(Almost) Everything You Need To Know About Rehearsal Dinners

The party before that other party you just planned..

Rehearsal Dinners

At some point in the wedding planning process, a lot of people look up from their spreadsheets and think “Crap. There’s a whole other event I have to plan that I haven’t even thought about yet.” The good news is this: no matter what your mother/cousin/step-godfather says, you don’t have to have a rehearsal dinner. If your resources (a combination of money, time, and energy) are stretched so thin by the wedding itself that another event makes you want to cry, go ahead and skip it. Perhaps even better news is if you want to have one, it doesn’t have to look like “a rehearsal dinner” unless you want it to. Possibly even more so than with weddings, there are a million ways out there to throw a pre-wedding event. I’ve planned rehearsal dinners ranging from $500 to $14k in price, and from 10 to 110 guests in size. So suffice it to say, there are plenty of options out there, and most of them are pretty fun.

What is the point?

The point of a rehearsal dinner is simple—your people are all in the same place, for maybe one of the only times in your life. You want to spend time with them more than once while this is happening. Also, everyone needs to eat. Hey, rehearsal dinner! The key point to focus on is your people are in town and want to spend time with you and you want to spend time with them. Rehearsal dinners, when done well, can be a bright spot in the craziness that the pre-wedding week often turns into—a few hours of time you don’t have to be juggling logistics, where you’re less the center of attention than you will be at the wedding, and there’s less pressure for things to stick to a strict timeline (because there are fewer things that need to happen). Most of the activities that take place at a wedding, like cake cutting, first dances, and cocktail hour are eschewed at the rehearsal dinner (I mean, let’s be clear, you don’t need them at a wedding either, but you definitely don’t need them at a rehearsal dinner), but the one activity you may want to think about carrying over is toasts. Toasts are a nice way to a) have people give toasts who you don’t have space for at the wedding itself b) hear toasts in a more intimate, low pressure setting, which can in turn make for more intimate toasts, which, let me tell you, can be incredibly lovely. Let your rehearsal dinner be the official start of wedding festivities. I generally tell my clients that they shouldn’t do any wedding prep after the rehearsal starts—if it’s not done at that point it doesn’t need to be done, and it’s a good time to start relaxing and enjoying the fact that you and your partner are doing a monumental thing and are surrounded by your community.

Matching the wedding, or not?

While rehearsal dinners are generally less formal than the weddings they precede, there are definitely cases where the reverse can work—if you dreamed about an intimate, multi-course sit-down dinner party and then realized you really wanted 150 people at your wedding and the two of those factors plus your budget didn’t match up, maybe an intimate, four-course rehearsal dinner at a restaurant the night before your big daytime picnic is the perfect solution. A big, daytime picnic the day before your black tie sit-down reception is also a totally awesome option. In other words, you can use the rehearsal dinner to fulfill your alternative wedding fantasy. You can also just use it to get people together and introduce them to each other (see above.) There are many, many ways to make one of those things happen, but I’ll start with:

The “traditional” rehearsal dinner

The most traditional format of the rehearsal dinner looks like this: all of the people who were present at the rehearsal (so, wedding party, officiant, immediate family, and all partners of these people) at a restaurant for an intimate meal directly after the rehearsal. Occasionally the guest list is expanded to include extended family or out of town guests, although with so many people getting married somewhere away from where they grew up, “out of town guests” can often mean the majority of your guest list. This format is generally on the more formal side, although it can obviously be casual if that’s more your speed.

House party!

One of my favorite rehearsal dinners I’ve been a part of was pizza, salad, and beer at a family friend’s house for about forty people. The total cost was in the $500 range, and it was relaxed, fun, and not a ton of work for anyone. More importantly, it served the purpose the couple wanted, which was allowing the key players (family, wedding party, inner circle friends) to hang out and get to know each other better before the wedding. Other affordable ways to do at-home (or at-someone-else’s-home) rehearsal dinners that I’ve done have included taco trucks, barbecues, and deli-catered party trays. How would you normally feed a large group of people? That’s probably a totally great option for a pre-wedding dinner at home.

The “this is where we’ll be, come and grab a beer”

Probably the easiest, and definitely the cheapest, way to do a pre-wedding event, which can also be easily paired with a smaller rehearsal dinner, is to simply pick a convenient bar (if you have a room block at a hotel, the hotel bar can work just as well) and let people know either via your invitation or website that the happy couple will be there from, say, 7–9 the night before the wedding, and that if they want to stop by for a drink you’d love to see them. You can make it clear that it’s not hosted, or pick somewhere with affordable pitchers and cover those and then let people pick up the tab if they’d like to drink something else.

