The Etiquette of Wedding Rehearsal Dinners

Photo: Millie Holloman

From picking a location to deciding upon the guest list, here are our tips for planning a rehearsal dinner.

01 of 09
Elisabeth Millay

When it comes to planning a wedding, you're not just prepping for the main event. There are countless pre-wedding (and some post!) celebrations to prepare for—each with their own code of conduct. As you begin to think about mapping out your rehearsal dinner, it's likely that you'll have a few questions. Who do you invite? Where is the best place to rehearse? And, most nerve-wracking of all, who pays?

Luckily, we've corralled all of your most pressing questions and answered them, right here in this detailed, etiquette-centric guide. The good news? While there are traditional rules in place—typically, the groom's parents pay for the rehearsal dinner, for example—it's important to know that this event can be tailored to meet your own needs. However you decide to go rogue, there are a few things you should know. When it's time to draft a rehearsal dinner guest list, don't feel pressure to invite half of your wedding's attendees. Only those participating in the big day—meaning your wedding party and their plus ones—are mandatory inclusions. You'll have to run through the ceremony and reception events, after all!

Ultimately, planning your rehearsal dinner shouldn't be stressful. In fact, the dinner is arguably one of the most celebratory of the pre-wedding events, simply because everything is set and ready to go—all you have to do is wake up the next morning and walk down the aisle to meet your best friend. Let us help you stay stress-free while prepping, with the following info.

02 of 09

The Rehearsal

Elisabeth Millay

Before the dinner can happen, anyone who plays a role in the ceremony should attend the wedding rehearsal. This includes the officiant, the wedding party, readers, and parents. Walk through the ceremony, establishing the pace and timing, in the order each element will occur, and make sure all of the participants know their responsibilities. Bring the unity candle or anything else you will want to have in place for the following day. It's also smart to have some programs and copies of any readings on hand for people to follow along.

03 of 09

The Location and Style

Millie Holloman

Depending on the guest list and budget, and the wishes of the hosts, the event can be anything from a formal banquet to a casual outdoor affair. The style of the rehearsal dinner can complement the wedding, but it should not copy or overshadow it. Some couples opt for a complete contrast. For example, a backyard picnic can be a casual foil to a black-tie wedding.

Many rehearsal dinners are held at restaurants—perhaps a favorite date spot or someplace with a style of cuisine that has special meaning to the bride and groom. If Italy is the honeymoon destination, for example, an Italian restaurant would be fitting. A place that showcases local flavor, such as Kansas City barbecue, Chicago deep-dish pizza, or Maine lobster, is a good way to introduce guests to the area.

04 of 09

The Timing

Millie Holloman

The rehearsal dinner is typically held the night before the wedding, directly after the ceremony run-through. Despite its name, however, it can be a lunch, or even a brunch, if you like; and its pace is often informal and leisurely. But if it is a dinner, keep in mind that the party should end somewhat early, to give everyone a chance to get plenty of rest before the big day.

05 of 09

The Hosts

Scott Clark Photo

Traditionally, the groom's parents are the hosts of the rehearsal dinner, since the bride's family customarily pays for the wedding. But given the more relaxed standards of modern times, other relatives, close friends, or even the couple themselves can plan and pay for the event. Whoever throws the party should definitely confer with the bride and groom to avoid any conflict with the theme, menu, or decorations of the wedding.

06 of 09

The Guest List

Patricia Lyons Photography

Only those who will actually take part in the rehearsal—the bride and groom, their parents, the officiant, the wedding party (including any child attendants), and readers—plus their spouses or dates, need to be invited to the rehearsal itself and the festivities that follow. But the guest list for the dinner may be longer. You might want to include other family members (such as grandparents) and close friends, for example. And many couples invite their out-of-town guests as well, making the dinner into a welcoming party.

07 of 09

The Invitations

Laura Murray

Written invitations are not required, but still it's a good idea to send them if more than just family will be attending; and the host should mail them right after the wedding invitations go out. The invitations are not as formal as those for a wedding but can reflect its tone.

08 of 09

The Seating Chart

Elisabeth Millay

Because it's typically the first time the bride and groom see most of their close friends and family together, the rehearsal dinner can feel like a reunion. For a more formal dinner, or one with a larger guest list, it helps to have a seating chart so people aren't at a loss about where to go when it's time for the meal to be served. Furthermore, some members of the two families may be meeting for the first time, and relatives may not be acquainted with everyone in the wedding party. Encourage conversation by seating these people together (if you're sure they'll be comfortable), or simply make a point of introducing them personally sometime during the evening.

09 of 09

The Toasts

Gemma & Andrew Ingalls

Toasts are often a big part of the evening, and unlike those at the wedding reception, where the order may be well planned, rehearsal dinner toasts tend to be spontaneous. In this intimate and casual setting, guests will often feel comfortable sharing their memories of the couple and wishing them well. If the groom's parents are hosting, his father might begin by welcoming all the guests and offering a toast to the bride and groom. The father of the bride can stand next, followed by the attendants and any other guests who want to speak.

During the toasts, the bride and groom have a chance to say a few words of thanks to all of the people taking part in the wedding. This is also the traditional time for them to present gifts to the members of the wedding party (and perhaps the parents) to thank them for their support.

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