Traditionally, the rehearsal dinner is the relaxed meal that wedding participants and guests share after a dry run of the ceremony. But as more couples opt for non-traditional wedding events, rehearsal dinners have evolved, too. Whether you’re having an intimate meal for family or an all-out pre-party for the main event to come, here’s your guide to planning a rehearsal dinner—no tux required.
What the Rehearsal Dinner Is
Your parents’ rehearsal dinner likely consisted of a meal at a local restaurant following the rehearsal of the wedding ceremony—attended by actual participants in said ceremony (including the officiants) and their partners. Nowadays, the rehearsal dinner is much more than an Olive Garden reservation for your parents and future in-laws. Instead, couples usually make this event an integral part of the weekend that has brought all their friends and family together.
The rehearsal dinner is the party that takes place the night before the wedding, regardless of whether a sit-down meal is served or not. It could involve dinner, of course, but it could also be a multi-part event, starting with a small gathering of wedding party members and culminating in a soiree with guests who traveled great distances to share in your celebration.
Alternatives to the night-before event rehearsal dinners include wedding day breakfasts and even parties held two nights before the wedding—particularly for destination weddings for which attendees arrive well ahead of the ceremony.
Whatever you decide to do for your rehearsal dinner, prioritize making the most of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to enjoy time with friends and family. The rehearsal dinner is the opportunity for you, your families, and close friends to spend time together outside the confines of the wedding day. It should be relaxed enough to calm pre-wedding jitters and just enough fun that you don’t wake up the morning of the big day with a headache.
Who Attends Rehearsal Dinners
A traditional rehearsal dinner is attended by the wedding party, immediate family, and anyone else who took part in the rehearsal, including the officiant. For these types of rehearsal dinners, partners of wedding party members and the parents of flower children and ring bearers are usually invited, as well.
It is more common now for out-of-town guests who have traveled for the wedding to be invited, too, to make their trips a bit more worthwhile. As friends and family members can be far-flung and destination weddings are always popular, the invite list for the rehearsal dinner may be extensive and even divided, with a small gathering for an actual dinner and a larger party for additional guests.
Whatever you do, coordinate your guest list with your partner. If you’re throwing a family-only affair, all family members who traveled to be there should be invited—even your fiancé’s weird cousin Mose—and confirm their invitations have been received.
Rehearsal Dinner Invitations: Do You Need Them?
Formal invitations aren’t necessary for the rehearsal dinner. As the rehearsal dinner is a more casual affair than the wedding, so too are customs around rehearsal dinner invitations more relaxed. Emails, evites, postcards, even group texts, social posts, and WhatsApp messages with links to your wedding site are all acceptable ways to get the word out. Just be sure to send out details way ahead of time (shortly after the wedding invitations are sent is best) so guests can make travel plans and to give you their RSVPs. Include the time, location, a preview of the menu, and expectations for attire, the more specific the better.
Rehearsal Dinner Etiquette
You and your partner will set the tone for the rehearsal dinner with your invite list, choice of venue, food and drink, and dress code. But no matter how you want to celebrate pre-wedding, be clear with guests about the rehearsal dinner’s purpose: to honor and celebrate the wedding party and family members and to thank them for their hard work and dedication in making your big day a success.
Treat the rehearsal dinner as practice for the following day when everyone will be on their best behavior. That means keeping your alcohol intake limited—don’t let your friends go nuts, either—and vetting speeches to ensure no one throws shade or says anything inappropriate.
Who Pays for Rehearsal Dinners
In the old days, the groom’s parents paid for the rehearsal dinner as well as the post-wedding day brunch, while the bride’s parents paid for the wedding and reception. But as with most wedding traditions, this division of expenses is no longer the norm. If both sets of parents are sharing the costs of the wedding, then consider paying for the rehearsal dinner yourself.
If you do ask your parents for financial assistance, expect them to provide input and try to accommodate as best as you can: while still making sure it fits with what you and your fiancé want. Whether or not they’re ponying up any of the money for the shindig, parents on both sides should be solicited for their help. You don’t want anyone to feel hurt if they’re not asked to be involved during planning.