Other options

I’ve had clients host field days, wine tastings, pool parties, softball games, bonfires—really, any group activity is up for grabs as a good pre-wedding group activity. Feel free to break out of the mold and share your favorite activities with your guests.

Wedding planning (and, well, the WIC) have a way of making things seem and feel more complicated and stressful than they need to be, and the (capitalized) Rehearsal Dinner is certainly not immune to that. But take the capitalization out of it, and believe me when I say that it doesn’t have to be (as I mentioned above, it’s not even necessary). If you can reframe it to be “a party we’re having for some of our favorite people in the world” and then proceed to plan from there? You end up with a lovely event that neither breaks the bank nor overwhelms you.

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Elizabeth Clayton

Elizabeth has been planning weddings since 2006, and has done so full time under the Lowe House Events banner since 2011. She considers herself incredibly lucky to get to work on events full time—it just doesn’t get much better than going to a party most weekends because it’s your job.

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  • One More Poster

    We had our rehearsal event/party/get together at an upscale bowling alley. They cordoned off a section of the facility just for us. We provided the catered meal (BBQ chicken, cole slaw, yummy salad, etc) and 4 lanes of unlimited bowling for 2 hours. People bought their own drinks. It was an amazing time! There were couches for people to sit and catch up, or meet each other for the first time. There were places for people to sit and watch the bowling. There were places ofr the bowlers. People did what they wanted, and it rocked!! The whole cost for 20 people was about $600.

    After the official event was over, we grabbed some more seating and continue to talk/drink/play pool for another couple of hours.

    • I’m totally pitching the bowling idea to my FH. That sounds like an awesome way to blow off some steam and have some fun after all the stress.

      • Rachel

        I wanted to do exactly this- a bowling party (because it’s the only way to have beer and dairy queen ice cream cake at the same time). I thought this would work well because we could have multiple lanes and people could spread out into their respective groups while still being able to chat interchangeably.

        The only problem is my mother has completely killed the idea because she wants nothing to do with my father. Unlike many people who are getting married, my parent’s divorce was 10 years ago but they are still in court over child support (I’m 22, child support where I live ends at 21). Everything is very fresh and painful. My mother has begged and emotionally blackmailed me into not having a rehearsal at all or just having one with her family. My problem is that this is unfair to a bunch of people including my fiancé’s family, my dad’s family and my friends. We’re having an out of town wedding and so many people are coming from other provinces- I want to spend as much time with them as I can.

        Any suggestions APWers? I’m in desperate need of help.

  • teafortwo

    Our rehearsal dinner is 100% fulfilling my alternative wedding fantasy. Our wedding is going to be an afternoon tea party – formal and lovely, but also much more affordable than a four-course dinner for our 150 guests.

    The rehearsal dinner is what I had originally suggested we do for our wedding, when I realized how much a wedding was going to cost: our immediate families (which is 22 people in total with everyone’s spouses) at a favourite restaurant in our neighbourhood, just one block from the church. The restaurant is pretty small, so we’ve bought out the whole place, the chef does magic with local food, and considering we have siblings coming from 3 different countries (and many with small children who will be having a blast with a babysitter that night) I CANNOT WAIT to sit down to a fancy, grown-up meal with all of them in one place.

  • Rehearsal dinners are not such a big thing here in the UK but most weddings I have been involved in tend to have some kind of get together the night before but seperate for the bride and groom. The couple definitely don’t have to host or pay.

    For our wedding I went to a local restaurant with my bridesmaids and extended family while my soon to be husband did the same, we all then met up in a nearby bar with anyone else that was in town early.

    My step sister had a BBQ at my parents house the night before hers for extended family and bridesmaids. And when I was a bridesmaid it was a similar set up at the brides house.

    Our flat is far too small to have everyone round for dinner but I liked going out to the restaurant, it definitely felt like the start of the wedding and seeing everyone at the bar after helped to raise excitement levels. It meant as well i couldn’t do anymore planning / faffing whereas I know my step sister struggled to step away when she had hers at home.


