How to Plan a Rehearsal Dinner (+ Unique Ideas) – Etiquette Guide

romantic outdoor garden inspired rehearsal dinner ideas with simple decorations and a long communal table with rustic mismatched chairs and rattan pendant lights dangling above
photo by Ashley Joyce Photography

It’s officially the eve of your “I do’s”, and we have the perfect rehearsal dinner ideas to get this party started! A rehearsal dinner is an age-old tradition that marks the beginning of your celebrations. And while it’s not as formal as your ceremony, it is a lot of fun to plan. To get you started, we’re breaking down everything you need to know to plan an unforgettable rehearsal dinner, from etiquette tips to fun menu ideas.

Let’s get into it!

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Rehearsal Dinner Etiquette and Planning FAQs (+ Our Best Ideas and Tips)

woman showing how to plan a rehearsal dinner outdoors with colorful decorations and desert inspired ideas including cherry red glassware and macrame placemats
photo: Mary Costa Photo | flowers + design: Shindig Chic 

You’ve put in so much effort planning the perfect ceremony and reception — so coming up with stunning rehearsal dinner ideas can often feel like an afterthought. But don’t worry, we’re here to help! We’re answering all your must-know questions on how to plan a rehearsal dinner and giving you a few unique ideas and etiquette tips to make your event one for the books.

From who to invite to traditional speech etiquette, here’s everything you need to know to plan an epic rehearsal dinner!

P.S. For specific ideas for your rehearsal dinner (including some budget-friendly options), keep scrolling to the bottom of the article!

What is a rehearsal dinner?

modern outdoor rehearsal dinner ideas with colorful decorations and bright flowers at a backyard style venue with mountains and palm trees in the background
photo: AshGabes Photography, as seen in this groovy outdoor celebration

A rehearsal dinner is a celebration with all your nearest and dearest that occurs after the ceremony rehearsal and before your “I do’s”. It’s your chance to bring your closest friends and family together to kickstart the festivities before the big day.

Typically, a rehearsal dinner is less formal than your reception — but we’re seeing many modern couples plan unforgettable events with unique ideas, drool-worthy menus, and killer vibes. Consider this your moment to get everyone in the party spirit!

Do you actually need to have a rehearsal dinner?

couple posing at their outdoor rehearsal dinner featuring formal details and modern ideas
photo: Mari

While a rehearsal dinner is a fun tradition that kicks off the good vibes and allows your guests to meet and mingle, it’s definitely not a requirement.

If you’re on a budget, you may want to skip planning a big rehearsal dinner and opt for more low-key ideas, instead. There are plenty of other ways to spend time with your closest friends and family before the ceremony, from a casual welcome party to a laid-back barbecue.

You can even skip the celebration altogether and spend this final evening decompressing with your other half!

When does the rehearsal dinner take place?

couple showing how to plan a greenhouse rehearsal dinner with romantic vintage-inspired decorations and ideas including greenery descending from the ceiling
photo: Sweet Lemon Drop Photography | gown: Alamour the Label | shoes: Loeffler Randall

The rehearsal dinner typically takes place the evening before the big day, immediately after the ceremony rehearsal. Even if you’re not planning a formal rehearsal, it’s still common to celebrate the eve of your ceremony with festive ideas like a dinner or welcome party.

When it comes to timing, we recommend planning your celebration early in the evening. This gives out-of-town guests time to arrive, settle in, and get into celebration mode before the big event — without keeping your guests up too late. After all, you want everyone looking and feeling fresh for the walk down the aisle!

short white gown with bow and pearls

How gorgeous is that gown the soon-to-be bride is wearing in the photo above?! Check out this list of stunning rehearsal dinner gowns to find your perfect look!

Who pays for the rehearsal dinner?

couple on the way to their downtown rehearsal dinner with unique ideas like a whimsical botanical spring-inspired theme
photo: Liz Banfield

According to traditional etiquette, the rehearsal dinner is hosted and paid for by the groom’s parents. But as Penny Arnolds says, “In modern times, the dinner can be hosted by other family members, friends, or the couple themselves.”

