interesting theme, such as a picnic, ball game, boat cruise, or costume party. 

Sometimes there’s a connection to where or how the couple first met. It could also relate to something the couple is passionate about. Or it could tie in to the city or location the wedding is held at. There’s really no limit to where the rehearsal dinner should be held, other than try to keep it nearby to be considerate to the wedding guests.

People sitting at a table raising their glasses in a toast

7. Toasts

It’s common to have a lot of toasts at the rehearsal dinner. The hosts or the couple themselves will typically kick off the toasts. Usually, other guests will want to give some toasts, or roasts, in some cases. 

If you have a large group, you may want to pick someone to be in charge of the speeches. Having toasts and speeches at the rehearsal dinner is also one way to cut down on toasts and speeches during the wedding reception.

8. Gifts

The rehearsal dinner is traditionally the time for the bride and groom to hand out gifts to members of the wedding party, particularly if the gift includes items that are intended to be worn during the wedding ceremony. This is also a good time to hand out gifts to the parents of the bride and groom.

9. Reminders

The rehearsal dinner is also a great time to include any last-minute announcements or reminders about the wedding day. Make sure everyone in the wedding party is aware of when they are supposed to arrive, as well as any items that they are responsible for. Include information on any extra activities that may be planned for the day before the ceremony. 

Final thoughts on rehearsal dinners

Planning for a rehearsal dinner doesn’t have to be an overwhelming task. This article sets out some of the key things you should be aware of when planning the rehearsal dinner. As with the wedding itself, start your planning early so you have more than enough time to prepare for everything. Now that you know what you need to do, you can start looking for the perfect rehearsal dinner venue.