  • We’re tentatively planning, pending hotel approval, to do a pool/pizza party the night before our wedding. The rehearsal will have to take place either Thursday night or Friday before noon, so this will be less of a rehearsal dinner and more of a welcome party. The intent is to have it be a come and go type of event with pizza and soft drinks provided by us. Had my in-laws not relocated across the country, I would have planned something in their backyard. However, since they have, we’ll make use of one of the hotels. I just want a low-key time to greet family and friends and let them mix and mingle.

  • Jennifer

    We’re having our rehearsal dinner in the parish hall right after the rehearsal. My fiance’s uncle is doing BBQ, and we’re going to have wine and beer and just hang out and have the families get to know each other. I want it to be incredibly low-key and have no intention of decorating or doing anything more than making sure there is plenty of food and drink! I just want it to be a time to relax. Although I know I probably won’t, since it will be the first time seeing all the crazy family dynamics at work…

  • Joan

    Oh man, planning our rehearsal dinner was surprisingly stressful process. Our ideal dinner would have been in our home, backyard BBQ style, so that all of our extended family arriving the day before (everyone was from out of town) could mingle and meet in a more relaxed informal atmosphere. However (1) live in a small townhouse (2) got married in March in Canada (i.e. snow on the ground).
    Our first plan was going to be a local family restaurant and bar, which had a large back room and would supply heavy apps to sustain everyone. Cost would have been around $300 max. That plan was going along swimmingly until my mom stopped by the restaurant “out of curiosity” and declared that it was too “rough” with some “seedy characters” at the bar, and she wouldn’t feel comfortable asking our family to go there. I have been to this place a few times and yes, it has that small town rustic charm and some characters at the bar, but the back room is really nice and SEPARATE from the bar area….anyway…
    She then went behind our backs to the hotel where most of the guests would be staying to “investigate some options”. We had already looked into this option, and found that renting one of their conference rooms and using their required in-house catering would end up being a buffet style sit down meal costing closer to $1000. Bringing up the budget, my mom offered to pay for everything – which though generous, was once again totally undercutting allowing us to make our own choices. Several tense and tearful phone calls later, we’d both accused the other of not validating each other’s feelings and choices and were back at square one.
    In the end, my mother’s misguided but well-meaning sabotage was a blessing in disguise – it forced us to look outside the box, where we ended up finding this really cool local brewery that used to be a tool factory. Its relaxed rustic vibe came with a cheap room rental fee and allowed us to order a bunch of pizzas and some salads from our fave local pizza place. When my mom started inquiring into arranging centrepieces or tablecloths, we officially closed the suggestion box, bought a bunch of butcher paper from Staples and plopped a strip of paper and some crayons on each table – instant icebreaker/fun activity for kids! Plus, we got cheap locally brewed beers (cash bar) and a free brewery tour, all within our original $500 budget:)
    Lesson learned: ask parents/interested parties upfront what their expectations of the rehearsal night will be, you may be surprised that they have some of the same “what will they think” expectations there as they do with the wedding day itself! And then stick up for what you want, even if it’s the cheaper/less classy option:)

    • M.

      So sorry that turned out so stressful! As I commented below, my FMIL also dipped her toe into the “What is right/expected?” waters, but we were so far ahead in planning what we wanted that she didn’t have a chance to interfere — it was already done. If we hadn’t thought about it earlier, I expect we would have had some of the same issues you did. The offering to pay thing is, on the one hand, so generous, but also so insidious because it’s so many more things than just a money thing — it’s about the validity of your choices and desires, as well as your level of control over your own wedding. Glad you were able to figure it out and “close the suggestion box” :)

      • Joan

        So smart, M! We got so engrossed in planning the wedding day itself, that the rehearsal planning only really started 6-8 weeks before the day – I’d definitely have preferred to take your smart route and plan it far in advance:)

        • M.

          Accidental genius on our parts, I have to say. We are simultaneously so type-A and so lazy that we planned our casual afternoon wedding and made all of the big decisions in about 3 weeks, to get it “checked off” and to not have to plan any more. So there’s been lots of, “sorry, it’s decided already!” which is unexpectedly amazing for a non-traditional situation. But now we are just waaaaiiitttnnngg. 6 more months!

  • yael

    We are having so many people come in from out of town for our wedding where I grew up (including the two of us!), it may as well be a destination wedding. If things were different, we’d think about an intimate sit down dinner at an amazing restaurant- but alas, there’s no way we’d feel comfortable not inviting the lovely and amazing not-immediate family and friends that made the trek to see us and celebrate the night before. Instead, we are pretty sure we will do a “rehearsal lunch”, catered with some of our favorite local food, in my mom’s very hostable home and back yard. Since we love hosting in general, and our focus is mostly on food when we do, I think we can forgo the formal sit down, and instead feed loved ones good food and watch family members meet for the first time. This post just helped me solidify exactly why I am excited about our plan! Elizabeth, you rock!

