Rehearsal Dinner Basics: A Useful + Comprehensive Planning Guide

Colorful Palm Springs Reception TablesWhen it comes to wedding preparation, there’s a lot more to plan than just the Big Day. There are several pre-wedding events to plan and each with its own set of rules. And when it comes to planning your rehearsal dinner, chances are you have a few questions.

The rehearsal dinner is an important part of your wedding planning because it’s not just a party for your friends and family, it’s also an important time to communicate all the details for the actual day. Considering the most common rehearsal dinner questions or concerns, we put together a comprehensive guide to answer your FAQs so you can get to the fun part — celebrating!

Thanks to Penny Arnolds for helping us compile this guide. Penny is a wedding videographer based in Sydney, Australia.

photo by AshGabes Photography // see more from this feature

Planning a Rehearsal Dinner: Etiquette

small rehearsal dinner table simple decorphoto by Liesl Claire Photography // see more from this feature

Who goes to the rehearsal dinner?

You should invite your immediate family, the wedding party and their guests, and your officiant and their partner. You’ll also want to invite anyone that has a role in the ceremony (ceremony readers, integral musicians, etc.). Many couples also invite out-of-town guests who traveled a considerable way. That said, there are always grey areas and room for you to make a decision that works best for you and your partner. For example, you may want to invite grandparents or extended family, or keep it super small and limit it to just those involved in the ceremony.

Who pays for the rehearsal dinner?

Traditionally, the rehearsal dinner is hosted and paid for by the groom’s parents. In modern times, the rehearsal can be hosted by other family members, friends, or the couple themselves.

What happens at the rehearsal dinner?

The rehearsal dinner is often held the night before the wedding ceremony. If you’ve reserved a venue, they’ll work with you to plan the walk-through and this night will be part of your rental agreement. The actual rehearsal should take 30-45 minutes and your officiant will help guide everyone through the details.

Following the rehearsal, it’s time for dinner! And another hallmark of the rehearsal dinner is opening up the floor to toasts. The hosts often start, followed by the couple. Some couples even choose to do the best man and maid of honor speeches at the rehearsal dinner rather than the reception. It’s up to you if you want to have an open floor for toasts or limit it to only a certain few. Tip: Consider having your photographer and videographers join this part of the evening to capture memorable moments!

As the rehearsal generally comes the night before the wedding, try not to end too far into the night so that everyone has a chance to be well-rested for the day ahead!

How to Plan the Rehearsal Dinner

rehearsal dinner table at homephoto: Scarlet Roots Photography // see more from this feature on GWS

Where to Host the Rehearsal Dinner

The venue you choose will set the tone for the wedding to come. Some couples choose a restaurant because it eliminates a lot of prep and clean-up, plus it’s a fun way to share your favorite spots with out-of-town guests. You could also hire out an outdoor venue and bring it caterers — or even order pizzas if you’re going super casual! You could book the great room of your favorite national park lodge, host it at home or in a backyard, or maybe your venue has a space. The options are endless!

Wedding Rehearsal Dinner Invitations

Once you create your guest list, it’s time to send out invitations! Invitations should arrive 4-6 weeks before the event. Be sure the invitation includes the date, time, location, dress code (if there’s a particular theme), and allotted plus ones.

Whether you choose to go more formal and mail a paper invitation or opt for a digital invite, it’s important to lets guests know the details. Especially because rehearsal dinner guestlists can be different from wedding to wedding, you don’t want potential guests wondering if they’re invited.

Paper Rehearsal Dinner Invitations We Love

Shade Garden // Colorblocked Dinner // Golden Leaves // Dinner Toasts and Dessert

Digital Rehearsal Dinner Invitations We Love

Grand Photo Digital Invitation // Pretty Wreath Digital Invitation // Moody Blooms Digital Invitation // Sophisticated Digital Invitation

Wedding Rehearsal Dinner Menu

One of the best ways to throw a memorable party is to serve memorable food! This is an opportunity to have some fun and to do something different than your actual wedding menu. If the wedding is a formal sit-down meal, take this opportunity to go informal. Maybe bring in your favorite food truck or create a massive charcuterie. Perhaps your wedding meal is more informal, so you want to treat your nearest and dearest to a special meal the night before. Food can be unique to you and set the tone for the final celebration to come.

Rehearsal Dinner Theme Ideas

outdoor wedding reception wooden minimalphoto by Johansson Terebeyczik Correia // see more from this feature

Just about any theme will work for a rehearsal dinner if you know how to execute it. You may want to consider the relationship between your guests and how familiar they are with your personality as a couple. If you know what type of atmosphere you want at your party, it’s will be easier to plan for it. Here are some ideas to consider:

Casual Rehearsal Dinner

Simple, fun, and breezy. With the wedding ceremony literally hours ahead, you may want to keep things easy for you and your guests so that everyone feels comfortable and has a good time. Keep the food easy, don’t worry too much about decor, and focus on the most important parts — you and your people.

Casino Night Rehearsal Dinner

Here’s an idea for a fun dinner party that was also an activity for your guests! You can host a custom-made affair and bring in dealers for a fun night that will totally kick things off with a bang.

Picnic Rehearsal Dinner

Set the event at a local park and enjoy traditional picnic foods like sandwiches and lemonade! When it comes to seating, you’ll want both tables and blankets. Instead of typical table centerpieces, you can use picnic baskets filled with flowers, food, or gifts for your guests.

Beach-Inspired Rehearsal Dinner

Prepare for your guests a vacation-like experience and make it feel like you’re already on your honeymoon! Hang hammocks, bring in tropical flowers, hire a shaved ice cart or serve ceviche.