In fact, we polled our GWS readers and 29% said they (the couple) paid for the rehearsal dinner themselves. And another 18% said they split the cost between families.

Who plans the rehearsal dinner?

unique country rehearsal dinner ideas with rustic outdoor decorations including a vintage red truck adorned with the words "Howdy Y'all" in a script style font
photo: Fred Marcus | event design: KED & CO. | florals: Mindy Rice Design

Just like it’s tradition for the groom’s family to pay for the rehearsal dinner, it’s also etiquette for them to plan it. But this is changing as well! These days, many couples prefer to take the reins and plan the event themselves. This way, you can include more personal ideas and ensure the rehearsal dinner reflects your unique style.

What to Look for in a Rehearsal Dinner Venue

couple arriving at their rehearsal dinner at a restaurant venue on a rainy day with formal decor ideas
photo: Ellie Mandeville

The venue you choose for your rehearsal dinner will set the tone for the rest of the weekend, so plan something local, accessible, and on-theme! We recommend hosting your celebration at a venue that’s in close proximity to your ceremony (and your guests’ hotels) and that reflects the overall style of your celebration.

One of our favorite rehearsal dinner ideas is planning your celebration at a must-see local restaurant. Not only does this eliminate prep and clean-up duties, but it’s also a fun way to share your favorite spots with out-of-town guests. If the weather’s nice enough, you can also hire out an outdoor venue and bring in caterers — or even order pizzas if you’re going super casual!

If you’re on a budget, Penny recommends thinking outside the box for your rehearsal dinner ideas. “You could book the great room of your favorite national park lodge, host it at home or in a backyard, or ask if your reception venue has a space. The options are endless!”

What happens at a rehearsal dinner? – Ideas for Entertaining

woman showing how to plan a rehearsal dinner with fun dance floor ideas
photo: Meagan Puett

After your ceremony rehearsal, it’s time for dinner! As is implied by the name, the idea behind a rehearsal dinner revolves around a shared meal where you and your guests can decompress and spend time together before the big day. It’s a fun and relaxed way for both sides of your friends and family to meet, mingle, and start the weekend off on the right foot.

In addition to the all-important food, another etiquette hallmark of the rehearsal dinner are the toasts. (Keep scrolling for more info on who typically gives speeches during this celebration!) Penny recommends having your photographer and videographer join this part of the evening to capture all the most memorable moments.

Finally, this celebration is also when you should give your gifts to the groomsmen and bridesmaids. If you have gifts for your parents, this is also the perfect time to have an intimate moment with them before the rush of the big day.

And don’t forget the most important part of your event — celebrating! To make sure you don’t forget anything, here’s an easy rehearsal dinner timeline to help you plan all your ideas:

  • 6:00 pm – Cocktails and small bites (optional)
  • 6:30 pm – Welcome speech from the hosts
  • 6:45 pm – Quick toast from the love birds — you can plan this for before or after dinner
  • 7:00 pm – Dinner is served
  • 8:00 pm – Open the floor to speeches
  • 8:30 pm – Give out your thank-you gifts
  • 9:00 pm – End with dancing, an after-party, or an early night!
Bridal party wearing matching fringe robes

Show your “I do” crew how much you appreciate them with our list of the best gifts for bridesmaids!

Who is invited to the rehearsal dinner?

guests wearing colorful formal gowns showing rehearsal dinner etiquette at an outdoor venue
photo: Sweet Lemon Drop Photography | bride-to-be’s gown: Alamour the Label | shoes: Loeffler Randall

Traditional rehearsal dinner etiquette states you should invite your VIP guests, aka your immediate family, the wedding party and their guests, and anyone who has a role in the ceremony (such as your officiant or ceremony readers). It’s also common etiquette to invite out-of-town guests to your rehearsal dinner, especially if they’ve traveled a long way for the celebrations.

However, think of this list as a jumping-off point — you can make your event as large or as small as you’d like! For example, you may want to invite grandparents or extended family, or keep it intimate with just those involved in the ceremony.

