The Complete Guide on How to Plan a Rehearsal Dinner

The Complete Guide on How to Plan a Rehearsal Dinner

Rehearsal dinners are a key wedding weekend event. They provide the hosts and couple a chance to kick back, relax, and express gratitude for everyone actively involved in their big day. However, figuring out how to plan a rehearsal dinner can be a challenge. That’s why we’ve created this foolproof guide to take you through each step! Discover easy-to-follow directions and answers to your most important rehearsal dinner questions below. 

What is a rehearsal dinner?

Rehearsal dinners are small celebrations that usually occur the night before the wedding day after the run-through of the ceremony (aka the rehearsal) is complete. A traditional rehearsal dinner has, as you can probably guess, an actual sit-down dinner. 

Guests typically include the happy couple, their parents, the bridal party, anyone who attended the actual rehearsal, and other close friends and family. The couple or their parents may give a toast or two thanking everyone for their role in the wedding. Additional guests may give toasts as well.

Discover how to plan a rehearsal dinner in 13 simple steps:

1. Create a checklist

When it comes to learning how to plan a rehearsal dinner, don’t underestimate the power of checklists. Although rehearsal dinners are far more casual than the ceremony or reception, it's important to maintain the same level of communication and note-taking as you have with the rest of the event. Use the information provided with this post or come up with your own to-do list that will organize the rehearsal dinner. Create a digital document that you can share with co-hosts or hosts to keep everyone in the loop.

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2. Choose a host for the rehearsal dinner

Traditionally, whichever family did not pay for the wedding should pay for these expenses. If both families split the cost of the wedding, they can also split the cost of the rehearsal dinner. Just keep in mind that whoever pays for it will likely do most of the decision-making. Some couples choose to pay for the rehearsal dinner themselves, which gives them full planning privileges for the event. 

In addition to the financial obligation, the host will be expected to greet guests and give a short toast. If you'd like someone to host the evening and make sure everything runs smoothly, work with your venue to find a suitable coordinator, or take matters into your own hands.

Put simply: There’s no right or wrong answer here, and selecting the host — and all of the logistics that go along with it — varies from rehearsal to rehearsal.

3. Nail down the budget

A good rule of thumb is to not spend more than the total price of your wedding ceremony and reception divided by 30. Use the average American couples pay (around $1,400) for their rehearsal dinners as your benchmark. Or, price it out per person, which should come out to anywhere between $30 and $70 for a meal and drinks at a moderately-priced location.

If you're on a budget:

  • Consider hosting a potluck at someone’s home

  • Turn dinner into breakfast or brunch

  • Look for a restaurant or venue with a BYOB policy

  • Cut the guest list down to just parents and the bridal party

4. Pick a theme or tone

If you're already using a wedding theme, let it inspire your rehearsal dinner. Or choose a complementary color palette, a special type of venue, or a symbol that's important to you as a couple. For example, if your first-ever dance was to Frank Sinatra's Come Fly With Me, you can use suitcases and airplanes to decorate the space. Other popular rehearsal dinner themes include mini-golf, fondues, and even blackjack tournaments.  

In other words, have fun with it! You can pretty much always expect a rehearsal dinner to be more laid-back and casual than the main event. Use this opportunity to mingle, have fun, and relax together before the big day. 

5. Decide on a date

Rehearsal dinners usually take place the night before the wedding. So if your wedding is on Saturday, the rehearsal dinner will be on Friday night. However, don't feel like you have to follow this schedule. Factors such as weather, budget, and travel schedules are good things to keep in mind.

For example, if you have your rehearsal dinner on a Friday night and your wedding is on Sunday, guests will have time to completely relax and unwind in between events while the other attendees make their way into town.

Also, once you see the whole schedule in front of you, you may find that a rehearsal dinner will be too rushed for everyone to fit in. If that's the case, don’t worry! You can always provide light refreshments at the rehearsal itself or skip food altogether. Remember, your guests won’t want to feel stressed either, which could happen if the events are too close together.

