Rehearsal Dinner Ideas + Etiquette For The Modern World


You can have your cake, and eat it too

by Alyssa Griffith, Contributor

Let’s talk creative rehearsal dinner ideas. Because… want to know what’s truly, mind-blowingly exciting about wedding planning? Somewhere, in the midst of place settings and dress fittings and venue deposits, you are figuring out how to get almost all of the people who are important to you (and your partner) in one place, at one time. For everyone else: when else in your life does this happen? It’s a rare and magical occasion that inspires people drop everything in their lives and flock to you from all ends of the earth. I KNOW RIGHT?

Balloons in a pool with the text rehearsal dinner ideas on the photo

There’s a catch though. If you’ve ever hosted a sizable gathering, you know that it’s practically impossible to spend quality time with everyone. That’s reality. There’s a lot to coordinate the day of (that’s why “day-of coordinator” is literally a career), and you’ll be pulled in so many directions you’re lucky if you’re left alone long enough to eat a decent meal. In fact, if you have a large party that requires a ton of face-time, badass wedding planners have been known to pack the newlyweds a to-go box for the post-reception adrenaline crash.

So, what do you do if the idea of spending only fifteen minutes with each of these super special people doesn’t seem like… enough? That desire is, in theory, part of why some couples opt to host a more low-key (and sometimes smaller) event the day before. Traditionally, that event is the “rehearsal dinner,” but those words often bring to mind stuffy restaurants where you have to stress over things like seating, prix fixe menus, food allergies, and budgets. Not fun. But guess what—if you decide to throw a party the day before, it doesn’t have to look or feel like a “rehearsal dinner” at all! In fact, you can have a rehearsal breakfast if you want! The point is, you just want to spend more time with loved ones (awww). But maybe you need rehearsal dinner ideas that are not… so lux and complicated they seem five times as nice as your wedding? Well, here we go.

The beauty of this party is that it can be completely different from your wedding. Are you having a more formal sit-down reception? Have a pizza party with lawn games the day before! Are you having a laid-back picnic party wedding? Have a fancy fun cocktail hour the evening before. Know that you can be flexible, relaxed, fun, and you can hopefully delegate it to someone who loves you. You know those people—the ones who’ve been constantly saying, “Tell me how I can help,” since the day you got engaged? Those people. Call them now! (Pro-tip: Rehearsal dinners have traditionally mostly belonged to parents, and they are a great project to hand off to a mom or dad or other eager relative, and just… show up.)

Up To Date REHEARSAL Dinner ETIQUETTE:

  • First up, do you even have to have a rehearsal dinner? The real answer is only you (or possibly your mama) know for sure. In some parts of the US a rehearsal dinner is considered beyond mandatory. In other parts of the country people can take it or leave it. So if you’re not sure if you want one, ask around and see what the reaction is… (and then decide if you care).
  • Who comes? Traditionally, the rehearsal dinner was only for immediate family, the wedding party, and their dates. You know, the people that would otherwise be at a wedding rehearsal. But these days, rehearsal dinners often include everyone in from out of town, or just… everyone. In short, that means you have a lot of control over how big or how small you want to make this thing.
  • Who pays? Traditionally, the rehearsal dinner was paid for by the groom’s family (since, you know, the bride’s family paid for everything else). But thankfully those days are long gone. That means the rehearsal dinner costs are generally just split up as part of the general wedding expenses. Though, if one or the other of your parents WANT to pay for it? I say, let them!
  • Does the rehearsal dinner have to match the wedding? Nope! In fact, the more different, the better—there’s no use in throwing two of the same party back to back.
  • What about toasts? Back in the day, the father of the groom got to do his toast here, because you know… he paid for it, and only men speak, and a lot of terrible traditions. These days, think of the rehearsal dinner as a place to knock out some of your more long winded toasts. (Like chatty Uncle Hank… get his toast done here instead of stealing dance floor time at the reception!) And yes. If there is a groom, and he has a dad, and said dad wants to toast… let him.
  • Does it have to be dinner, and does it have to be after the wedding rehearsal? Not at all. Brunch? Cocktails? A softball game and picnic? The answer to all of these questions is, yes!
  • Anything else I need to know? Try to start and end relatively early, and don’t make it a total booze fest. You, and your guests, don’t want to be hung over or terribly sleep deprived the next day for the main event.

Now for some fun rehearsal dinner ideas!

rehearsal dinner ideas

Backyard/Park BBQ/Potluck REHEARSAL Dinner

This is a common and super laid-back idea. (But don’t forget fifty-plus people in your house is just that: fifty-plus people in your house.) Maybe you had toyed with the idea of a potluck style wedding reception but decided against it—this is the perfect time to run with that! Maybe the hosts are in charge of barbecuing the main dishes, and ask guests to bring sides and desserts. Or perhaps you hire a few food trucks for a fun vibe. Really, though, all you need is some food, tables and chairs, paper plates, and good tunes!

rehearsal dinner ideas

Taco Party Rehersal Dinner!