Ideas for Planning a Rehearsal Dinner on a Budget

small rehearsal dinner ideas with romantic flowers and coastal decorations
photo: Liesl Claire Photography, as seen in this coastal Cape Cod celebration

If you’re balling on a budget, don’t stress: there are plenty of unique ideas for planning an unforgettable rehearsal dinner that doesn’t break the bank! Here are a few of our faves.

  • Opt for a laid-back BBQ: This is one of our favorite ideas if you’re planning your rehearsal dinner in the summer. Fire up the grill at home or a local park and enjoy hotdogs, burgers, ribs, and all the fixings under a starry sky.
  • Get everyone involved with a potluck dinner: Catering is the most expensive part of a rehearsal dinner, and that’s why we love potluck ideas for a budget-friendly event! Ask close friends and family to each contribute their favorite dish — not only does this save money, but it also adds a personal touch and a variety of flavors to the celebration.
  • Embrace your DIY side: Break out the crafting supplies and jazz up your rehearsal dinner with creative DIY decor ideas. Even something as simple as mason jars and fairy lights can take your dinner to the next level.
  • Call in the food trucks: This is one of our favorite modern rehearsal dinner ideas — it’s fun, relaxed, and more wallet-friendly than hiring caterers or sitting down at a restaurant. From tacos to burgers to pizzas, the options are endless!
  • Plan a pizza party: Speaking of pizza, why not skip all the fancy rehearsal dinner ideas and just order pizza instead?! After all, everyone loves a good slice, and you can host this event anywhere. Grab some cute paper plates and head to the park, the beach, your backyard, or an affordable event space.

Who gives speeches at the rehearsal dinner?

woman with good etiquette giving a welcome speech at a rehearsal dinner
photo by Madi Ellis Photography, as seen in our MOH speech guide

Standard etiquette states that whoever hosts and plans the rehearsal dinner will start the evening off with a welcome speech. This sets the tone for the celebration and is a sweet way to thank everyone for coming. It’s also good etiquette for the soon-to-be-weds to give a quick toast at the rehearsal dinner where they express their gratitude and get everyone excited for the main event.

From there, you can open up the floor! As a more intimate event, this dinner is the perfect opportunity for your closest friends and family to share their well wishes before the “I do’s”, so it’s common to hear speeches from parents of the couple, the best man, the maid of honor, and anyone else who wants to speak.

When to Send Rehearsal Dinner Invitations – Invite Etiquette

rehearsal dinner invitation etiquette with a boho minimalist design in a brown-orange hue with white text
rehearsal dinner invitation ideas: Zazzle

Since the rehearsal dinner isn’t as formal as your reception, your invitations can also be more laid back. According to traditional etiquette, you should plan to send out rehearsal dinner invitations 4-6 weeks before the event — but don’t feel like you have to splurge on a printed invite!

A digital invitation or even a phone call is acceptable etiquette for a rehearsal dinner. Just be sure to include all the essential info: the date, time, location, dress code, allotted plus ones, and theme (if applicable).

If you do decide to send out paper invites for your dinner, it’s common to include them with your main invitation suite. Just make sure they stand out from your reception dinner info to avoid any confusion!

Our Favorite Rehearsal Dinner Ideas

couple showing how to plan a rehearsal dinner with unique ideas like all-white attire and hanging string lights creating a tunnel effect above the long communal dining table adorned with botanicals
photo: Readyluck Photographers | venue: Cedar Lakes Estate | planning: Amanda Savory Events

Now that you’re caught up on the etiquette of how to plan a rehearsal dinner, let’s get into the party-ready ideas! Your rehearsal dinner kicks off the rest of your celebrations, so you want to plan an event that sets the tone and gets those good vibes rolling — and we have the perfect ideas for the job.

From unique themes that reflect your location to drool-worthy food ideas that will get everyone talking, keep scrolling for the best rehearsal dinner inspo!

