8 Simple Steps for the Perfect, Stress-Free Rehearsal Dinner

Congratulations! You've made the most important decision imaginable, and the rewards are infinite: a home, a family and a lifetime with the only person who could possibly make all your dreams come true. And, of course, a bevy of potentially stressful, wedding-related decisions that have you thinking seriously about elopement. Among them, how to plan the rehearsal dinner that will set the tone for the entire wedding weekend and thus simply has to be just right. 

Relax. Once given as a matter of matrimonial etiquette by the family of the groom on the night before the nuptials -- an event almost as formal as the ceremony itself -- modern rehearsal dinners can be as choreographed or as casual as you like. The only hard and fast rule today is that the dinner be an appreciative, inclusive and above all fun celebration of all those who will make your dream day a reality. So here's an easy breezy tip sheet to ensure that's just what it is.

1) Taking Charge

Traditionally, as mentioned, the groom's family hosted the wedding dinner because the bride's family covered the wedding and, well, fair is fair. Today though, the wedding is often a co-production, so you and your partner may want to finance the dinner yourselves. Cons include the cost, of course, but the upside is a smoother, streamlined decision-making process and an evening designed to your exact expectations.

2) Casual Reconsidered 

Even, perhaps especially, if the wedding itself is a formal affair, a lower-key, more relaxed dinner has a lot to recommend itself. For one thing, you won't risk upstaging the actual ceremony or amping up the sartorial pressure. You don't have to go all draft beer, blue jeans and hot wings (although you can), but tapas, hors d'oeuvres and other, lighter fare menus are certainly options, as is open, perhaps outdoor, seating that will help the unacquainted meet, mix and mingle.

3) Fun, Thematic Venues                                                                                                    

Whether you choose a three-course dinner at an elegant, full service facility in a gorgeous setting such as H on the Harbor or an off-site venue, think about individualizing your dinner with a theme suited to your style. Honoring a particular cultural heritage (think Rio Carnival for a Brazilian bride, for example) is popular today, as is playing to area attractions (the gold coast features a number of lovely wineries). Other off-site venues and themes, any of which H Events would be delighted to cater, include:  

  • Barbecue and touch football

  • Hoedown and square dancing

  • Seaside clambake and volleyball or ultimate Frisbee

  • Concert and cocktails

  • First date revisit (he - or she - will have no excuse for forgetting years later!)

4) The A-list Guest List

Some things are time-honored customs, and for good reason. Immediate family and  everyone participating in the ceremony (the officiant most definitely included) are no-brainers, but it's also considerate to invite close friends and anyone who's come a long distance to attend. If that sounds like a long list, it can be. Stay within budget by going with hors d'oeuvres and drinks as mentioned above. Better and probably just as fun keeping things light and making sure no one is left out.       

5) Timing Is Everything

For tradition's sake as well as logistical practicality, rehearsal dinners are most often held around seven on the evening before the wedding, which is usually a Friday. That allows plenty of time for the 45 minute or so preceding rehearsal. Should the ceremony fall on a Sunday or holiday, you have the option of a one day break between dinner night and wedding, giving folks more time to relax and reboot before the big day. If, on the other hand, guests are arriving at the last minute, a wedding day breakfast may be the move.

6) Your Attention Please 

Rehearsal dinners are more relaxed than what follows, and many guests will want to sing your praises in their own inimitable fashion. So while you and your to-be are expected to speak (either after the host or at evening's end), consider passing the mic around and practicing your gracious good humor. You'll likely be toasted, roasted, bragged-on and brazed. Take it with a smile and in the spirit of love with which it is, for the most part, intended.

7) Party Gifts

The rehearsal dinner is the traditional occasion for giving members of the wedding party gifts from the bride and groom, particularly if they are to be worn during the ceremony. Parents, without whose love, support and guidance your union would not be possible, are recipients of meaningful, personalized gifts as well.

8) Last Minute Reminders

Some things can't be rehearsed and even some that can may be forgotten, so don't be shy about reminding people (perhaps in a second, evening-ending thank you speech) what, if anything, they're supposed to bring, where they're supposed to be to get ready and when to be there. If it's a large group, reiterate any list of the day's activities and any arrangements you've made for transportation.

At the end of the day, or should we say evening, the rehearsal dinner is a once-in-life-time opportunity for the bride and groom to share the joy they've found together with those closest to them. It doesn't have to be perfect; that's what the actual wedding is for. But it should be fun. With a little attention to the details listed here, the stress should be off, the evening well-planned and your wedding weekend off to the perfect start. Reach out to the caring professionals at H on the Harbor for more information and to book the rehearsal dinner you'll remember forever.