  • M.

    One of the things that has always attracted me to APW is the notion that your wedding can be whatever you want it to be, and this article reinforces the same thing and continues to empower those decisions. Love.

    We just last week got a call from FH’s mother who said, “We need to talk about the rehearsal dinner and make a guest list, and traditionally we should pay” etc etc, like it was this thing she had just realized must be done and we must do it The Right Way. We calmly, nicely said, it’s already planned and paid for. By planned, we mean we called a place and made a reservation — pizza and sangria at our favorite college hangout, parents, siblings, and people in the wedding only, full stop. Paid for by my family because they offered and they can’t contribute much, but this is important to them. It will be a relaxed atmosphere for everyone to meet, and requires essentially no other decisions except for maaaybe what pizzas to order.

    As TeaForTwo said above, the dinner is sort of our alternate wedding fantasy from when we realized how much weddings cost :)

  • Laura C

    As someone having a wedding way bigger and more expensive than I’d wanted, I am definitely looking at the rehearsal dinner as the chance to fulfill my actual fantasies. Which I suspect will bring me into conflict with my FMIL, who I think sees the wedding as less fancy than she’d hoped and will be looking at the rehearsal dinner as a chance to have a snazzy exciting caterer. My view has been that since we are all (her, my parents, me, my fiance) contributing to the wedding, the rehearsal dinner comes out of that common pool of money and no more belongs to the groom’s family than any other thing, but I’m realizing we haven’t directly discussed that.

    Anyway, what we know: Fiance’s cousin’s back yard. Chance to get some toasts out of the way so the whole wedding isn’t toasts. (I will suck it up here, as a person who doesn’t like toasts, but FMIL will not get her dream of 12 [that’s TWELVE] toasts, either.) Rented tent. Maybe 80 people? Mostly his family, because his family is huge. What I want: Tables and chairs, but not so many that it feels like an everybody sit down at once event, barbecue from awesome local restaurant. FMIL’s idea that we’re discussing: Indian attire encouraged. Obviously anyone who wants can wear it anyway, but we’ll see if we can strike the balance of giving people who would not otherwise do so the opportunity without making anyone feel pressured or left out.

    Oh, and then afterward? Karaoke party for friends our age at a restaurant owned by a family friend.

    • Laura C

      To add, the idea we’re definitely nixing is that since we can’t have kids at the wedding for size of guest list reasons, maybe we should give each of them 5 minutes to perform at the rehearsal dinner so they’ll feel included. In addition to however many toasts by adults. No, no, no.

  • Anonymous

    As a couple, we struggled to meet traditional and practical expectations of a rehearsal dinner. My traditional, Southern family expected that we arrange some type of welcome event for out-of-town guests. The problem: it was a destination wedding. We deliberately avoided a formal, sit-down dinner for our wedding, so we wanted to come up with an alternate idea for the rehearsal dinner.

    We found a small pub willing to reserve their courtyard for all of our guests and provide us with a great selection of heavy appetizers. Similar to Joan’s comment, the location looked a little iffy in the daytime. However, we were completely shocked by the pub owner, who strung lights and laid out tablecloths with small vases of flowers for the event free of charge. At night, it was absolutely charming.

    After our happy hour get together, tourguides treated our guests to a walking ghost tour around the French Quarter. We were glad to be able to include everyone in an informal, fun get together. It set the tone for the rest of the weekend.

    • Joan

      Exactly my point – so what if it looks daytime iffy – on that night, when it’s full of loved ones, it’s gonna be awesome. Sounds like so much fun!!

    • MK

      Wow, that sounds so awesome. You (and the other ladies from this site!) are really inspiring me to aim higher than “sit-down dinner” for the rehearsal dinner. I was gunning for a Mexican feast, but that will still mean not getting to talk to everyone. Hm.

    • Kerry

      A walking ghost tour??? That sounds like the most amazing thing! Also, your rehearsal dinner sounds fantastic, too!

