Search the topic “Rehearsal dinner” in any search engine and you will find the word “tradition” bandied about very liberally. However, no one can state clearly how, when, and why this tradition began. What we do know is that it is a fairly recent addition to the pre-wedding party list. And, that it is a North American tradition. Knowing this helps us understand why so many are confused about this simple party.
Whether or not we know exactly what the first party was, where it began, or why, at this point in time we need some useful pointers and rules to be able to host a well-received rehearsal dinner. Also, when planning, it may be best to focus on who we are now and how we live. Hey, this isn’t the 1950’s or even the 1990’s! As the times change, so does etiquette.
So, let’s dive into that deep dark rehearsal dinner etiquette pool!
Who hosts rehearsal dinner?
Here’s that word “tradition” again. Traditionally, the groom’s parents hosted the rehearsal dinner chiefly because the bride’s family was responsible for paying most all wedding costs. This is where “focus” comes into play. Today, the bride’s parents are not financially responsible for anything, which releases the groom’s parents from this obligation as well.
So, who hosts? Interestingly, this is not a mandatory party. It’s just a pleasant way to wind down after all the wedding planning and rehearsing and a time to give gifts to our attendants. If the couple decides to include this party, anyone may host–anyone, including the bridal couple. This is most common for older and encore wedding couples.
Guessing about the guest list?
This party shouldn’t be too large, as to compare to the reception. So, let’s keep our focus. Those who rehearsed and their spouses should be invited; these are “must invite” guests. Some will say that spouses are not mandatory. However, let’s consider the amount of time and hard earned cash our attendants have laid out just for our wedding. The spouses have put up with all of this; so wouldn’t it be most polite to invite them too?
Who Should Be Invited to the Rehearsal Dinner?
Bridesmaids, groomsmen, ushers, flower girls and ring bearers (with their adult supervision, of course!), your officiant and other close family and friends form the traditional group, but cultural or religious factors may have an influence. In Jewish tradition, for example, it’s customary for anyone invited to the wedding to be invited to the rehearsal dinner. The feeling is that they’ve flown out, they’ve given a gift, and they need to eat. End of story.
Must invite list includes:
The bridal couple
Parents (including steps)
Attendants with spouses
Child attendants (isn’t mandatory, but polite) with parents
Officiates with spouse
If there is a close relationship, immediate family could also be invited: brothers, sisters, and grandparents. Some will also add out-of-town guests into the mix. Be careful with your planning and focus here. Inviting out of town guests might sound like it is a polite gesture, which it is, but can you include all out of towners? What about those who are not included? Plus, do we muddle the reason for hosting this party in the first place by including these guests? Of course, each of us will have to decide for ourselves. But, the most polite option might be to plan an alternative “something” for out of town guests. This something could be a brunch after the wedding, or a cocktail reception hosted by another family member or the couple if hosted a different day than the rehearsal dinner. I’m sure there are other alternatives, but this gives us an idea of where to begin.
When should I start planning my rehearsal dinner?
As soon as you can make the reservation, do it, but the general consensus is at least three to six months in advance of the date. By three months out, couples have a good idea how many guests will be attending and they can plan a menu that doesn’t conflict with their wedding day. Consider scheduling your rehearsal dinner on a Thursday night if you’re having a Saturday wedding. There’s an excellent chance you’ll reduce the cost of your rehearsal dinner, plus everyone can party as much as they want, sleep it off on Friday, and wake up for a wonderful wedding on Saturday.
When should I have my rehearsal dinner?
The rehearsal dinner should naturally follow the rehearsal – makes sense right? However, we don’t necessarily have to schedule our rehearsal and dinner the night before the wedding. Often, it is more relaxing to rehearse and host our dinners the week before the wedding. This also gives everyone involved time to consider any questions they might have. Plus, there is the added benefit of not having to attend yet another wedding related function directly before the wedding. Of course, this option is only best if we lived in a perfect world where everyone lives nearby and no one needs to travel.
What to do if you are not in that perfect world? Try to schedule the rehearsal for the day before the wedding, if possible, with the dinner immediately following or later that evening. If attendants have to travel to the wedding location, you won’t want to make them arrive too many days before the wedding, incurring costs for their stay.
What type of invitation should be extended?
Depending on the size and formality of the event, invitations may be printed, written on informal or fill-in cards, or may simply be handwritten, phoned or emailed. A physical invitation serves as a tangible reminder of the date, time, and address of the party. It’s a good idea to include directions to the party and RSVP information, usually a phone number or email address. Send invitations three to six weeks in advance.
Unless the rehearsal dinner is big and formal (and in most cases this is unnecessary), there is no need to send out formal invitations. Invitations can be made on your home computer or, to save postage, make contact via email or telephone.
When do the rehearsal dinner invitations go out?
It’s best to send them four weeks before the event and, of course, after the wedding invitation. You should never put the rehearsal dinner invite in with the wedding invite. Remember: Even though rehearsal dinners are a part of the wedding festivities, they really are two separate events. Elegant, formal invitations are perfect for the wedding, but feel free to express your creativity with color and thematic elements for the rehearsal dinner invites.
