Rehearsal Dinner Etiquette: How to Plan the Perfect Event

The tips you need for a smooth rehearsal dinner.
rehearsal dinner etiquette

The rehearsal dinner is one of the most important events leading up to your wedding. Typically held the night before the big day, it brings together your wedding party and other important guests for one last ‘hurrah’ before the stress of the day-of event kicks in.

While the bachelor and bachelorette parties are a chance to celebrate your single status with your closest friends one last time, rehearsal dinners are an opportunity to relax and enjoy yourself alongside your favorite people and to breathe a sigh of relief that all of your wedding plans are finally coming together.

Even though they should be low-key, intimate celebrations, it’s still important to follow proper rehearsal dinner etiquette, both during the planning process and the actual event. Don’t make the mistake of assuming this is just another casual dinner with family and friends.

Here are the top things to keep in mind to ensure you don’t commit any rehearsal dinner etiquette faux pas.

Who Should Pay for the Rehearsal Dinner?

The groom’s family traditionally hosts and pays for this pre-wedding dinner. However, if one thing’s certain, it’s that weddings are hardly traditional these days.

While it would be nice for the groom’s parents to cover the cost of the rehearsal dinner, if they don’t offer, it’s not a good idea to press the issue. If the bride’s parents offer, great. If no one offers, that’s also fine. The bride or the groom can pick up the tab.

Whatever happens, try to nail down who’s paying for what — every last bit of the wedding — before you start planning a single thing. This will help ensure you’re not putting together an event that you can’t afford.

Who Should Be Invited to the Rehearsal Dinner?

If you’re hosting a small rehearsal dinner and want to keep your costs low, you can stick to a bare-bones guest list without worrying about committing some terrible rehearsal dinner etiquette error.

Aside from the bride and groom and the members of the wedding party and their dates, your parents, siblings and anyone participating in or helping with the ceremony should be invited to the rehearsal dinner. That includes your officiant, musicians, and the parents of your ring bearer and flower girl.

You can extend rehearsal dinner invitations to other close friends and family members if you wish, but if they’re not helping in some way with the ceremony, you don’t need to invite them.

Do I Need to Send Rehearsal Dinner Invitations?

Save-the-dates, showers, the wedding itself — there are a lot of invitations required for a wedding. However, unless you’re going black tie with your rehearsal dinner, you don’t need to send formal invitations to your guests. Digital invitations are fine. Do try, though, to keep an accurate count of everyone who will be attending the meal, so you can properly coordinate with your venue, caterer, and other vendors.

What’s the Best Time to Hold a Rehearsal Dinner?

As is the case with most etiquette rules, the rehearsal dinner is all about making the event easy and enjoyable for yourself and your guests. As such, when picking the best time to hold the dinner, it’s recommended you keep your guests’ needs in mind.

For example, you would likely want to host your rehearsal and dinner the day before the wedding, so that everyone invited is already present. Likewise, hosting the rehearsal and dinner earlier in the evening, versus later, gives all of your guests enough time to relax and get enough rest before the wedding.

Where Should I Hold the Rehearsal Dinner?

The venue can be as formal or casual as you like. It’s really up to your personal tastes. Many couples opt for a venue that matches the overall vibe of their wedding.

So, for example, if you’re hosting a more laid-back outdoor wedding, you might go with a food truck-catered meal at a winery or even host a barbecue in your backyard. If your wedding is more upscale, or even black tie, you might host the dinner at a fine dining restaurant or hotel. This, though, is not a hard and fast rule, so don’t feel like you absolutely must go either formal or casual across the board.

Whether you host your rehearsal dinner at a restaurant or your home, though, it should be either a short drive or within walking distance for your guests — especially for your out-of-town guests.

Do You Need a Seating Chart at the Rehearsal Dinner?

If you’re going with a more formal rehearsal dinner, it may be helpful to have a seating chart, especially if you’re bringing together a lot of individuals who don’t know one another. However, if you’re having a casual dinner, a seating chart can feel forced.

Consider the vibe of the event and your guest list, and then play things by ear before choosing to use or not use a seating chart at your pre-wedding celebration.

What Happens During the Rehearsal Dinner?

There are a few things that are expected to happen during a rehearsal dinner, and not including them can put you in danger of breaking important etiquette rules.

Obviously, a rehearsal dinner requires a proper meal. Don’t try to skimp and serve your guests less than that, such as only a smattering of appetizers or dessert. These people are investing a lot of time (and probably money, too) into your wedding. Show your appreciation.

The rehearsal dinner may also include a little gift-giving, but not for the soon-to-be-married couple. Instead, it’s a nice time to further show your appreciation for your wedding party by handing out small gifts to both them and your immediate family. If you don’t do this at the rehearsal dinner, it’s also appropriate to thank the bridal party with gifts the morning of the wedding.

Toasts are also appropriate at the rehearsal dinner, which leads us to…

Who Should Make a Toast at the Rehearsal Dinner?

Don’t make the mistake of thinking just anyone (or no one) can make a toast. Rehearsal dinner etiquette dictates that select individuals make a toast during the evening, and you’ll want to be sure to give them a heads up beforehand, so they can prepare their speech, no matter how short it is.

If the groom’s parents are paying for the rehearsal dinner, they will often give an initial toast first. They are followed by you and your soon-to-be spouse. You may give a joint toast or separate speeches, but all should be directed toward thanking those around you for their support while planning the wedding.

You may choose to end your rehearsal dinner toasts there, or add on a few other people that you know want to speak, but that you don’t necessarily want to speak during your wedding reception.

Toasts generally occur right after dinner and once the plates are cleared away.

What Do You Wear to a Rehearsal Dinner?

Typically, appropriate attire includes semi-formal clothing. Think slacks and button-downs for men and informal dresses or perhaps even trousers and a blouse for women. You don’t necessarily want to require your guests to go all out (after all, they’ll likely need to do that for the wedding day), but you do want everyone to look nice.

As with all events, it’s appropriate wedding rehearsal dinner etiquette to thoroughly communicate the dress code to your guests.

Other Rehearsal Dinner Etiquette Tips

Just a few other etiquette tips to remember during your planning process…

• Book your rehearsal dinner location, at the very minimum, three months before your date.

• Allow time between the actual rehearsal and the rehearsal dinner for your guests to travel between the two locations, without feeling rushed.

• Plan the menu while keeping the next day’s activities in mind; everyone should still be able to fit into their wedding clothes!

Final Thoughts

Your wedding and the days leading up to it are meant to be some of the best times of your life. Don’t make things more stressful than they need to be. Relax and enjoy your final night before the wedding with your extended family and friends.

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