This is a fun, and relatively easy theme to pull together. Most Mexican food restaurants will cater for really reasonable fees, as will local taco trucks (and um, Chipotle). Order some papel picado flags and start the party!

rehearsal dinner ideas

GAME DAY REHEARSAL Dinner

Whether in a backyard or at a nearby park, you could make some team t-shirts and play a big game of softball or kickball. Or, you could bring in cornhole, horseshoes, and croquet. Grill up some hot dogs and hamburgers, and you’ve got a rehearsal game day! (Also, pro-tip: There are catering companies that only do cookouts. They tend to mostly do things like company parties, but they can provide really affordable catering for a picnic, without you having to do any set up, clean up, or shopping.)

rehearsal dinner ideas

Cocktail Hour REHEARSAL Dinner

This works great as an “open house” style party. You and your partner pick a location and a set time frame (Larry’s Bar from 6pm to 9pm) and your guests can come and go as they please. Some bars and restaurants can help you set up a tab for guests, you could give out drink tickets, you could pay for some appetizers, or you could just let guests pay for their own beverages while you all hang out together. This could be at a fun bar with pool and darts, or tell everyone to dress up for a fancy fun cocktail hour at a lounge.

rehearsal dinner ideas

Pizza Party REHEARSAL Dinner

Either at a local pizza restaurant or at home, everyone loves pizza and can enjoy a pizza party. I’ve seen it done with take-and-bake style pizzas at home and with pizza delivery. There are also traveling wood-fire pizza oven caterers who will come cook fresh hot pizza for your whole party! Turn on some music, or hire a local band or musician, and this will be a pizza party no one will forget.

rehearsal dinner ideas

Restaurant REHEARSAL dinner 

It’s pretty traditional to have a rehearsal dinner in a restaurant. Most restaurants will help you do a partial or full buyout so that you and your whole crew of people will be well taken care of (or you can go simple, and make a reservation for your group). Just don’t feel trapped into picking a boring restaurant. You could go with somewhere fancy, somewhere laid back, your favorite local ethnic restaurant, or even a sports bar and grill. Go with something you and your partner both love so you can share it with your family and friends.

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Beach Party REHEARSAL dinner

Think surf music, tropical floral, and a pig roast. Turn your backyard, or the local park (no need for a shore,) into a mini-vacation for you and your guests. Keep it casual and fun. If it’s the summer, a pool would really seal the deal for a fun backyard beach party.

rehearsal dinner ideas

Dessert and Drinks REHEARSAL DINNER

Think of it like the traditional cake and champagne church reception, but for your rehearsal dinner. Ask family and friends to bake desserts, or order up a little dessert bar from a local bakery. Have some drinks on hand, and let it be an open house-style party for a few hours. This way guests can go to dinner anywhere they wish (aka you don’t have to negotiate the someplace that’s both paleo and vegan friendly), but they still get to spend time with the two of you!

rehearsal dinner ideas

Murder Mystery Party REHEARSAL DINNER

This one takes a little planning, but could turn into the most fun anyone has had all year. Plan ahead (by which I mean, have a friend or loved one plan ahead) and give guests their character and costume information before they are leaving for the wedding weekend. Get people on board, in costume, and excited about the theme. Before you know it everyone will be mingling, laughing, and getting to know each other. The only question left is… whodunit?

rehearsal dinner ideas

Get Creative With REHEARSAL dinner ideas

Look for a local bowling alley or arcade. Rent the space, or a few lanes, and get everyone together for an evening of cosmic dance party bowling or PacMan championships. With a little research you may be able to find something really outside the box and fun. Think: Skeeball Warehouse, Roller Rink, Dance Studio, Art Studio, a Zoo, a Comedy Club, or even a roaming party bus!

Try not to let the rehearsal dinner plans be the thing that stresses you out. Ask for help, be creative, and have fun. Remember, it’s just another opportunity to spend time with your community of family and friends while they’re all in the same place at the same time. 

Did you have (or are you planning) a creative Rehearsal Dinner? Tell us about it!

*Since APW doesn’t publish rehearsal dinners, all photos in this post are from weddings (because hey, we don’t really think rehearsal dinners need to be professionally photographed.)

Alyssa Griffith

Alyssa is the owner and lead event planner for Rose Gold Events in the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s been rocking the wedding industry for the last four years after becoming a Certified Wedding Planner in 2011. In her free time, you’ll find her traveling, reading, and training CrossFit. Alyssa loves love, macaroons, logistics, and a good party dress. And she still cries at every wedding.

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  • skdj

    Hi Alyssa, before recommending that non-Hawaiian APW readers culturally appropriate a traditional hawaiian celebration ceremony, you may want to do some reading on the history of the luau, an its predecessor ceremony, the aha’aina. Other people’s cultural traditions are not yours to borrow for a wedding theme. Holding a luau rehearsal dinner is about as tone deaf as holding a fake shabbat dinner.

    • Lauren from NH

      Yeah if you just stuck with pig roast and/or pool party, but grass skirts and hula music?

  • Sara

    My good friend had us all go bowling for her rehearsal dinner. It was a blast. She and her husband gave their whole bridal party bowling shoes too!

  • Michigan Sara

    We ended up having everyone (approx. 20 people) over to our house for the rehearsal dinner and made the food for it. We did pork roast in the crock pot (hooray set it and forget it!) with rolls and BBQ sauce to make sandwiches, and made huge bowls of pasta salad, coleslaw, and fruit salad the day before (hooray for make ahead!). We bought cupcakes from a local bakery for dessert and had the friend doing a reading at our wedding pick them up on the way back to our house from the rehearsal, since I had been able to order and pay online. Paper plates and plasticware, soda for drinks. But, I did have my mom and a couple of friends in town the day before to help prep stuff, but I think my husband and I probably could have done it alone if we needed to. Also, we like to cook, so that helps with wanting to prepare things. I think all told, we spent around $125 for everything.