  • M

    If you’re not super concerned about what your rehearsal dinner looks like, it can also serve the purpose of giving someone else (in our case, my MIL) a project to keep them busy. His mom is the type that is always asking questions and always wants to be helping with something. We didn’t really need or want lots of constant questions/help for the wedding itself, but we were totally fine with giving her a general idea and letting her handle the rehearsal dinner. She made the decorations, ordered the food, send the invitations, bought the wine, etc, and it ended up being absolutely lovely. She was happy because she had something to work on, and we were happy because we didn’t have another event to plan!

    • teafortwo

      This is a great point. And also, it’s not just mothers-in-law who can be happy with this – it would have made me very happy if someone else planned and hosted our rehearsal dinner. (Although like I said – we booked our favourite restaurant in the neighbourhood for our immediate family, they proposed a menu, I proposed one change, and I’m calling it DONE.)

      With all of the work of putting together the wedding. I have felt luxuriously treated by the fact that other people are planning my bridal shower. (Not that I would ever throw myself a shower…it’s just nice to think about getting to show up at a party as the guest of honour without ever having looked at a spreadsheet about it.) And if my fiance’s family had offered to organize the rehearsal dinner, I would have been over the moon.

      Actually, the same goes for weddings. Our traditionally-worded invitations indicate that our parents are hosting the wedding. And both sets have contributed very generously financially to the wedding – we are hardly paying anything ourselves. But frankly? If they were to plan/host the wedding, I would be pleased as punch to pick out a white dress and show up, be showered with love with our families and walk out married to my fella. I am so over thinking about flowers and RSVP spreadsheets and wedding cakes.

      • Alison O

        Seriously. The two plans I’m playing around with in my head at this point are:

        1) elope.

        2) tell mom to plan wedding. She used to plan mega-parties for a large corporation. Like, $1M budget, blocking off city streets, renting concert halls, hiring bands you’ve heard of. Obviously this would be orders of magnitude smaller…but she has good taste, likes all the logistical stuff that makes me want to die, and has experiencing doing informal company picnics, too, so I don’t think she’d be too lost without that extra ~$999,985. Funny though, I bet she’d resist taking the reins since she’s still sort of bitter about her own mom hijacking her wedding.

        • teafortwo

          DO IT. She likes planning events, she likes you. It would be great. As long as you don’t see any huge red flags, I say go for it. She will check in with you about the important stuff, and you don’t have to stay up all night pinning escort card ideas if you don’t want to.

    • ChelseaB

      I did the same thing. We are having a “Welcome Dinner” rather than a traditional rehearsal dinner and I’m turning my FMIL loose on it. My fiance is one of two boys so his mother has been a little, well, manic about being involved in the wedding. I handed the Rehearsal Dinner over to her to give her a project. She gets to plan the event of her dreams and it’s one less thing for me to think about. Win for both of us!

    • Same thing here! I honestly did not care what happened for the rehearsal dinner as long as I got to eat and hang out with our immediate families and the wedding party. My MIL was totally on top of it, and it was the perfect task for her to focus on. My husband is her first child, and she is very attached to him, so I think she really enjoyed having her own event to plan for us, especially since the wedding was very much ours with little input from anyone else. We ended up with a lovely evening at an adorable French restaurant, and the best part was I had absolutely no stress about the event–I just got to show up and enjoy. She ran a few ideas by me, but for the most part, I was like, whatever you want!

  • Abby Mae

    My rehearsal dinner was the most stress-free experience of my whole wedding planning year.

    I let my mother in law plan the rehearsal dinner. She was amazing about it. It was a tiny little thing with no fuss or frills at my husbands’ grandmothers and they made all of his favorite childhood foods.

    I’m so glad we went that route instead of having an event. I got to spend time with people I loved and the wedding party got to know each oher beter.

  • Casey

    Our rehearsal dinner was on the more stressful side to plan. On the plus side, our venue package included rental of the space on Friday and Saturday, and our awesome caterers for the wedding did the rehearsal dinner too. The challenging part was dealing with the tradition of the groom’s parents hosting the rehearsal dinner. My husband’s parents are divorced, and are NOT good at getting along, let alone communicating. So we had to act as the go-between, trying to figure out which set of parents were actually hosting, what “hosting” even entailed, who would be invited, etc.

    That said, the rehearsal dinner ended up being one of my favorite parts of the whole weekend. We did table assignments to deal with the whole divorced parents issue, and my husband had the brilliant idea to have us sit at a table with all our grandparents. We totally bypassed having to pick which side of the family to sit with, and our grandparents were thrilled to get to spend extra time with us. I definitely felt more relaxed and calm during the rehearsal dinner than the wedding, and it was nice to be so present and really get a chance to interact with everyone!

