Rehearsal Dinner Tips

Couple and guests holding drinks for an article on rehearsal dinner tips

If your wedding is coming up soon, you know that in addition to planning the big day you also have to plan the rehearsal dinner. What is it, how extravagant does it need to be, and most importantly, who pays for it? Find the answers in today’s blog, plus a few rehearsal dinner tips to make your event truly unique.

Reflection in mirror of guests at a rehearsal dinner for an article on rehearsal dinner tipsLet’s get the basics out of the way. The rehearsal dinner is a way to say thank you to the bridal party and your immediate family members for their part in the wedding. It is normally held directly after a literal rehearsal of the ceremony, and is traditionally paid for by the groom’s family. There are no specific events that take place during the dinner except for a toast by the groom’s father.

Do I even need to have a rehearsal dinner? In short, no. Hosting a rehearsal dinner is a tradition, but like all wedding traditions today, most have been chucked to the side or reinvented. If it is not in the budget, then so be it. But if you can afford a gesture of thanks to the people who are closest to you in the wedding, then by all means have a rehearsal dinner.

How big does the dinner have to be? Hosting a wedding can put a dent in anyone’s wallet. As such, the prospect of tacking on additional events can be financially daunting. But it need not be the case. The rehearsal dinner can be as big or as small as your budget will allow. The event is really just a token of appreciation to the immediate players in your wedding. While the name ‘rehearsal dinner’ would imply a full meal, I have seen everything from simply cocktails and desserts to a backyard barbecue and brunch. You don’t need to take everyone to dinner, but providing a few drinks and some munchies would be nice.

In the case of Katherine and David’s rehearsal dinner that I photographed on Friday, the couple rented out Casa Fox, a small tapas restaurant on the Lower East Side, for two hours. Guests were treated to wine and special cocktails plus appetizers. It was more than enough food and drinks for everyone, but kept the evening light and the focus on mingling with one another. In comparison, my clients Sarah and Dave had a full dinner for only immediate family and the bridal party followed by a cocktail party for all guests who were coming from out of town. The cost of the event was minimized by a limited guest list, but the couple maximized their graciousness by including more guests at the cocktail party afterwards.

And don’t forget that you can also have your rehearsal dinner in-house, as my clients Denise and Steve did. They are blessed with an apartment that has a rooftop terrace. Why should the terrace go to waste? Rather, the couple invited their guests to their apartment and ordered in fancy Chinese take out from their favorite restaurant.

Smiling female guest at a rehearsal dinner for an article on rehearsal dinner tipsWho should be on the guest list? Normally the guest list only includes immediate family plus the bridal party and their significant others. This is the time when only the main players of the wedding are expected to attend. That said, if you have guests who have come from very far away and you would like to include them, then you should absolutely feel free to add them to the guest list. You are in charge of your guest list, so make it as small or large as you want.

Do I invite my officiant?  If you have hired a priest, pastor, or a professional officiant, it is still a nice gesture to invite the officiant to the rehearsal dinner.  Most officiants will bow out after a drink and won’t stay the entire dinner, but it is the offer that counts.  And if the officiant is a friend or family member, then by all means include the officiant on the guest list.

Who pays? Again, tradition dictates that the bill goes to the groom’s family. In the modern age, however, anyone can chip in and pay.

Who plans the rehearsal dinner?  The rehearsal dinner is normally planned by the bride, but it offers a great opportunity to delegate the logistics to pesky family members who really want to help out with your wedding.  Unless you have a specific need to plan your own rehearsal dinner, why not pass off the task to your mother-in-law-to-be and give her the chance to take control?