  • Laura C

    We had a backyard thing. Since it was for around 120, we rented a tent and a portapotty (there was one bathroom the cousin hosting it was directing older guests to inside, but otherwise we tried to steer people to the portapotty). We wanted barbecue from the local place my husband loves, but his mother had a fit that the vegetarians in the family wouldn’t have enough to eat (because apparently mac and cheese, black-eyed pea and corn salad, and a vegetable aren’t good enough) so we had Indian. We got beer and wine from Costco and a local liquor store, and my parents and I made the desserts. My MIL hired a couple people to keep things running smoothly during the dinner, and the cousin-host had members of his cricket club come over after to help clean up. In the morning, my dad picked up the trash and brought it to a composting service. Oh, and most everyone was in Indian apparel — my MIL broke out tons of her saris for my bridesmaids and my husband’s aunts put them on everyone, and she bought churidar kurtas for the groomsmen. So we were very brightly colored — that’s where my avatar picture at left is from.

    Then we had a karaoke party in a private room at a local restaurant/bar owned by a family friend, and all our friends who we weren’t going to get much chance to see and who weren’t invited to the rehearsal dinner were there, and it was amazing.

    • Lauren from NH

      Yeah dealing with unclear dietary restrictions has been one of the most annoying parts of planning the wedding and rehearsal. My fiance’s family is Ethiopian orthodox so they fast (=eat vegan) multiple times a year including when we are getting married. It has been so frustrated to be told this is happening, then be about to sign with a vegan caterer and be told “no WAIT, we might not be fasting”, no one follows up so I look up the Julian calendar myself, yup fasting. Rehearsal same song and dance, trying to figure out someone local who does vegan, no one does because our wedding is in kind of a rural area, searching, searching, searching, prices going up, up, up. Then, “oh, but we can eat fish.” WONDERFUL! And my fiance doesn’t care because he doesn’t fast. Same routine for dessert. Nearly skipped vegan cupcakes, because he said they wouldn’t notice…yeah dietary restrictions are fun!

      • Laura C

        So you’ll appreciate this. We get Indian for the rehearsal dinner from a local place — cousin-host R is friends with the owner of the restaurant, who is Muslim. At the dinner, R learns that one of his aunts doesn’t eat food prepared by Muslims (maybe only by Brahmins, most of the time?). So when referring to the owner of the restaurant in conversation, he starts calling him by a typically Hindu name rather than by his typically Muslim name — not directly saying he’s Hindu, just creating the impression that he is. We of course only heard about this later, thank goodness.

        • Lauren from NH

          Yeah at some point it’s like “eff it, I tried.”

          I think I would have a fit or laughed in someone’s face if I heard about a last minute dietary restriction day of. Only one person from his family has RSVPed thus far, it’s still early, but I noticed they did not mark vegan. Now not everyone observes this fast, but it occurred to me if for whatever reason his family doesn’t not mark their dietary needs correctly (doesn’t understand formal RSVPs, doesn’t think through what time fo year it is, whatever), I am going to give zero fucks about not accommodating those needs. That’s the line for me. Eff it, I tried.

          • Sarah

            Its not just your family. Our entire (14 person) bridal party hasn’t RSVP’d and getting most of them to reply to emails and stuff has been like pulling teeth. So if they didn’t tell me about their dietary restriction, then IDGAF at this point, lol. UNLESS I happen to already know they are vegetarian or something (in that case I marked it down) but I’m not going to drive myself crazy trying to find out.

          • Eh

            A guest at my cousin’s wedding did not list a dietary restriction on the RSVP and then demanded the restriction be met when supper was served. Since it was last minute that person’s meal cost twice the normal rate and my Aunt (who was paying for the wedding) was not too happy.

            We did not have too many dietary restrictions (egg allergy, no pork, etc.) and they were easy to deal with by having a buffet and having a non-pork option. Actually at the rehearsal and the brunch on Sunday we served pork (my in-laws like pork and doesn’t understand that people might not eat it). At the rehearsal my MIL was going on about the pulled pork. My brother (whose family does not eat pork) came up to me before supper and asked if there was something else to eat. I said that there was chicken. Then at the brunch on the Sunday there was sausage and bacon. My in-laws made a comment about the amount of food at breakfast already (there was also eggs, pancakes, fruit, etc.), suggesting they did not want to make another type of meat. I said that it would be fine since there were lots of choices. When I discussed this later with my brother he said that he was just happy there was food and that his wife would be happy she didn’t have to make it.

        • Anon

          That doesn’t seem like a dietary restriction to me…

          • Laura C

            It’s a caste thing. The last section of this article gets into it some: http://www.scmp.com/magazines/post-magazine/article/1558061/you-are-what-you-eat

            Obviously that’s not how the majority of my husband’s family lives (though the older family members are all vegetarian as are a decent number of the younger ones), and in fact, my husband’s late father left India in part because of caste/religion issues. But apparently there are still a few people in the family who at least mostly stick to those practices.

      • Kelly

        This is a bit of aside, but I am always a bit mystified by why it’s such a struggle to to find catering that “does” vegan. (Not why it’s a struggle for you, but why it’s a struggle for caterers to do it). There are so many tasty, easy, cheap combinations of veggies, grains, and legumes…what is the problem? Is it that hard to roast some potatoes or make a bulked-up salad? I think that caterers who aren’t used to it think vegan has to involve some fancy tofu/bean curd/cashew butter situation, but it’s really not that complicated, folks…

        • Lauren from NH

          Yeah I was pretty surprised how many places didn’t say on their website or when I directly asked via email just dodged my question or described their vegetarian options. I don’t know if it’s because an older crowd of people are maybe running these companies or I don’t know. It seemed in major part an exposure problem. They didn’t say it, but I got the impression many did not know what vegan meant separate from vegetarian.