The main purpose of the rehearsal dinner is to thank the bridal party and family members who have supported the couple during the planning and wedding preparation by offering a nice meal with some good conversation.
Toasting at a rehearsal dinner?
Should we or shouldn’t we? Yes, we could. But, it isn’t obligatory.
The host begins and others follow. And, try to keep polite toasts short–nothing too long and no roasting. This isn’t a time to embarrass anyone.
If the couple wishes to include toasts, hold off until everyone has their dinner. Perhaps this could even wait until dessert.
Here’s the deal with rehearsal dinner toasting. It does vary, but chances are some people will toast you: your parents, the best man, and good friends. When you are toasted, you should definitely rise in thanks, and perhaps make a toast in return — to your bride, to your parents, to both sets of parents, and so on. (The bride may also make a toast if she likes.) But because since you’re having a pretty intimate dinner, you probably won’t get away with saying nothing. Don’t stress out about it though. You don’t have to say anything earth shattering — just say thank you to whomever toasted you, tell your fiance you love her and can’t wait for your day to begin, and thank your parents for all they’ve done for you. You know the drill! The rehearsal dinner really is traditionally the groom’s and his parent’s thing, so you can’t just fade into the woodwork. And if you get nervous, just remember — it’s the best man who’s expected to be witty, not you!
Giving gifts is a traditional (there’s that word again!) way of thanking your bridal party and family for sticking by you, maybe when it wasn’t that easy! Gifts can be given anytime during the dinner, but giving the gifts may be a good warm up. Here’s some etiquette on gift giving:
Choose each gift individually, keeping the recipient’s personality in mind.
Stay within the same monetary ballpark, but gifts don’t have to be the same.
Gifts don’t have to be expensive, or engraved. Give from the heart.
Letters make terrific keepsake gifts for parents. Let them know what they mean to you!
Note: If not hosting a rehearsal dinner, all gifts may be given in private. A bride may give gifts to her bridesmaids during a bridal luncheon she hosts. A groom may give his gifts at any time before the wedding.
What happens during the dinner?
The focus of the dinner is for the wedding party and the two families to relax, enjoy each other’s company, and celebrate the bride and groom and the joining of two families. Sometimes, this will be the first time that the two families meet. It’s important for the couple and their parents to make sure that everyone is introduced to each other. Traditionally, this dinner is highlighted by toasts, toasts, and more toasts!
The attendant’s toasts may be sentimental, but they’re also a great opportunity to regale guests with tales, jokes, songs, and poems about the bride and groom—as long as they’re light-hearted and in good taste. Sometimes the bride and groom stand and speak; even if they don’t, they generally end the toasting by proposing a toast first to their respective parents and then to all their friends and relatives in attendance.
The rehearsal dinner is the perfect occasion for the maid of honor and the best man to present the attendant’s gifts to the couple, accompanied by a short speech or toast. The bride and groom may give their gifts to their attendants and thank them with a short speech as well.
Do We Have to Invite Videographer to Rehearsal Dinner?
Keep in mind that the actual rehearsal and the rehearsal dinner are two separate events. We recommend that you bring your photographer and videographer to just the dinner portion.
Rehearsal Dinner Do’s & Don’ts
Don’t be petty–focus on what this is supposed to be
Do let the host be in charge. Don’t try to micromanage this!
Don’t ask the host to invite additional guests; those not in the bridal party
Don’t drink too much
Do toast, but don’t roast
Do wear something fitting the surroundings. No need to overdress, wear certain colors or match any wedding themes.
Do pay for the entire event. No cash bars or potlucks.
Other Rehearsal Dinner Tips from Experts
Author, The Etiquette Book, A Complete Guide To Modern Manners:
Do take the time to consider seating. At one rehearsal dinner the Great-Grandmother of the bride ended up sitting with the groom’s fraternity brothers because no one had thought to save her a seat with the bride, groom and their parents.
When is it? Even though most people hold their rehearsal dinner on the evening before the wedding immediately following the ceremony run-through, you can choose to have yours whenever it suits you.
Who pays? Traditionally, the groom’s parents plan and pay for the rehearsal dinner. These days, however, many couples shell out for the shindig themselves or ask both sets of parents to share the cost. If you feel strongly about the venue that’s chosen for the dinner, now is the time to discuss everyone’s plans.
How formal should our rehearsal dinner be? Honestly, it is totally up to you. The only rule you should really follow is making sure that your rehearsal dinner is not more formal than your actual wedding. A nice touch is to match the wedding and rehearsal dinner. Having a country wedding, do the same theme for the rehearsal dinner.
Where do we have our rehearsal dinner? There are so many great rehearsal dinner options. A favorite local restaurant is always an easy and safe option. Select a place that’s close to your rehearsal site so that it’s convenient for guests and make sure you’ve reserved a private room. Other options include using someone’s backyard; or even a clam shack or pizza parlor for a super-casual affair, if you really want to be unique.