What happens at the rehearsal dinner besides dinner? A toast is normally made by the father of the groom. Anyone else can chime in and make a toast as well. The rehearsal dinner is normally a low-key event, with dancing saved for the wedding. At Katherine and David’s rehearsal dinner, the couple used the time at the restaurant for the actual rehearsal, and we staged the entire ceremony in between cocktails. Some guests may want to bring gifts to get that out of the way before the wedding, but that’s about it for the dinner. In general, the idea is to save the real action for the next day and you don’t want to make the rehearsal dinner into a blow out, booze fest so that the bridal party can be up and at ‘em for the wedding. To that end, try to end the rehearsal dinner fairly early so your guests can get some solid shut eye.

Décor-wise, should my rehearsal dinner match my wedding? Not at all. Since this is a ‘groom’s’ event, it can be night-and-day opposite in terms of décor to the wedding. If you think about the groom’s cake, which is normally very different from the wedding cake, the rehearsal dinner is thought of in much the same way. That said, feel free to decorate your rehearsal dinner however you want; there are no rules of tradition to follow here.

Woman holding four blue bags for an article on rehearsal dinner tipsAny ‘stuff’ I need to give to gifts during the rehearsal dinner?  Nope, no guest favors are required.  A few things you might want to consider, however:

  • Nametags – only necessary if this is the first time people will be meeting each other and you have a large group coming to the rehearsal dinner
  • Wedding day timeline
  • Important phone numbers and contact information
  • Wedding venue map and directions

Do I need to send written invitations to the rehearsal dinner?  No, no written invitations are necessary.  If you are having more than just family at the rehearsal dinner you can send out an invitation, but it does not need to be formal.

Of course you can always rent a private space at a restaurant, but here are a few other ideas for hosting a truly unique rehearsal dinner:

  • Potluck dinner with a local theme: have all your guests from out of town bring a dish native to their local area
  • Backyard barbecue or renting a grill at a public park
  • Setting up a family game of football/baseball/tag plus a picnic afterwards
  • Beach excursion or pool party
  • Make your own waffles and omelets for brunch
  • You know how much I love interactive food, so why not a build your own taco/pizza/ice cream sundae party?
  • Cocktail party with desserts
  • Karaoke, karaoke, karaoke — need I say more?
  • Evening at an art studio with cocktails and munchies – great if you have family with lots of kids in tow
  • Cooking class or some other fun class
  • Take the family to a local tourist attraction: a zoo, sports event, or maybe take a guided walking tour of your city followed by drinks
  • Family and friends game night

If you would like to see more images from my portfolio, such as the photos accompanying this article on rehearsal dinner tips, please visit my website –

Couple talking and holding drinks during rehearsal dinnerTwo male guests shaking hands for an article on rehearsal dinner tipsWoman smiling at a rehearsal dinner for an article on rehearsal dinner tipsBaby making a funny face for an article on rehearsal dinner tipsTwo male guests at a rehearsal dinner for an article on rehearsal dinner tipsBlack and white photo of woman laughing Two skewers of grilled shrimp for an article on rehearsal dinner tips Woman hugging male guest for an article on rehearsal dinner tips Two guests smiling for an article on rehearsal dinner tipsWoman listening to man speaking for an article on rehearsal dinner tipsFour guests chatting for an article on rehearsal dinner tipsTwo male guests before rehearsal for an article on rehearsal dinner tipsGroom walking down aisle escorted by both parents for an article on rehearsal dinner tipsBride walking down aisle escorted by both parents for an article on rehearsal dinner tipsBlack and white photo of groom waiting for bride to arriveBride and groom during wedding rehearsal for an article on rehearsal dinner tipsBridesmaid walking down aisle escorted by two groomsmenLittle boy held by man and shaking hands with older womanFather of the bride making a speech during rehearsal dinnerReflection in mirror of bride and groom listening to speechBlack and white photo of bride and groom listening to speechFather making speech and guests cheering during rehearsal dinnerLittle girl with arm over the shoulders of woman wearing red shirtFather of the groom hugging bride during rehearsal dinnerLittle girl selecting appetizer at rehearsal dinnerPortrait of couple with woman holding plate with cookie at rehearsal dinner

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