The Rehearsal Dinner: Setting the Tone for Your Wedding

Discover what every bride should know before planning a pre-wedding event.

The rehearsal dinner, while clearly not the main event, is certainly a part of the wedding dream, and one that should not be overlooked as it sets the tone for the entire celebratory weekend.

Photo: Our Two Hearts

The rehearsal dinner, while clearly not the main event, is certainly a part of the wedding dream, and one that should not be overlooked as it sets the tone for the entire celebratory weekend. I always tell my clients first and foremost that the rehearsal dinner is supposed to be fun, and they should embrace the evening as a time to savor special moments with the ones they love. Read below for the main items to keep in mind when planning your rehearsal dinner.

The Execution
When it comes to mood and theme, many times the bride and groom feel that the rehearsal dinner must be executed in a style that complements the wedding. This, of course, is always a practical route, but I emphasize that opting for a complete contrast is just as becoming. There are no rules! If you planned a winter-wonderland wedding, a fun theme for the rehearsal dinner, such as Moroccan, is certainly going to look and feel different, as it is colorful and exotic with food that is unusual and exciting. 

I particularly love when a bride and groom choose a theme that is inspired by a fun interest they both share as it adds a personal sentiment to the special weekend. One couple I worked with was very into the NYC bar scene, so for the rehearsal dinner, we created a New York saloon menu by reinventing dishes they both loved from their favorite saloons around the city and served them buffet style. The couple was so thrilled to be able to share these handpicked dishes that they both loved with their friends and family. It made the night that much more representative of them as a couple and thus, memorable. 

The Purpose
As its name suggests, the rehearsal dinner typically follows the ceremony run-through, but it is more than just a meal. There are certain functions a proper rehearsal dinner should serve – the most important being the toasts and speeches. In my opinion, the only speeches that should be made during the actual wedding are those of the bride and groom's parents, the maid or matron of honor, and the best man. If too much time is spent during the reception on speeches, it kills the mood and becomes too long-winded. Of course there will be multiple guests who have speeches prepared: close friends, cousins, grandparents and so on, so the rehearsal dinner is the perfect time and place for those individuals to deliver them.

In many instances, the rehearsal dinner is the first occasion that all of the couple’s friends and family are congregated together. There is a good chance that a lot of them will be meeting for the first time, especially when people are traveling from out of town. Because the rehearsal dinner is typically more laid back and intimate, it is the perfect setting to encourage everyone to mingle and get acquainted, which is why I suggest to my clients that they create a seating chart. Sit people together that you feel would hit it off and take the time to make personal introductions.

Guest List
Selecting a guest list for the rehearsal dinner can be somewhat difficult. You can’t invite everyone who is attending the wedding, so it requires that certain cuts be made. All members of the wedding party are a given as they are not only the people who are closest to the bride and groom but are also required to attend the actual rehearsal. Parents and grandparents fall into the no-brainer category as well. I have been asked whether or not those guests traveling from out of town should be invited and my answer to this is always yes. I understand that these specific individuals may not be the closest to the hosts, but they have spent time and money to be there for the occasion, so they deserve to be included in all stages of the celebration.

It is imperative that I emphasize that the rehearsal dinner should be a joyous occasion where the husband- and wife-to-be share their excitement and happiness with everyone they love. Whether the evening is casual and intimate or large and extravagant, the most important thing is that everyone has fun. I say this especially to the brides: You have stressed about the details of the wedding for months, perhaps years. Take this moment to simply relax and soak it all in. After all, tomorrow you are marrying the man of your dreams!