        • VKD_Vee

          EXACTLY EXACTLY EXACTLY EXACTLY EXACTLY EXACTLY EXACTLY EXACTLY EXACTLY EXACTLY EXACTLY EXACTLY EXACTLY EXACTLY EXACTLY EXACTLY EXACTLY EXACTLY EXACTLY EXACTLY EXACTLY EXACTLY EXACTLY EXACTLY.

      • HSL

        Yes! My boyfriend is Orthodox but not very consistent with fasting, and I am about 10x more likely to know what the dietary restrictions are for any given day. Thankfully, his family is not Orthodox, or I would lose my mind trying to keep track of their needs on his behalf. It’s practically second nature to me to check on and worry about other people’s dietary restrictions (thanks, anxiety!). And I so don’t understand why the vegan and veggie options in restaurants are so limited!

  • Leah

    We did a super casual quasi-potluck picnic for everyone invited to the wedding. About half our guests were local, and we asked them to please bring some standard potluck fare. We ordered sandwiches from our favorite sandwich shop to round out the meal, brought a cooler or two of beers, and that was pretty much that. The groom and his peeps were in charge of set-up and tear-down (which was minimal) giving me some time to hang out with my girls. The whole event was a fantastic time to get to chat with people (friends of my parents, relatives, etc) who I might not get a lot of time to talk to on the day of the wedding. Here, my best friend is schooling my FIL at one of my favorite yard games, ropey-stumpy.

    • FancyPants

      FUN! Now I want to know how to play ropey-stumpey :)

      (I know the games “Stump” and “push somebody off of the box they are standing on”- but this looks WAY FUN)

      • Leah

        Stump is another of my favorite games! Ropey-stumpy: each person stands on a stump, and holds the end of a piece of rope, with a lot of slack rope in between them. On the count of 3, both people take in rope, and then either take in or let out rope in an attempt to make the other person lose their balance and fall off their stump. You also lose if you run out of rope (if the other person pulls it all the way through your hands). Give er a try!

  • Allison Marino

    if you’re planning on having this sort of casual event at your own home (to be wed couple), don’t overestimate how much you can coordinate and handle on your own without help. as much as it sounds great to grill and prepare a ton of food on the cheap, its also a day that you will be busy with errands and family coming into town. also, i’d keep in mind what your house looks like immediately after a party and ask yourself if that’s what you want it to feel like the day of your wedding.

    for a type-a neat freak like me, that would drive me insane. others might not care.

    but, if you do, i highly recommend chipotle/fast casual restaurant catering. they make it really easy to order the correct amount and variety of food, plus set up is a breeze and the overall cost is low in comparison to effort expended. to give you an idea of price – in dc, fast casual catering for 35 costs around $450-500 including the food, serve ware, and paper goods.

  • BB

    Question about toasts: if we wanted certain people to talk at the rehearsal “dinner” (we are, in fact, doing a party at a neighborhood dive bar/bowling alley that we love going to) when would be a good time to have the toasts? And what is the best way to ask “hey, we love your toasts but would love to hear it the night before the wedding as opposed to at the wedding”?

    • Laura C

      We just said “we’re trying to limit the number of toasts at the wedding, would you please do one at the rehearsal dinner?” No one remotely took offense.

      • BB

        Thank you :)

    • Lauren from NH

      I wish they would do a new post on toasting. I know there are a couple old ones. Having never been to a wedding/being not a center of attention type person I just can’t really wrap my mind around toasts. Do we ask people? Who? What would they say? Do people have good stories about us? Have I/we been memorable enough that people have stories? What if they recite one of my/our low moments? Yeah I feel totally socially unprepared for toasts.

      • Marie

        I asked one of my closest friends and so did he. I trusted her judgment (though I think we might have also in unrelated convos talked about inappropriate wedding toasts we’d both heard, so I also knew we were on the same page there). I’ve given a toast before as well. It was nerve wrecking, but I was also so honored. Whoever you ask will be too!

        Far as the content, depends on what you assign: a welcome toast different than a cheers to the couple toast. But, I think most people have seen enough weddings that they would know what to do. So, I would go with a really good friend (or even a duo) or family member. And you could always give them a heads up if you’re worried: We wanted to ask if you would toast to us on my behalf. We’re thinking no more than 5 minutes and sticking to upbeat, positive memories, thoughts and advice!

        • VKD_Vee

          Also, I was asked to toast once, as a bridesmaid in a good friend’s wedding. I was honoured! I think it’s totally okay to ask.

          (I wrote a REALLY good toast, guys.)

      • VKD_Vee

        I think, “traditionally”, it’s the best man that gives the first toast so that was all we really worried about. My husband’s best man was his cousin (our roomate) and he can be a bit quiet but we asked if he’d want to say a few words and he did a bang up job! Then we just kind of left it ‘open mic’ and prayed others would be moved to say stuff… We got about 8 impromptu toasts (including the MOH, and remaining two BMs, and some other pals) and it was really, really lovely to be surprised like that.