Rehearsal Dinner Attire
Your rehearsal dinner outfit should match the venue and vibe of your event. An outdoor BBQ rehearsal dinner won’t require cocktail dress—jeans and polos are totally appropriate. A sit-down meal at a fancy restaurant does call for something a little more dressed up—button-downs and slacks or khakis. For a beach or park party with volleyball or kickball, you’ll probably want to go with shorts.
Rehearsal Dinner Toasts: Who Should Give Them
Rehearsal dinner speeches are like deep fried Oreos—the first few are great, but too many will leave you feeling gross. Granted, better to get your rambling Uncle Grant’s story about your attempts to learn water skiing out of the way before the wedding reception, but still: limit who talks and for how long by setting things up in advance, if possible. Remind your male friends and family members to keep their speeches civil and that you don’t want any surprises. Take your own advice, as well, and speak well of your future in-laws—especially if they’re hosting.
Here’s who might give a speech:
The bride and groom:
Keep it short and sweet, thanking your hosts, your parents, the wedding party, and guests who have traveled to be there with you. This is also an appropriate time to gush about your bride-to-be, particularly if you’re not planning on saying much at the wedding reception. Consider making your speeches the final event of the night so you can throw in some last-minute reminders and logistics for the next day’s main event.
Father and mother of the groom:
The traditional hosts of the rehearsal dinner would be the first to speak, but if you’re footing the bill yourself (and even if you’re not), you can order the speakers however you want. Just make sure the moms get their chance to toast you, too.
Father and mother of the bride:
These should be brief, as the father of the bride is typically a marquee speaker at the wedding reception itself.
Uncles, aunts, cousins, and other family members:
Your relations will likely grab the mic at the rehearsal dinner to regale and embarrass you because they’re not on your wedding-day speech list. Try to get family members to let you know ahead of time whether they wish to speak: at least that way you’ll know when you have to be extra alert.
As with family members, your invited friends may see the rehearsal dinner as their best opportunity to tell funny stories about you and your bride-to-be. Again, try to gauge who may volunteer to speak before they get under the spotlight; encourage PG-rated anecdotes only, and make sure that whatever is said won’t upset anyone in attendance, including your fiancée. References to your exes should be verboten; give your best man permission to cut off or tackle anyone whose speech goes off the rails.
These days, the couple’s wedding officiant may be a close confidante. Even if they’re not that close to you, their speech can be filled with real insight into relationships and commitment. Plus, it’s unlikely they’ll drop the f-bomb during their toast.
Rehearsal Dinner Menu Ideas
What you serve at your rehearsal dinner will depend on where the party is taking place. A restaurant you love or where you and your fiancé first shared a Blooming Onion could be the ideal setting for your rehearsal dinner—just make sure the menu includes options for guests on special diets. Other possibilities: a beer garden (brats and beers); a winery (hors d’oeuvres and wine); the beach (burgers and punch); the park (sandwiches and sodas); a rooftop bar (desserts and cocktails).
Rehearsal Dinner Games
Rehearsal dinners should have a definitive end, with a clear cut-off to ensure folks get home i and get their rest ahead of the wedding day. Don’t head over to a bar to play a few rounds of Celebrity—save the drinking games for the reception after-party.
That said, the rehearsal dinner is a good place for your families and friends to get to know each other, so an icebreaker that will get them talking can be useful. One option: bride and groom trivia. Come up with about 10 progressively challenging questions ahead of time. For the rehearsal dinner game, make guests form teams with people they don’t know. Then have them try to answer questions about you two. Reward each member of the winning team with a small prize.
Rehearsal Dinner Favors
The rehearsal dinner is a convenient time to present gifts of appreciation to your groomsmen and bridesmaids as well as to give tokens of thanks to your parents and soon-to-be in-laws—that way you won’t have to lug them around on your wedding day. But be discreet: it’s never good form to make a show of gift-giving if you’re not giving gifts to everyone in attendance.
Handing out rehearsal dinner favors isn’t necessary, but it can be a nice touch. Make your favors inexpensive (less than $5 per guest) to keep costs down and to avoid competing with the wedding favors. If your rehearsal dinner is themed, connect the favor with the theme—small bags of Red Hots for a taco truck-catered dinner, for instance. Candies, cookies, coffee beans, and charms are just a few rehearsal dinner favor ideas. If you’re really feeling creative, you can customize with stickers or cards.
— Matt Schneiderman