At some point while planning your wedding, you’ll probably look up from your to-list or spreadsheet and think “Aw geez. I forgot about that whole other event I have to plan” – the rehearsal dinner. The good news is, despite what your mother/cousin/step-grandfather says, you don’t have to have a rehearsal dinner. If your resources (money, time and energy) are stretched crazy-thin by the wedding, skip it. If you want to have one, it doesn’t have to be “a rehearsal dinner” unless that’s what you want. There’s millions of ways to throw a pre-wedding event, and most of the options are pretty darn fun.
Why Have a Rehearsal Dinner?
A rehearsal dinner puts all your people in the same place–something that may never happen again! Obviously you want to spend as much time with them as you can, and, well, everyone needs to eat! The main point of a rehearsal dinner is to focus on all the special people in your life who want to hang out with you and vice versa. When done well, rehearsal dinners are a bright spot in the craziness that is the pre-wedding week. It’s a few blissful hours where you don’t have to juggle logistics among 15 other things, as most big activities take place at the wedding, such as cake cutting, first dances and cocktail hour. However, the one activity you may want to think having at your rehearsal dinner is toasts. Toasts are a great way to a) have people who won’t be speaking at your wedding say a few words, and b) enjoy toasts in a more intimate, low-pressure environment.
Make your rehearsal dinner the official start of wedding festivities! Avoid wedding prep after the rehearsal starts—if it’s not done at that point, it’s not important, and the dinner is a good time to start relaxing and enjoying the fact that you and your partner are doing something wonderful while being surrounded by everyone you love.
Should the Dinner Match the Wedding?
While rehearsal dinners are usually less formal than weddings, there are definitely cases where the reverse can work–think a big, intimate sit-down dinner the day before your wedding and a picnic or other casual affair on your actual wedding day. Basically, you can use the rehearsal dinner to fulfill any part of your wedding fantasy that isn’t happening the day of. You can also just use it to get people together and introduce them to one another. Options can include:
The Traditional Dinner: The most traditional rehearsal dinner format features everyone present at the rehearsal (wedding party, officiant, immediate family, and all partners of these people) at a restaurant for a lovely meal directly after the rehearsal. Sometimes the guest list is expanded to include extended family or guests from out of town, although with so many people doing the destination wedding thing, “out of town guests” can mean most of your guest list. This format is generally the most formal, however you can opt for a more causal affair if desired.
The House Party: A totally fun option, house parties allow key players (family, wedding party, close friends) to hang out and get to know each other better before the big day. Other affordable ways to have a rehearsal dinner at your house or a friend’s house include taco trucks, barbecues and deli-catered party trays. Think about how would you normally feed a large group of people, as it’s probably a fabulous option for a pre-wedding dinner at home.
The “We’ll Be Here, Come Drink a Beer”: Probably the easiest (and definitely cheapest) pre-wedding event option is to pick a convenient bar and let people know either on the invitations or wedding website. Say where you’ll be and when, and if anyone wants to stop by for a drink you’d love it. Make it clear it’s not hosted, or pick an establishment with affordable pitchers, then let everyone pick up the tab if they want additional drinks.
Additional Options: Other options include field days, wine tastings, pool parties, softball games, bonfires—really, any group activity works as a pre-wedding group shindig!
Wedding planning can make things seem more complicated and stressful than they really are, and this can certainly include the rehearsal dinner. But remember, it doesn’t have to be like that! If you can create a “small party/dinner/gathering with our favorite people” and go from there, you’ll end up with a lovely event that’s neither expensive nor stressful. Good luck, and have fun!