  • Amy March

    I think this is one of those times where it’s worth checking, early on, with the groom’s family. They may well be expecting to use the rehersal dinner as “their” party- a chance to share their hospitality in the manner they prefer. I don’t think that means you have to go along with it, but much better to set those expectations early, whether its “yes, please go ahead, plan it all and we’ll show up” or “actually, we think your attempt to have a five course dry meal and not invite the best man’s living-in-sin lady friend is uber controlling and not going to work for us.”

  • Karen

    For those of us with no groom and no financial support from either set of parents, there are no expectations to be had – yeah! Because we have so few people coming from out of town we’re not using a hotel room block so a space like that isn’t an option. We’ve been thinking of just having a make your own taco bar get together at our place. However, we live in a townhouse and the association is now resealing the parking lot and numbering parking spaces. This is going to get tricky. We don’t know where else to host something that isn’t going to cost us a fortune (and believe me right now a couple of hundred dollars is a fortune). I appreciate this post. I’ll have to keep thinking on this.

    • Maybe a public park by you with $50 worth of costco pizza (those pies could feed an army they are so huge) and a couple dozen glitter candles?

  • lady brett

    our rehearsal dinner was so wonderful. all we did was snag a small pavilion at a park (unrented) and order the “family reunion” spread from the best local barbecue joint. it was so easy, so cheap, and lots of fun. no organization, no plan, just a picnic dinner, and the one chance we had to really sit down and talk to folks (especially for me with my out-of-town people). and we had an impromptu afterparty of a couple siblings and friends sitting on our porch with drinks. lovely.

    (and in the end we didn’t have to pay for it anyhow – at the last minute my wife’s mother said “we’ll take care of it…isn’t that usually the groom’s family’s job?” which was *awesome* because she’s so chill with us being gay, but she’s not very comfortable with the gender stuff.)

    • teafortwo

      AW! that line from your MIL warmed my heart right up.

  • We accidentally had a “rehearsal dinner.” Since we only had 25 guests we didn’t really worry about it much. We ended up cooking frozen pizzas and having drinks on the patio of of vacation rental/venue. Super casual super awesome.

  • Samantha

    So fiance’s family is paying for and mostly planning the rehearsal dinner with some guidance from us. There has always been tension between us and them. They had a really hard time handling it when their golden boy brought home me as his first girlfriend (at the age of 22 I might add) and an even harder time when golden boy and I got engaged (at 27!). They’ve always been passive aggresive towards me and caused a lot of hell for us. We’ve had to be in counseling since we got engaged because they’re reaction created a ton of conflict and misery for us. I don’t plan on speaking to them for more than two seconds at either the wedding or rehearsal dinner.(Not interacting with them has been the only way I can survive having to be around them). At the wedding we plan on sitting with MOH and her date, BestMan and his date, and one other couple from the bridal party. Who do we sit with at the rehearsal? I really want to sit with my parents because I feel bad not sitting with them at the wedding (not that they would guilt me- they don’t do that), but I do want to sit with them at the rehearsal. Is that okay? We’re definitely not sitting with his family. Or should we sit with the bridal party who won’t be sitting with us at the wedding? I really want to sit with my momma though!

    • Laura C

      I wouldn’t sit with one set of parents but not the other. Even if they don’t actually want to sit with you either, it will be a visible enough slight to make them feel self-conscious and to make other people wonder. Someone mentioned sitting with grandparents — do you have enough grandparents to make that work? Or the other part of your party could work. And, honestly, you don’t need to be sitting in one place the whole time. You can totally get up and spend a good bit of the meal at your parents’ table in an unofficial “who me? just stopping by” kind of way.

      This is just one where it seems like, as much as you have to protect yourself from nastiness (and you totally do), you don’t want to be highlighting the rift in front of everyone on both sides and giving them the moral high ground of “at the rehearsal dinner we paid for, she took our son to sit with her family and ignored us.” Even if they totally deserve it.

      • Samantha

        I really wish you weren’t right… but I think you probably are. I loved the sitting with grandparents idea too except his grandma is actually the biggest part of the problem, and we’ve lost four grandparents in the past two years so it’s just my grandma and his grandma. BUT I love your idea of spending a lot of time at my parents table, but not “officially”sitting there.

