Rehearsal Dinner 101

After a few run-throughs of your ceremony, spend the evening with toasts, roasts and quality time with your nearest and dearest.
Gia Canali Photography

Cross this to-do off your list, ladies! What you need to know first and foremost about the Rehearsal Dinner—the traditional dinnertime event that takes place the night before the wedding—is that this is the one fun and popular party you don’t have to plan.

So why read on, you ask? Even if you’re not a control freak about any wedding-related party involving you and your beloved, you should still bone up on the basics of this event, often the site of some of the most moving toasts, meaningful conversations you’ll have all weekend and (dare we say) initial flirtations between your single guests.

Plus, did we mention how this party is in your honor (natch)? Read on for everything you ever needed to know about this soirée.

What is it?

Set on the night before your wedding, this dinner technically happens after you and your bridal party gather to do a walk-through of your ceremony. In the last few decades, the dinner has morphed into a larger event, one that also includes any out-of-town guests who have arrived at their hotel for your wedding the next day but do not have dinner plans.

Who is invited?

Again, though it depends on the definition you are using for the intent of this dinner, you should at least invite the officiant, your attendants and the spouses (and maybe even kids) of those participating in your ceremony. But if you’re also including the out-of-town guests, then all those who are staying at a hotel for the night should be invited.

Who pays for it?

Traditionally, it is the groom’s parents who pay for this party. But this dictum is more in sync with weddings where the bride’s family pays for the actual matrimonial event. If both sets of parents are chipping in for the wedding (or you and your partner are footing the bill), you can be more flexible with who should handle the cost and planning of the night-before dinner.

Where do we throw it?

This is the fun part: the sky’s the limit! First, the guest list is smaller than the wedding’s, so this opens up the possibilities for venues. Second, since you’re not arranging a complicated party that needs to satisfy such needs like proximity to the ceremony site, a sound system to accommodate a band or DJ, 100-plus guests and so on, you can host a rehearsal dinner just about anywhere that can serve a dinner, from an Italian restaurant or a catered meal at an art gallery to a seafood shack or even a BBQ at a family member’s home.

When do we invite guests?

Like the wedding invitation, the rehearsal invite should be printed and mailed. But its style can be markedly different (read: more casual and fun) than the wedding invites. Expect that these should be mailed no sooner than two weeks after the wedding invitations went out.

What happens at the dinner?

Besides eating and conversation, there are a few formalities that are expected at a rehearsal dinner. For one, there are toasts. This is where the hosts (so the groom’s parents if they are paying) rise to toast the new bride-to-be and her family at dessert time. The groom often follows with a little speech to his new in-laws and bride. Also, this event is often about gift giving. Here, the bride and groom give their bridal party their gifts (especially if the gifts are items like a shawl or tie they should wear at the wedding the next day). 

It’s also a nice time for the bride and groom to present their parents with their gifts. Some brides and grooms also surprise each other with surprise gifts here, too. Finally, use this night for any announcements you want to underscore to your attendants and guests. Sure, this event is relaxed and casual, but it’s just a warm-up for the full party tomorrow that you’ve taken months to plan.

--Erinn Bucklan

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