How to plan your rehearsal dinner

June 14, 2023Lauren Windle

What’s the purpose of this “party before the party?” Who should you invite? And who should pay?

Traditionally, the rehearsal dinner is the first event of your wedding and has three primary purposes:

  • It’s an opportunity for family members and friends to get to meeteach other – often for the first time – especially those out-of-town guests.
  • It’s a thank you to everyone involved in your wedding.
  • It’s usually held on the same day or right after the smaller actual rehearsal, where wedding procedures and protocol are rehearsed with your bridal party and wedding planner/church official.

In short, having a rehearsal dinner helps everyone get to know each other better and establish new ties ahead of the wedding.

So, who pays?

Let’s get this tricky question addressed right off the bat. Traditionally, one family pays for the wedding and the other family (generally the groom’s) hosts/pays for the rehearsal dinner. However, couples are more independent these days (and a little older) and as a result, are opting to foot the bill themselves -- or pool money from both sets of parents. It really is up to you, depending on your circumstance and preference. (Quick aside: Whomever pays gets the final say on who is invited and host of the evening so be sure to factor that in!)

What’s expected?

Traditions are not “must-do’s” anymore. So do what you want. That said, here are some activities we’ve noticed are often included:

  • Toast! One of the reasons for having a rehearsal dinner is for couples to thank those people involved in their ceremony. This is a great time to say a few words to thank those you love, and family members traveling from afar.

You can ask others to come up and do a toast (prepared or off the cuff). Often best friends of the bride and groom each give one. You can also do an “open mic” of sorts.

It’s a good idea to have bottles of champagne or sparkling wine available for toasting. (We can help you figure out how many to have based on how many people you invite.)

  • Eat! Having great food is great part of the evening. (Naturally, this is Jacquie’s team’s favorite part!) But – it doesn’t have to be a three course meal. It could be appetizers, or the bridal couple’s favorite dinner (Italian, seafood, bar food, heck, even pizza!) Make it reflect who you are.
  • Gift! This is a nice time for couples to give gifts to their wedding party, parents, officiant, or anyone else helping with the wedding. Bonus: One less thing you have to remember on your wedding day.
  • Mingle! Want your wedding to be more fun? Consider games or fun activities that help guests become more comfortable with each other.

Some couples incorporate some sort of slide show to highlight their travel, how they met, became engaged, or their different childhoods.

Sample timeline

We’ve seen rehearsal dinners that dragged on, and those that were perfectly paced. Here’s what Jacquie Bols have noticed works best:

  • 6:00 Guests arrive. Have drinks readily available.
  • 6:30 Everyone is seated and host welcomes guests. The planned toasts occur, often with appetizers on tables. Open bar or wine/champagne tableside.
  • 6:45 Start slideshow after toast and while guests dine.
  • 7:15 More toasts from the guests. This is a great time for family and friends to hear more about the couple.
  • 7:30 After dinner, you might offer a small dessert. This is a great time to get one on one time with those most important to you and hand out any gifts to those key players.

We love to cater rehearsal dinners because they can be so much fun!

How can we help you plan? If you have questions, we have answers!

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