    • Beth

      I’m not sure how formal your dinner will be, but is there a way you can push it towards more casual? Perhaps some sort of buffet type deal instead of seated dinner? We did this and everyone moved around throughout the night so that they could talk to different people. At the start of the night I was sitting next to the one person I really didn’t want to sit by, but that didn’t last long and I had the opportunity to walk around and go sit and talk to everyone who was there!

  • Caroline

    We’re planning to do a rehearsal dinner/ pre-wedding dinner. Originally, we were thinking it would be just out of town guests plus my dad’s siblings (all family is out of town except them so it would be weird to leave them out.) Then we realized only about 15 people were not invited so decided what the heck, we’ll invite everyone. It’s going to be pretty casual anyways. Pizza or BBQ from a restaurant on paper plates in my dad’s back yard. I’m seriously considering mostly laying out picnic blankets on the grass and just having tables for folks for whom that is a hardship. We will have beer, and maybe root beer floats. Some of those jumbo packs of lettuce from Costco, and I’ll
    Make a jar or two of salad dressing when we are cooking for the wedding the day before. Done, and hopefully easy.

    I think my fiancé’s family wanted to host something, possibly smaller, but we have so many people we rarely get to see, and we want more time to see them.

  • Robyn

    Can I just say how much I am loving the Get Sh*t Done posts? They are unbelievably helpful, THANK YOU!

    • Amy March

      And how fabulous would it be if at some point they were compiled into a helpful fabulous ebook as a complete set?

    • aw, you guys are so sweet :)

  • Sara W

    For our rehearsal dinner, we had everyone back to our house. We bought a giant pork tenderloin (like, 9 lbs of pork) and put it in the crock pot. For sides, my mom and some friends helped make coleslaw, a pasta salad, and a green salad the day before the party. Storebought hamburger buns and condiments we already had (ketchup, mustard, mayo) rounded out the dinner. We got cupcakes from a local bakery (had a friend who was in the wedding pick them up after the actual rehearsal) for dessert. Not the easiest thing in the world since we had to do the prep the day before, but it was affordable and people seemed to think it was tasty. We had about 25 people for the dinner. Leftovers were sent home with the in-town people. Paper plates, etc. were used so minimal dishes to wash at the end of the evening.

    If you are self-catering the rehearsal dinner, don’t underestimate the power of a crock pot (or two or three). You can get everything prepped the night before and then put it all together in the morning. Dinner will be ready when you get home. Good crowd pleasers could be chili, chicken soup, hot roast beef, barbeque pork. Add bread and salad, you have a meal!

    • Laura C

      THIS IS WHAT I KEEP TELLING MY FIANCE. I could totally self-cater that sucker given a few crock pots. Crock pot mac and cheese, some kinda meat thing, some channa masala, a rice steamer of rice, boom. But he’s all “no, you’ll melt down.” Which, yes, I would. But I would feel good about it!

      I’m doing the desserts, though.

  • Caroline

    Ours was more of a rehearsal lunch — a casual picnic in my (now) in-laws’ backyard. Hamburgers, veggie burgers, hot dogs, various side-dish salads, lemonade, soda, beer, and sangria. We’d originally planned to just buy all the food at Costco, but my mother-in-law and her sister kind of took over and cooked stuff, which was delicious. My mother-in-law set up some seating by putting bales of hay next to the fence and covering them with thick canvas tarps (which was an awesome idea — afterwards she used the hay in gardening/landscaping), and various family members brought whatever lawn furniture they had. Everyone seemed really relaxed and happy to just hang out and chill.

    So yeah. I’m in favor of super-casual rehearsal dinners.

    I realize we were lucky to (a) have family in town who could host and (b) that family has a huge backyard with enough space for everyone, and (c) it was a time of year when the weather allowed a picnic. But I would absolutely recommend the general idea of a very casual get-together, because everybody involved with the wedding — including you! — needs a minute to just chill.

  • Emily

    The name of the game for my rehearsal dinner was SIMPLE. My mom did not think it would be possible, but we actually managed to pull off a backyard BBQ in my parents’ backyard on the cheap with almost no stress. Usually when we entertain at my parents’ house, my mom and I end up cooking like mad while all the guests are entertaining themselves because we insist on making everything from scratch. For the rehearsal, Mom and I worked out a menu that could be prepared entirely in advance or bought ready made. Packaged hotdogs, hamburgers, and veggie burgers/dogs, cold salads, chips, dip, beer etc. But we still managed to sneak in some lovely homemade touches with desserts (my mom is an awesome baker), homemade sangria, and we even set up a big canopy tent with tea light chandeliers that my crafty brother made. Then, when we got back from the rehearsal, all we had to do was take everything out of the fridge and fire up the grills. It managed to come together very smoothly, and turned out to be such a relaxing, fun evening with our closest family and friends. Mom and I even had a moment where we thought, “Wow, maybe we could have had the whole wedding here!” (then we remembered our low threshold for stress, and thanked God we had the good sense to go with a professional venue) The only thing that we regretted was that everyone was having such a nice time that NO ONE took any pictures!