1. Western-Themed Rehearsal Dinner Ideas

couple showing how to plan a rehearsal dinner with western inspired ideas for a mountain location

photo: Corbin Gurkin | planning + design: Easton Events | design + floral: Mindy Rice Design

Tying the knot on a ranch or in the mountains — or just want an excuse to don a western hat? Then you’ll love western-themed rehearsal dinner ideas! Ask your guests to rock their best western attire, such a cowboy boots and bolo ties, and plan a menu filled with BBQ and whiskey.

For the rehearsal dinner venue, our favorite ideas are saloon-style bars, outdoor ranches, and national parks. And don’t forget those final touches to knock the boots off your guests, like a live bluegrass band or a fun neon “Howdy” sign!

2. Cute Backyard Rehearsal Dinner Ideas

small backyard rehearsal dinner ideas with simple decorations and a long communal table with a white cloth and rustic wood budget friendly folding chairs

photo: Autumn Jordan

If you’re searching for budget-friendly rehearsal dinner ideas, why not plan your celebration in your own backyard?! Keep it casual by ordering take-out from your favorite restaurant or breaking out the grill and feasting under the stars.

Plus, you can use the money you saved on a rehearsal dinner venue and put that toward your decoration ideas! With zero rules or restrictions, the options are truly endless. Buy some lawn games for everyone to play, create a fun balloon photo op, or set up a cozy lounge area around a fire pit!

3. Fiesta-Themed Rehearsal Dinner Ideas

fiesta themed outdoor rehearsal dinner ideas with a taco truck and desert inspired decorations and colorful centerpieces

photo: Mary Costa Photo | flowers + design: Shindig Chic

When it comes to crowd-pleasing rehearsal dinner ideas, you can’t do better than tacos. As this bride said, “We had a taco truck for our Friday fiesta. Because.. who doesn’t love tacos! We were lucky enough to have our venue for both Friday and Saturday, so we hosted it in the same spot with the same rentals, which was a serious perk.”

This is one of our favorite rehearsal dinner ideas if you’re saying “I do” in the desert or at a destination location. Use the locale as your inspo and pair your tacos with margarita cocktails, cactus decor, and sunset-hued centerpieces.

4. Unique + Unexpected Event Venue Ideas

rehearsal dinner ideas at an unexpected venue on the street in New York City with elegant decorations

photo: Jose Villa | planning + design: Laurie Arons | floral + design: Birch Event Design

Don’t want to plan your celebration at a restaurant? Go the unexpected route with a unique venue! Plan your dinner at a bowling alley, on a boat cruise, or (like the couple above) in the middle of a NYC street!

The ideas are truly endless, so choose a rehearsal dinner venue that reflects your love story and showcases your unique location.

P.S. The best part about planning your rehearsal dinner in an unexpected location — you can keep your decoration ideas simple! Opt for seasonal flowers and glass vases and let the location do the rest.

5. Apres Ski Rehearsal Dinner Ideas

couple showing how to plan a winter rehearsal dinner with apres ski inspired ideas for a mountain location

photo: Natalie Watson | producer, planner + designer: Go Bella Design

This is one of our favorite ideas if you’re planning your rehearsal dinner in the winter! Get everyone in the cozy mood with an apres ski theme, complete with a ski lodge venue, hot toddy cocktails, and plenty of blankets for guests to cuddle up in.

And yes, we found that ski-shaped shot holder for when you’re ready to get the party started! For more ski-themed decoration ideas for your rehearsal dinner, also check out this seating chart and these table numbers.

6. Camp-Themed Event Idea

rehearsal dinner ideas with camp inspired decorations including baby blue and white gingham tablecloths paired with wooden bistro chairs at a rustic outdoor location

photo: Megan Wynn | producer, planner + designer: Go Bella Design

Help your guests unlock their inner child with camp-themed rehearsal dinner ideas! This idea is perfect for outdoorsy couples — plan your event at a campsite or local park, where nature is your best decoration.

Plus, most campsites will have picnic tables and grills you can use. Just add cute gingham tablecloths, and don’t forget the s’mores station! This custom national park sign is also one of our favorite ideas to complete the summer camp vibes.

