The wedding rehearsal dinner may seem like something cursory that you need to get through, but we’re here to argue that the rehearsal dinner is actually one of the most underrated and memorable parts of your entire wedding weekend. Sure, a rehearsal dinner serves a utilitarian purpose—to feed your hungry troops right after an instruction-filled hour at the event space—but it’s also typically a smaller, more intimate gathering with all of your closest friends and family, which means that you actually get a chance to relax (you remember what that means, right?).
To make your rehearsal dinner every bit as special as your ceremony and reception, you’ll need to get the ball rolling early and plan ahead. Here are six to-do’s to put on your list for a memorable rehearsal dinner.
1. Determine the Date
This might seem like an obvious answer (the night before the wedding, duh!), but not every wedding party is able to have a rehearsal the evening before the ceremony. Whether one of your bridal party members has a scheduling conflict or you are only able to get into the ceremony space a few days before, there could be a multitude of reasons why you might have your wedding rehearsal on a different date than expected.
2. Decide Who’s Hosting
Traditionally, the groom’s parents host the rehearsal dinner and pay for all of the meals, drinks, and the rental for the space. But like all other wedding trends, the tradition doesn’t necessarily dictate the reality. The bride’s family, the couple’s closest friends, the groom’s aunts and uncles or the couple themselves could host the rehearsal dinner—but you’ve got to determine who is responsible pretty early on so that you can put someone in charge.
Once you determine who is hosting, they will take on the responsibility of arranging the dinner, the rental, and picking out the menu. However, it’s still important to give them your input so they know what you want (and, more importantly, don’t want) so that they can accommodate.
3. Pick a Menu and a Style
Depending on your budget, your rehearsal dinner can be as fancy or as casual as you like. The meal can be a formal, seated affair with place cards, several courses and champagne cocktails—or it can be a backyard barbecue at your aunt and uncle’s house, followed by a raucous pool party. It’s completely up to you what kind of vibe you’d like to set. The only guideline in place for a rehearsal dinner is just to make sure that it isn’t a carbon copy of what your wedding is going to be like. You want your guests to be surprised and wowed, after all!
After you’ve picked out where you want the rehearsal dinner to be and what kind of atmosphere you’d like to set, you can get to work on the menu as well as the guest list.
4. Plan a Guest List
Traditionally, the only guests who are invited to the rehearsal dinner are those who are directly involved with the wedding. This list includes both sets of parents, all of your bridesmaids and groomsmen, the officiant, anyone who is doing a reading or performing music, as well as your flower girl, ring bearer, and their parents. It’s also polite to invite the plus-one of your bridesmaids and groomsmen—especially if they’ve traveled a long way to attend your wedding. Also commonly invited to the rehearsal dinner are grandparents as well as any out-of-towners.
5. Decide Who Should Give the Toasts
The wedding may not have officially begun, but it’s already a celebration at the rehearsal dinner, which calls for a toast (or maybe a few). Although it’s not required to have a toast portion of the evening, it’s something that you won’t soon forget—and might even be one of your top memories of your wedding experience. You can do an open call for toasts or ask a few important figures (like your dad, your future father-in-law, your favorite aunt, or your sibling) to give a brief toast before you begin the meal. We can guarantee that there won’t be a dry eye in the house.
6. Plan a Few Decorations
There’s no need to go overboard with decorating your rehearsal dinner space—and let’s face it, you probably won’t have the time—but it’ll make the room feel a little more party-like if you have a few decorations. All you need to make it feel festive is to add some bunting, pop some flowers into a vase, and light a few candles. Whatever you do, don’t borrow too much from your wedding decorations. First of all, you don’t want to get disorganized. And second of all, you want your guests to see everything for the first time when they step into the ceremony space.