        Also a very good friend of the groom gave a BEAUTIFULLY touching speech that DID NOT MENTION that he and I used to date. It was my biggest fear in the run up to the wedding that this guy would be going up to wedding guests all, “I’m the groom’s best friend, and I used to be the bride’s boyfriend!” but, obviously, that did not happen. I think most people know it’s pretty tacky to try and embarrass the bride and groom during toasts, but if you have anyone that might be tempted I’d have word before your ceremony! :)

        • Marie

          you’re brave! I’m way too anxious for an open mic. The one wedding I went to where there was an open mic, MULTIPLE people referenced the bride and groom’s ups and downs. It was. . . not good.

          • VKD_Vee

            Awk… ward…

        • Lauren from NH

          Yeah maybe part of my anxiety is that we didn’t pick a best man or maid of honor, we just have best people, so we don’t exactly have a place to start. But maybe like Marie suggested breaking it down into welcome toast versus general toast and thinking of the strong public speakers will ease things.

          • My BFF didn’t have a wedding party (with bridesmaids/groomsmen etc), but she is a wonderfully organized person who asked a few key friends/relatives to give toasts at her wedding. I think she suggested the order (or maybe we figured it out ourselves — it was a few years ago and I can’t remember), but the couples’ friends spoke first, and then some relatives. A few people were impromptu, but it helped that a few weeks in advance she directly asked me to speak. I hadn’t attended many weddings at that point and would not have known to plan in advance. And in the moment, I probably wouldn’t have come up with an awesome speech.

      • BB

        People will totally have lovely things to say about the two of you in some way shape or form! That’s the beauty of toasts (and the loved ones who are great at delivering them): you don’t know what they are going to say which may be somewhat scary, but there will be something in what they say that will mean a lot (or just be something you’ll remember…good or bad). I’d ask people in your group that like to talk in front of crowds.

        In our case, we are having two mutual friends: his college roommate and my best friend since high school who is also our across the hall apartment neighbor give the toasts at the wedding. And we are going to give our toast right before the meal for our guests as a welcome of sorts. Thinking about “open mic” type thing but want to make sure there are 2 people that know for sure that they are speaking. I think that may be a know your crowd type of thing.

      • Ellen

        For the wedding, we asked the maid of honor and the best man to each say a few words. Our parents didn’t speak there, but especially when parents are hosting (ours weren’t; we were, and we spoke instead), I’ve often seen them (most often the bride’s father, but sometimes others too) toast at the wedding. That’s generally a “Thank you all for coming, best wishes to the happy couple,” kind of thing.

        My in-laws fully handled and hosted the rehearsal dinner (nice sit down buffet), and were very interested in toasts/an open mic kind of thing. They each spoke themselves, as did my parents, to kick things off (lots of “welcome to the family, we think you’re really wonderful”). We did *not* specifically ask other guests to speak, but I did let the female members of the wedding party that there’d be an opportunity to talk should they wish to participate. My husband did the same with the men. Ultimately, most spoke and some didn’t, and it seemed to work out nicely.

        I should also say that my husband and I spoke briefly (I think between the parent toasts and the open mic?). We each essentially said a few words about each member of our respective wedding parties, with a specific effort to be relatively brief. Some (lots?) of people give out wedding party gifts in this format, often with longer, more personal comments, but we didn’t–I very much didn’t want to. Instead, we each wrote notes with the more extensive/personal messages and set then and the gifts on each person’s chair before he or she sat down for dinner.

      • Kelly

        We didn’t have a wedding party, but we asked a few friends if they would like to give toasts. We picked people who were mutual friends now but who also knew us before we were together and were kind of “voices” of our pasts. I don’t remember what exactly we asked for, but it was something along the lines of 3-ish minutes of a little introduction, a fun anecdote/story, why/how you know FH and I are good for each other, and a wish for the future. I think people were happy to be given some direction, and everyone knocked their toasts out of the park! It was one of my favorite moments and I generally hate being the center of attention.

      • K.

        Yes! We’ve been struggling even with saying in a group email, “If you’d like to do a toast, we’ll have time at the rehearsal dinner” because we feel like that presumes people want to do toasts or puts pressure to do toasts, even though we KNOW several people want to do toasts and we definitely don’t want them angling at the mic during the actual reception. It’s something that’s easy to overthink, but I think also has to be gently navigated (i.e., I don’t want my bridesmaid with extreme stage fright to feel like she’s not expressing love correctly because she’s the only one uninterested in toasting, etc.)

        • Greta

          My friends did all toasts at the rehearsal dinner and that is exactly what they did. A group email from the MC of the evening (the groom’s sister) to all wedding guests saying, “hey – if you want to toast or roast the bride or groom, it’s all happening the night before. Let us know if want us to add you to the list!” It was totally great, no one presumed they had to talk or anything. Some people did, and because of the casual setting and the advanced notice, there were even gag gifts and hilarious powerpoints. It was a joyous evening of fun and there was absolutely no pressure to do anything.

      • notquitecece

        We didn’t have a wedding party, but my best friend had made it *very* clear from day one that she REALLY REALLY REALLY wanted to give a toast. But we were dead set against an open-mic style toast situation. So we asked each of our brothers and my best friend to each give a toast after dinner, and then I took the mic and thanked everyone, ending by thanking our parents. It worked out beautifully!

