The Dos and Don'ts of Planning a Rehearsal Dinner

Keep these suggestions in mind while planning your pre-nuptial celebration.

If you plan on having a rehearsal dinner before your wedding day, read these tips to ensure you're planning and communicating the event correctly!

ann whittington events elegant rehearsal dinner southern style country club bride and groom to be at long rehearsal dinner table
Photo: Chris Bailey Photography

Today’s rehearsal dinners are an option that some brides and grooms choose to forgo – whether it’s due to timing, budget, or another extenuating factor. The one-time wedding formality has drifted in recent years, as couples are now planning for longer nuptials and feel a dinner with their nearest and dearest may be unnecessary – many opting for a welcome party instead. However, pairs who have families that haven’t met, relatives coming in from far and wide, or a penchant for pre-parties are holding fast to this practice – with their own personal touches!

Of course, as with any wedding custom, there is certain decorum to follow – even in modern times. If you and your beloved choose to host a rehearsal dinner before your big day, we recommend keeping these dos and don’ts in mind:

The Dos and Don'ts of Hosting a Rehearsal Dinner

Do treat the event like a celebration, not a rehearsal.

Traditionally, the rehearsal dinner was planned immediately following the run-through of the ceremony processional – typically the night before the wedding – as a “last supper” before marriage. While you should certainly have a ceremony rehearsal before the wedding day, if your focus for the evening revolves around explaining the next day’s schedule in detail with your bridal party and family, you’re essentially having a “working dinner.”

Ideally, you will give out any extra information your party may require, but you’ll be more interested in toasting your fast-approaching nuptials and thanking the people helping to make it happen. You deserve to shake off some of those jitters and have fun with the people you care about! Get the rehearsal details out of the way, so you, your future spouse, and your closest friends and family can enjoy the celebration.

Don't call it a “dinner” if it doesn’t include a full menu.

When sending wedding invitations, speaking about it with those on the guest list, and referencing the rehearsal dinner with your planner, keep in mind the meal options. If you be serving hors d’oeuvres and appetizers – or if the gathering will not include food – we suggest naming the celebration aptly. A “Rehearsal Cocktail Party” or “Rehearsal Game Night” both sound charming and will give your friends and family the assumption that they will need to eat beforehand or make dinner plans for after the event. Additionally, for good measure, you may want to explicitly state your menu – or lack thereof – to attendees prior.

Do send invites around the same time as your wedding invitations.

As with your big day, people will need advanced notice to clear their schedules, particularly if the rehearsal dinner falls on a Friday evening and many are coming in from out of town. Notifying them early will ensure a more organized and complete list of attendees. If you will be sharing details of the big day at your rehearsal dinner, your guest list can help you to determine who needs the “day of” information sent to them, and who will be able to hear the overview at the dinner.

Do include the bridal party exclusively.

As previously mentioned, the reasoning behind hosting a rehearsal dinner shouldn’t be strictly practical – you should want to praise everyone assisting with your stroll down the aisle. More than likely, your bridesmaids and groomsmen are not the only ones who have done legwork: parents, grandparents, spouses, even your officiant on some occasions should be included. Though not all will accept the invitation, it’s also polite to invite out-of-town relatives to thank them for making the trip. The rehearsal dinner is often much less formal than the wedding reception meal, so the more the merrier!

Do remember to include grateful speeches.

It is appropriate – and encouraged – to make a toast to your guests at some point in the evening. If, per tradition, the groom’s parents are hosting, they will likely want to say a few words. As you don’t have as strict of an itinerary for this event, others have time to chime in with pre-wedding toasts as well. 

Don't plan it for the night before if that doesn’t work for you.

If you’re trying to remain as close to tradition as possible, you’re going to want to choose the night before you tie the knot as your rehearsal dinner date; however, we recommend reviewing your calendar and your style to make a personalized decision. For example, if your best friends want to throw you a fête on your last night as a single woman, don’t feel obligated to insist they reschedule. Similarly, if you and your sweetheart want to make your “first look” special by spending the days leading up to the ceremony separated, you can select a date the weekend before for this get-together. But remember: this may eliminate the possibility for out-of-town guests to attend, so be mindful! It's often on the same weekend – some couples will have a Thursday rehearsal dinner, followed by a Friday welcome party for all of their guests. Do what's right for you!

To create an unforgettable evening, check out our rehearsal dinner style ideas. Discover expert advice on etiquette rules for the wedding party and etiquette tips for the parents of the bride and groom!

Opening photo by Chris Bailey Photography; Planning & Design by Ann Whittington Events; From Real Event: Lovely Southern Rehearsal Dinner at a Country Club in Houston, Texas