Wedding Day Advice | Wedding Planning

How to Host a Rehearsal Dinner

If you’re a fan of feel-good Hollywood rom-coms, you’ve no doubt noticed those dreamy movie scenes of bridal couples enjoying fancy rehearsal dinners, the night before their wedding. Far from being celluloid inventions, rehearsal dinners are huge in the States, with every American bridal couple incorporating this event into their wedding celebrations. Now, the American rehearsal dinner tradition is trending worldwide. If you’re thinking about hosting a rehearsal dinner, here’s what you need to know…

What is a Rehearsal Dinner?
Sometime in the week preceding your wedding, your marriage officiant requires all involved in the wedding ceremony – bride, groom, bridesmaids, groomsmen, ushers etc. – to run through the wedding ceremony, from beginning to end, to familiarise themselves with the procedure. At this stage, nerves are understandably high, in anticipation of the big day. What’s needed is a bit of a knees-up, to help ease those pre-wedding jitters. Enter the rehearsal dinner – a celebratory meal held after the wedding rehearsal. In addition to giving all involved a chance to unwind prior to the wedding day, the rehearsal dinner also allows family members and friends who’ve not yet formally met to get acquainted, and to say thank you to the bride and groom’s parents, the bridesmaids, the groomsmen and others for all their hard work in planning and co-ordinating the wedding.

What Happens at a Rehearsal Dinner?

More than just a sideshow to the main event, the rehearsal dinner has become an occasion of its own, with American bridal couples really going to town. Here’s what happens at a traditional American rehearsal do:

  • The venue – often an exclusive restaurant or the hotel where guests are staying if it’s a destination wedding – is decked out according to the rehearsal dinner theme. Tables are complete with themed centrepieces, flowers and table linen.
  • Guests are wined and dined from a specially selected menu
  • Toasts and roasts – the bride and groom toast their parents and the wedding party, and there are speeches from the bridegroom’s father. It’s up to the best man to ‘roast’ the groom, with an amusing story from his bachelor days.
  • Thank you gifts from the bride and groom are given to attendees
  • Rehearsal dinners are often dinner-dances, with a live band. At the very least, there’s an ensemble playing instrumental mood music.
  • Last, but not least, there’s a Groom’s Cake – chosen by the groom (or his mother), it’s often just as grand as the wedding cake.

Who organises the Rehearsal Dinner?

Given that the cost of the rehearsal dinner is the responsibility of the groom’s family, hand over the project management of the event to your mother-in-law. Not only will it lessen your load, but will make her feel included in the wedding planning process.

Who’s invited to the Rehearsal dinner?

Rehearsal dinners are more intimate and exclusive affairs than the wedding reception. Special guests who make the rehearsal dinner list include:

  • The marriage officer and his/her spouse
  • Bride and groom’s parents, along with their new partners if they’re divorced
  • Bridesmaids and groomsmen, plus their partners
  • Ushers and readers, plus their partners
  • Grandparents of the bride and groom
  • Other immediate family members and close friends, and their partners

You may wish to include out-of-town guests who’ve trekked to your wedding.

Rehearsal Dinner Invitations

American etiquette dictates that guests receive printed or handwritten invitations to rehearsal dinners which are to be formal in nature. Stateside, such invitations can be as extravagant as the wedding invitations themselves. It’s perfectly acceptable, though, to send invitations for more informal rehearsal dinners via email. For very casual affairs, it’s good enough to extend verbal invitations to guests.

Rehearsal Dinner Dress

What the bridal party wears to the rehearsal dinner depends on the formality of the occasion. In the US, where glitzy rehearsal dinners are commonplace, brides opt for cocktail dresses, often in white – a sort-of mini version of the wedding dress. There’s no hard-and-fast rule, so wear what suits you. Brides-to-be can never go wrong with the proverbial little black dress.

Rehearsal Dinner Tips

According to Martha Stewart Weddings, the rehearsal dinner can complement the wedding, but it shouldn’t copy or overshadow it. Here are her top tips:

  • Think of your rehearsal dinner as your wedding’s alter-ego – while complementary, it still needs to stand apart from the wedding reception.
  • Don’t go too formal – while it can be a smart occasion, it shouldn’t be too stuffy or uptight. Relax and enjoy!
  • Meet and greet – introduce guests to each other and make sure everyone’s comfortable with each other. You’ll be too preoccupied to do this on your wedding day.
  • Include cocktails, bubbly and wine to put people in the celebratory spirit
  • Don’t serve too heavy a meal – keep the food fresh and light; the last thing you and your guests need is tummy trouble on the big day
  • Let the rehearsal dinner be a taste of the party to come – finish early, to give everyone a chance to get a good night’s sleep, and leave them wanting more!

Cheap Rehearsal Dinner Ideas

Of course, hosting a lavish rehearsal dinner at a swanky venue means added cost and the stress of managing yet another event. If you don’t have the cash, time or inclination for a full-on rehearsal dinner, opt for one of these low-budget alternatives:

  • Host a small dinner party at your home, or at the home of your mother-in-law – enlist talented family members to help with the catering
  • Hold a casual backyard braai – decorate the venue with a few decorative items which echo your wedding theme and colours
  • Throw a cocktail party – a few drinks, nibbles and a little music go a long way…

Rehearsal Dinner Checklist

In a nutshell, here’s what you need to do:

  • Draft a budget
  • Source and book a venue
  • Compile a guest list
  • Organise invitations and post or email to guests
  • Finalise the menu
  • Draw up a seating chart
  • Organise table settings and flowers
  • Organise place cards for the tables
  • Hire a band or organise background music
  • Organise rehearsal dinner wedding favours
  • Organise a Groom’s Cake
  • Organise rehearsal dinner attire for bride, groom and bridal party.
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