Photo by Jose VillaWhat It IsThe rehearsal dinner is traditionally held the night before the wedding, most often a Friday, and usually starts at about seven P.M. This leaves time for attendants who can't take the day off to get out of work to attend the rehearsal itself at around five thirty, and get to the dinner. For a Sunday or holiday wedding, you have more options. Since the rehearsal dinner has become more of a celebration in its own right than just a formality, some couples are holding the event two nights prior to the wedding. This way, there's more time to relax, recuperate, and get ready for the main event. If most attendants won't be arriving until late on the eve of your wedding, a breakfast celebration the morning of the wedding is also acceptable (as is skipping the rehearsal meal altogether!).
What It's ForThe dinner is a great opportunity for your two families to get to know each other before the wedding day (if they don't already know each other well) in a not-too-hectic setting. Take advantage of the relaxed environment -- come wedding night, you'll most likely be pulled in too many directions to put in any real quality time with anyone. The ultimate goal here is to relieve some prewedding tension and make everyone invited feel comfortable with the impending nuptials while not upstaging the big event.
Who HostsTraditionally, the groom's family organizes and pays for this fete, but you two might take matters into your own hands, or both sets of parents may choose to do the honors together. While you as the honored couple may have input on the overall direction, if the groom's family hosts, you should really try to let his mom and dad be the creative directors of the evening. If, on the other hand, you are hosting, you get to choose the location and style, so you'll want to give yourselves enough time to scout venues in order to book one four to six months in advance.
Who to InviteAt the very least, the rehearsal dinner guest list includes immediate family (parents and siblings), wedding-party members and their spouses or significant others, and the parents of any child attendants (inviting the children themselves is optional). You should also invite the officiant and his or her spouse to the dinner (they may not
come, but it's the polite thing to do).
What It Looks LikeYou can choose to have a formal (banquet or garden party) or casual (outdoor picnic or BBQ) event, as long as you don't overshadow what's to come. If the wedding is the climax of the weekend, the rehearsal should be the sneak peek. Since the rehearsal dinner is more informal than the wedding reception, the food and atmosphere should reflect or complement that. Ultimately, the setting of the rehearsal dinner depends on the budget, how many guests there will be, and what kind of party the host envisions.
Where to Have ItA sit-down dinner at a hotel ballroom or fine restaurant is the norm, but there's no reason to feel hemmed in by that. Couples are getting revved up for their wedding day in backyards, at art galleries, and on beaches. Feel free to use the term “dinner" loosely -- cocktails and hors d'oeuvres, a buffet, and even a barbecue are all perfectly acceptable options. (Just be sure you make this clear in your invites so your guests know what to expect.) While you don't have to provide specialty entertainment, here are the typical rehearsal dinner activities.
Who Else to ConsiderTurn the dinner into a fabulous welcome party -- if your wedding is mostly local friends and family but a few key people traveled far to come to your wedding (those cousins from Hawaii!), extend the invitation to the as a thank you for their extra effort. If you're throwing a destination wedding or a party where at least half of the guests are from out of town, show your appreciation by inviting everyone to some kind of night-before festivity. If your budget is limited, stick to a more exclusive group for the rehearsal dinner itself but follow it with a large but informal welcome cocktail or dessert party for out-of-towners later in the evening.