      • This is a great question for a post – I’ll start working on some ideas! :)

    • Greta

      My brother and I both did all toasts at the “rehearsal dinner” with our dad as the MC. Then, at the actual wedding, only the dads gave toasts. I loved it because it gave the rehearsal dinner some nice structure, and kept the actual wedding reception toasts short and sweet and led immediately to dancing and more fun stuff. We just went to a wedding where they did “toasts and roasts” the night before the wedding. They had a formal dinner with just their immediate families, and then invited all the wedding guests over from 8pm – 11pm with drinks and pretzels. The grooms sister mc’ed the event, and they had emailed out all the wedding guests ahead of time and knew who all wanted to talk. There were even some people that did powerpoint presentations and hilarious themed gifts. It was an awesome celebration of the couple, and I totally loved it. A great tone to set for the whole weekend!

    • I agree with the suggestion below for how to ask. As for when – if there is food being served, you could do some just before the buffet opens or the meal is served. If there is no food, or it’s an ‘open house’ style, then try to just pick a time when the majority of people are there! I love the dive bar/bowling alley approach, it sounds perfect!

  • Abbie Draper

    I’m very sad to see pictures from my wedding above used without letting me know or crediting my wonderful photographer (Justine Bursoni). Also, to have pictures from my beautiful backyard wedding being used to represent a luau is not only potentialy offensive and culturally insensitive to those to have luaus as an important part of their culture- it also just rubs me the wrong way.

    I guess because that beautiful pool scape was the result of hours of work that my family completed on my behalf. As a rehearsal dinner setting, it wouldn’t have been realistic for my budget, time, or sanity….and isn’t APW all about not promoting unrealistic standards by the wedding industry?

    • jspe

      I share that sentiment – all of these are wedding photos!

  • R

    I can’t say enough good things about having a welcome happy hour (in a private room at a bar) instead of a formal rehearsal dinner. We invited all of our out of town guests and the wedding party, which we wouldn’t have been able to afford to do with a more formal dinner. It was SO nice having the extra time with people we do not see often. We had enough food for it to be a meal (think chicken fingers, quesadillas, mozzarella sticks), but it also gave people the opportunity to stop by for a drink and move on to dinner if they preferred. We were lucky because the bar we used was right next to our hotel, and the drink prices were really low (for DC), so we were able to offer open bar up to a cap, which we didn’t reach until after the set end time of the event (the venue was awesome and let us keep our private room longer than we’d originally asked). I also liked that with the more casual atmosphere, no one was placed in one spot at a table all night talking to the same few people — lots of opportunity for mingling. Having a big private and informal space was also great for my friends with little kids – they could run around, didn’t need to sit still, didn’t need to worry about them being loud. Most of them didn’t bring their kids to the reception the next day, so it was also nice for them to be involved in this part of the celebration.

  • Bket

    Living in Louisiana, and getting married in March, the obviously only appropriate rehearsal dinner party was a crawfish boil – with lots of beer, king cake, and live music. :-) Sadly, we had some gross weather, so quarters were tight and the pictures aren’t that pretty. But a good time was had by all, and those three sacks of crawfish boiled by my father went quickly!

    • Missy

      Happy to hear it was a good time! I’ll be doing the same thing this year! I’m having a hard time deciding what to wear though since it’ll be casual and crawfish can get messy. What did you end up wearing to your rehearsal dinner?

  • jubeee

    Since I am doing food trucks/lawn games at a picnic pavilion in a park for my wedding, I am thinking about doing a dinner the evening before. I don’t have many out of town guests and small wedding party/immediate family. It will be the most traditional part of my wedding and I am ok with that.

  • lady brett

    yay, ours was totally a park bbq! we just crashed a park with a bunch of picnic tables and got the “family reunion package” at our favorite bbq place and hung out. basically no organization, and i think it ran about $120. and it was awesome. (and served as a (completely unnecessary) peace offering to folks who were offended by the vegetarian wedding catering ;)

  • Eh

    It might just be a cultural/regional thing but rehearsal suppers where I live are casual and usually backyard BBQs or similar type of even. Since we were married in October (and live in a colder place) we didn’t have a backyard BBQ (we probably could have since it was nice that day), instead we had similar food but inside (e.g., pulled pork and salads). My in-laws graciously hosted which was logical since my family was all from out of town. My MIL asked that I make BBQ sauce for the pulled pork which then I forgot at my apartment (over an hour away) and my husband had to go back and pick up (since my MIL did not like my suggestion that we just buy some at the store – heaven forbid). When we asked my in-laws to host their response was “of course since it’s the groom’s family’s responsibility” (my BIL did not have one when he got married and I guess my MIL was pretty upset that she wasn’t asked to host it). My response was that we weren’t asking them because it was “their responsibility” and that we weren’t necessarily doing things the traditional way, it just happened that in this case it made the most sense. (Later when I talked to my dad about the rehearsal supper he said “well if it was tradition that we host it we would have worked something out and rented a place” – my point is that it wasn’t logical to ask my dad to host it since he was coming in from 8 hours away.) I loved our rehearsal and our brunch the day after our wedding because it gave me that extra time to spend with my family. It was great having three days with them.

  • Abbie Draper

    I posted this already but a moderator deleted it…

    The two of photos above are from my wedding, not my rehearsal dinner. The pool scape took hours and hours of work and never would have been realistic for my time, budget, or sanity as a rehearsal dinner.

    • Maddie Eisenhart

      Thanks for the heads up! Since we don’t publish rehearsal dinner content, all of the photos here are from weddings we’ve featured on APW. We wanted to include some photos that match the vibe of the parties we’re describing, but good to know that poolscape wasn’t as easy as the photos make it look!