7. Local + Favorite Restaurant Ideas

rehearsal dinner ideas at an elegant local restaurant with modern decorations

photo: Rachel Havel | planner + designer: Brooke Keegan

If most of your guests are coming from out of town, play tour guide and bring them to one of your favorite local restaurants! This is such a cute way showcase your city. Plus it’s one of our favorite ideas for adding a personal touch to your rehearsal dinner.

Choose your first date spot, the taco place you visit every week, or the kitschy restaurant your city is famous for. Just be sure to check their capacity first — if it’s a smaller restaurant, you may need to limit the guest list!

P.S. Don’t forget to create a custom map of the area to help your guests find the right spot!

8. Casual + Fun Food Truck Ideas

couple showing how to plan a rehearsal dinner with a food truck and casual decor ideas

photo: Sweet Lemon Drop Photography | gown: Alamour the Label

If a sit-down meal feels a little too formal for your personal style, why not bring the party with food trucks, instead?! We love casual rehearsal dinner ideas that get everyone mingling, and this one is definitely a crowd-pleaser.

Choose a couple different trucks for extra variety (a dinner and dessert truck, perhaps?) and host your event at a park or campsite. Instead of a seating chart, set up picnic tables or a cozy lounge, complete with cute custom disposable plates and napkins.

9. Romantic Greenhouse Venue Idea

greenhouse event ideas with romantic flowers and twinkle lights draped from the ceiling and vintage inspired decorations

photo: Sweet Lemon Drop Photography | design: Lauren Palafox | florals: Cass and Jean

Is there anything more romantic than a greenhouse venue? We think not! If you’re sticking with garden-inspired ideas for your ceremony, then keep those vibes going by planning your rehearsal dinner in a dreamy greenhouse.

While lush greenery and blossoming florals are a must, we also love vintage-inspired decoration ideas for a rehearsal dinner planned in a greenhouse. Think: Edison bulb string lights, antique-style vases, and tapered candles.

This is definitely one of best rehearsal dinner ideas if you’re going for a romantic, cottagecore-esque vibe!

10. Elegant + Formal Rehearsal Dinner Ideas

elegant formal rehearsal dinner ideas with romantic candlelit decorations and floral centerpieces at a table adorned with curved back bistro chairs

photo: Holly Clark | planning + design: Pocketful of Dreams

Looking for elegant rehearsal dinner ideas that will never go out of style? We’ve got you covered. If you’re planning a formal or black tie optional ceremony, a more formal rehearsal dinner is the perfect way set the tone for the events ahead.

To achieve that elegant vibe, plan your rehearsal dinner at a sophisticated restaurant, ask your guests to wear their best semi formal attire, and stick to timeless decoration ideas like floral centerpieces and white tablecloths. Hundreds of flickering candles are also a romantic finishing touch!

11. Rowdy Rodeo-Themed Event Idea

outdoor western themed rehearsal dinner ideas with rodeo inspired decorations

photo: Fred Marcus | event design: KED & CO. | florals: Mindy Rice Design

It’s official: western rehearsal dinner ideas are seriously trending this year! For a unique twist, plan a rehearsal dinner with a rodeo theme. Get rowdy at a barn or saloon venue, wear a fringe jacket over your dress, and plan games like a horseshoe toss.

As the florist from this event said, “A beautiful, barn like structure was built in the middle of an open pasture. Wide decking surrounded the barn, allowing ample space for guests to mingle amongst the stars and the evening rodeo activities.” Obsessed!

Plan the Dreamiest “I Do’s” With Our Best Guides

​​couple showing how to plan a rehearsal dinner at a formal estate location with modern attire ideas
photo: Beba Vowels

Now that you’re stocked up on ideas for your rehearsal dinner, it’s time to finish the rest of your celebration planning!

If you just got engaged (congrats!!), be sure to check out our complete planning guide to start you off on the right foot. We also rounded up the coolest venues in the US to help you find the perfect spot for your “I do’s”!

And now for our favorite part: the fashion. Don’t miss our complete guide for where to buy your dream bridal gown, plus our bridal shoes guide to complete the look! And for the groom, we also created a list of the best suits for an ultra dapper look.

Which of these rehearsal dinner ideas were your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!