6. Book a venue

The most popular event venue type for a rehearsal dinner is a restaurant, but you don’t have to stick to tradition. Want your rehearsal dinner to be in a park, plaza, theater, mansion, or resort? Go for it! Some venues include catering, but you can always book your own private caterer too. 

First, search for the best rehearsal dinner space on Wedding Spot and narrow down your options by aesthetic, scenery, type, price, and guest list number. Next, narrow it down even further by choosing specific search criteria such as BYOB policies. Look at pricing directly on Wedding Spot to finalize your top two or three choices. 

Then, get a custom quote and confirm the date you chose with the venue. Finally, make sure your host or cohost signs off on it, then place your deposit. 

Pro tip: Always keep signed contracts and cancellation policies, even for your rehearsal dinner venue, in your wedding binder or digital files for easy reference. 

7. Create the rehearsal dinner guest list

You should always invite your closest family members and the bridal party to the rehearsal dinner. If you have any children participating in the wedding, make sure you invite their parents too. Also, don't forget about your officiant, priest, or any other important ceremony participant that you want to thank for participating. And, if you have room, show gratitude to out-of-town guests by inviting them too. 

8. Come up with a menu

Work with your chosen restaurant or venue to create a rehearsal dinner menu within your budget. A soup or salad plus a main course and dessert with drinks (like wine and beer) should be more than enough. Make it more luxurious with your own custom cocktails or try a laid-back style BBQ. You should already have dietary restrictions from attendees who will also be at your reception, but make a note of who on your guest list you still need this information from. 

9. Send out invitations

Always send your rehearsal dinner invitations out after your wedding invitations, but at least 30 days before the big day. Confirm RSVPs one or two weeks in advance of the rehearsal dinner date. Because this event is more relaxed, eco-friendly digital invitations from sites such as Paperless Post work well. However, if you want a more high-end luxury feel to your rehearsal dinner, go for paper invitations that complement, but don’t outperform, your wedding ones.

10. Plan the evening

Most rehearsal dinners last two to three-plus hours. Give your guests at least 30 minutes to 1 hour to travel between the wedding rehearsal venue and the rehearsal dinner venue, if they’re different places. Some rehearsal dinners include activities such as watching sports games or cooking out, so schedule the appropriate amount of time for whatever it is you have planned.

If you're only doing a meal, use the first half-hour of the event to greet guests, give everyone a chance to mingle, and let servers take care of drink orders. The dinner itself should last 60 to 90 minutes. Between the final course and dessert, leave 10 to 20 minutes for speeches, gift-giving, and any other activities.

11. Gather decorations

Ask your venue if they have special decor or signage you can use to direct guests when they arrive. You can also DIY some banners, balloon arrangements, and centerpieces if you've chosen an outdoor or backyard space. Borrow some of the decorations bought or created for the reception so that everything matches. 

12. Assign roles

If a person who paid for the rehearsal dinner doesn't want to play host, make sure you know who will. If you're hosting the rehearsal dinner at a private home, check in with the owner about what they do or don’t want to do once the dinner is underway. You also need a point person for keeping track of the schedule for the evening, giving tips to the servers and event venue, and coordinating with the caterer if they have any questions the day-of.

13. Confirm bookings

Confirm your booking with the caterer, restaurant, and/or event venue at least one week ahead of time. Update everyone on guest RSVPs, dietary requirements, and the plan for the evening. If you’re not the host, be sure to CC them in correspondence or update them accordingly. 

Now you know how to plan a rehearsal dinner the easy way!

You now know exactly how to plan a rehearsal dinner, what it should cost, and what guests expect out of the experience. Although we’ve already pointed out some great examples, you can always look for unique rehearsal dinner ideas if you want some that are completely out-of-the-box. 

Up next, check out what to wear to a rehearsal dinner to ensure that you’re looking your best for the occasion!

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