    • Kelly

      I don’t think the post is implying that the photos are specifically from a rehearsal dinners or that these ideas are particularly cheap or easy to throw together. I see a lovely arch and string lights, and those two things alone make me think, “lots of time and helpers!” But I can see why it’s a nice photo to pair with the vibe of the text…

    • BSM

      Thanks for pointing that out. I thought I was going crazy for a second because my first thought while reading this was, “Wooooooow, most of these ideas sound like at least as much work as we’re putting into our actual wedding.”

  • Rachel

    Oh I really like the idea of a park bbq…especially since there’s a decent sized park near the hotels we’re eyeing and our place. But, it’s Texas in the summer, so a cocktail hour might work better for us. Great ideas though!

  • Lawyerette510

    There was a funky shed across the street from the hotel that was our dinner venue that came with some lawn games and a fire (that they built and started). We had a local place do a great taco bar, my dad was in Mexico the week before and brought back papel picado and some blankets, we did batch margaritas for drinks (mixed a little on the weaker side), and a s’mores bar for sweets. And we used the projector they had to show the three amigos but played good music which lead to some amazing dancing infront of the movie. We had to wrap up at 10:00 so it was perfect.

    • Lawyerette510

      A couple more mainly of the s’mores bar- and I should mention that a friend made the mint and cinnamon marshmallows

      • FancyPants

        ……. one can make marshmallows- in a home kitchen?? Whoah!!!

        This looks and sounds like a BLAST (and I wish every one would wear a name tag, at every event, for my sake!)

        • Lawyerette510

          Apparently you can. I’ve never tried it, but I’ve seen multiple people succeed at it. And big yes to name tags. In the comments of another post a while back someone smarter than me thought ahead and ordered name tags that also worked for the seating chart etc (Instead of three days before the festivities starting coming across a pile of name tag stickers and thinking “we should use these sunday”). https://www.etsy.com/listing/217551431/wedding-name-tags-place-card-pins?ref=related-0

  • Sarah

    My mom and dad are planning ours! My mom got space in her church, and my dad is cooking all the food because he’s a chef!. He’s making pulled pork and a bunch of sides and salads, we’re serving homebrew, and just hanging out. We were able to invite 70 of our guests because of this (and cooking for 70 people is NO SWEAT for my dad), and I am SO excited.

    • TeaforTwo

      “Someone else planned it” is the PERFECT rehearsal dinner.

      We planned ours, but it was a sit down dinner at our favourite restaurant for our immediate families, and it was easy peasy. (Pick a menu, pay the bill, done.) I cannot imagine having put one moment more of thought into another event: by the rehearsal I was so stressed out from all of the last minute preparations, that I couldn’t have taken on one more detail, and absolutely couldn’t have dealt with feeling like a host.

  • Carolyn S

    I’m Canadian and it seems like rehearsal dinners for American wedding’s are a much bigger deal than they are here. Speeches all happen at the wedding – never at the rehearsal dinner. We are having a tiny tiny wedding and generally all the people you would invite to the rehearsal dinner will also be invited to the wedding and very few of them will actually even be in town the night before because our wedding is a late in the day affair and not much travel for most. I think we may still make a dinner reservation the night before for our parents basically? I sort of want to do a day-of the wedding rehearsal brunch but would it be too much to have a “we will be at this restaurant at 11 if you want to join us for lunch” and still be ready for a wedding at 5?

    • Lawyerette510

      I think doing something day-of is nice. Our wedding started around 4:30 and my aunts had a “ladies’ lunch” around 11:00 ish for me that day (because we never logistically got our act together for a shower before hand) and pretty much all the women who were attending the wedding came for about an hour and a half or so and we drank some sparkling wine and ate light but yummy sandwiches and then I went to my room, took a short nap with my dog, then got ready for the wedding. It was really nice to just relax with people that day.

    • Teresa Janelle

      Also Canadian here…and I agree, my experience is that rehearsal dinners are exactly that: immediate family and wedding party only, right after you run through the ceremony with your priest (I’m Christian and have only been to Christian weddings so I don’t k ow how other ones would go). I’m surprised nobody’s done a board game evening or something, but it sounds like everybody has too many people for that. Might be a cool idea for a small, “canadian-style” rehearsal dinner

  • Carbon Girl

    We did the laid back dessert and drinks with no set time. People could just stop by after dinner. It was super chill and absolutely packed. I remember how it was a great chance to see everyone. I probably talked to more people there than at the wedding itself! We also had a bonfire and s’mores in the backyard which was a hit!

  • Abbey

    We’re renting out a campsite/very rustic lodge for the weekend in my Vermont hometown, and will probably have a rehearsal dinner there the night before the wedding. We’ll either just be picking up some pizzas at a favorite pizza shop, or bringing some meat pies from an amazing place in Boston (where we currently live). Add a case of PBR and we’ve got ourselves a great time to hang out with our immediate family and wedding parties. We want to keep it as low key as possible to maximize time spent getting to talk to people (and also to minimize cost). We’ll follow that with a BYOB get together at my mom’s – we’ll probably make some apple and pumpkin pies for that (it’s an October wedding). The more we’ve gotten into the wedding process, the more we try and think: how much will adding this thing interfere with our ability to spend time with people? And then – is it important enough to us to still do it? It’s helped weed out some of the extra stuff quite a bit.

  • HannahESmith

    We did a pizza party the night before our wedding. It was easy, fun and super cheap. We even got pizza from one of the fancier places, and the cost for 30 people was less than $200.

  • We did a food truck! The hardest thing was figuring out where to park a food truck, but we were able to park it outside the B&B we had rented out for my bridal party/me/my family that night. The B&B had event experience so they could rent us tables, linens, and glassware and it went SO well and was a really lovely evening. More here: http://therewm.com/2014/02/23/rehearsal-dinner-georgetown-austin-tx/

    • Rachel

      I’ve been eyeing them for catering. Love Peached Tortilla!

      • They did a really awesome job, and our guests all loved the food and hospitality. Definitely recommend!

  • Juliet

    We had a Taco Bar World Series Watch Party that we in no way could have really planned more than a week in advance, but worked it out great. I’m from the Bay Area, and my husband is from Kansas City, and we have some die hard baseball fans in our circle. My husband is a HUGE Royals fan. When we booked this really great party garage venue in a food truck lot for the rehearsal dinner months in advance, we had NO IDEA we’d be looking at a Giants vs. Royals world series. My hometown team vs. his hometown team- hilarious. Our rehearsal was on the night of game 4. THANK THE WEDDING GODS that the venue had a TV. Honestly, had it not, no one would have shown up. We went with it, played the game on the TV, and encouraged people to come in their team gear. KC won that night, my husband and his buddies went crazy, it was so fun.

    Then the Royals lost in game 7 when we were on our honeymoon in Montreal. Everyone at the Canadian sports bar felt so bad for my husband that they sent over enough pitchers of Molson to get all of Kansas City drunk.

  • Laura

    You described ours to a tee! we’re having a local pizza shop come to our house with his mobile wood fired pizza oven and make pizza for 65! We invited people for ‘an alfresco night of wood fired pizza and wine’ and people went bananas. We’ll supply beer and wine, salads and dessert, and we’ve hired a local singer/songwriter friend to play some live music – cannot WAIT and the response from our friends and family has been amazing. we’re so excited to have a really different party the night before :)

  • Frances

    Am I the only one kinda bugged by the tone of this article? I will be having a formal dinner at a restaurant, but I don’t think of it as stuffy or stressful. In fact, a lot of these other ideas seem like more work! I get to do the rehearsal, sit down in a room someone else is in charge of cleaning, eat food others are making, and relax with my friends and family. The other ideas do sound like fun, but definitely not for me! And I don’t feel bad for thinking that.

    • Hey! Your version sounds awesome too. Who doesn’t like it when other people do the dishes. Usually, the pressure is on to *be* at a restaurant… so we wanted some alternative options if that wasn’t someone’s ideal situation!

      • Mary

        People reading this article are looking for alternatives to an expensive formal dinner. ..duh

    • Jess

      But it is expensive!

  • Austyntatious

    We’re going bowling! it was one of our first dates and we have entirely too many out of town guests for a traditional dinner, so four lanes and buffet food it is! I am very excited about it.

    I often think that I’d love to get married a bunch of times cause I would do it differently each time (although I will be satisfied with helping my friends/family plan their nuptials). but i am pretty darn satisfied with how this event is shaping up. lol

  • macrain

    My parents and some family members catered our rehearsal dinner, which was held at a VRBO rental in a nearby neighborhood. There was some last minute drama with the owners claiming we hadn’t mentioned to them we would be hosting that many people and the whole thing nearly went to hell in a handbasket, but the event itself was very smooth. They served Lasagnas, salad, beer and wine. We would not have been able to host all of our friends and family if they hadn’t stepped up to the plate. I still feel very fortunate that they were willing to help in that way, it turned out beautifully.

  • Danielle Antosz

    Totally second the pizza party idea. We rented a beach house for our wedding, so we hosted family, friends, out of town guests for pizza and beer the night before. Super low stress, and tons of fun.

  • Oh man, I just want to do these are normal parties! Forget about having a “real” reason like a wedding!

  • We had our rehearsal dinner at Friendly’s (a casual family restuarant chain in New England). Our guests loves the burgers and ice cream menu and everyone was able to order what they wanted. My husband and I payed for the dinner ourselves and we were so excited to be able to include our large families while spending well under $1000 with tax and tip. We had around 50 guests (adults and kids). Since it was at an establishment that doesnt have a bar our bill was easy to pay!

  • kathee

    I remember lying in my room when I was in high school and writing in a journal to my future husband. I’d write all sorts of notes and questions and things I’d wonder or ask this man when I evenxtually met him. I would wonder where he was and what he was doing and if he was thinking about me too. It has always been such a strong desire in my heart to find a wonderful man to marry, someone who would love me and cherish me and appreciate me for the person I am. I always thought I would get married right out of college, just like my parents, so when that plan didn’t work out, I started to get discouraged. A school mate snatched my future husband away from my arms just because she had spiritual powers, all hope was lost to me before i came across the help doctor (prayerstosaverelationship@gmail.com
    ) who i confided in, i told him my long story and he helped me regain back my lover with his prayers which is now my husband today. if you have any problem email the help doctor (prayerstosaverelationship@gmail.com
    ).

  • Suzy

    We are doing a winter wedding in CO and thinking of doing a German (my FH was born there) Ski Party at our big rental house! Our main goal is to have fun, be relaxed and make it a very different feel than the wedding and reception there the following night. Anyhow ever put on a ski-themed ski rehearsal party?

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  • Sarah

    My fiance and I are doing a large, informal BBQ and are inviting most (75%) of our guests. Any thoughts on how to invite everyone? We’d rather not send separate invites for the rehearsal dinner, but everything I’m reading says it’s frowned upon to include the rehearsal dinner invite with the wedding invite.

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