  • ElisabethJoanne

    I’d encourage everyone to not be stuck on any “day before” thinking for rehearsal meals. We had our rehearsal dinner the Saturday evening before a Monday afternoon wedding, and that 48-hours-before-the-wedding timetable was great. It obviously won’t work for everyone, but for those with wedding worries related to crowds, having the day before the wedding without no group activities is beneficial.

    We had a “traditional” set-up of the groom’s family hosting. Our problems were around both sets of parents’ bad memories and poor planning skills. We presented the original concept (dinner for about 15 people) to my in-laws maybe a year before the wedding, and they agreed. Every few months, a parent would ask, “Can we invite so-and-so?” To my in-laws, we said, “It’s your party.” To my parents, we said, “We have to check with [in-laws]; it’s their party.” We got an OK to invite my grandfather, but it wasn’t until a few days before the rehearsal that Mom asked about my aunt, uncle, and cousin arriving that day from out-of-town, by which time it was too late to coordinate with my in-laws. Also, we apparently planned too far in advance, because by the fall, Mom forgot agreements made about Grandpa in the summer. Of course, the people my in-laws were concerned to invite were unable to come, as well as several of the actual bridal party members.

    Don’t get me wrong, it was a great evening. I think my only regret is not putting the plans into emails to help people remember what was agreed. (Then again, Mom also complains my family emails are too business-like, so maybe this would have reduced planning stress, but increased interpersonal stress.)

  • Casey

    I loved our rehearsal dinner! It was really a “welcome dinner”. I sent out an email invite the week before to those who had RSVP’d by email, and let my husband’s family spread the word to those who weren’t email savvy. So many people came over on Friday to help set up the in-laws’ backyard! Then they left for a while, while we had our rehearsal. Then they came back for burgers on the grill and smoked turkey, made by my FIL. One of his aunts made a broccoli dish, and a couple other of his aunts picked up some sides at Sam’s Club when they snuck out to buy the meat. I had planned on buying all the picnic food myself, but they beat me to it! It was a lovely informal evening for everyone to get to know each other. The wedding dinner felt like more of the same, just with fancier clothes and food.

    This worked because we had a June wedding in the backyard with 45 guests (although we invited 105!). It was family-only, so word spread through the grapevine easily and I can’t recall anyone feeling left out or uninvited. The only people who didn’t attend the welcome dinner also left the wedding early – after the 15-minute ceremony and a few group pictures and appetizers. I never even got to meet them!

  • alyssa

    I swoon over the at-home pizza party! But my mother-in-law was paying and insisted on something much more formal. There were table numbers, place names, several courses, and it was all rather lovely but I really just wanted to have pizza in my childhood home with the whole family. Unfortunately, some of my favorite family members were not invited, but lots of her family were in attendance.
    I’d love some more examples on how to steer clear of this in the future. It was a lovely evening, but nothing like envisioned or hoped for. In the end, it was just easier to let her do what she wanted.

    • GCDC

      I had the same thing happen with the rehearsal dinner, and I’m sorry you are feeling not-great about it. I know those feelings.

      I don’t have any advice for how to avoid it in the future, but I’ve found it helps me to feel better if I tell myself that I chose to let my mother in law’s vision win in the end, and that I prioritized her happiness over my vision of the rehearsal dinner. It makes me feel like a good person, and keeps the resentful thoughts from taking over.

      • alyssa

        Good advice! It’s always good to keep the MIL happy, no? :) And nice to keep in perspective others needs vs. your own.
        Thank goodness that I don’t have resentment, just a little nostalgia for what could have been. I’m sorry your rehearsal dinner wasn’t what you wanted, either. But at least there are plenty of pizza parties in the future!

        • GCDC

          Agreed!! I would like to have a pizza party for one in my office right now.

  • RS

    My wedding is in three weeks, and we are planning a welcome happy hour for our families, wedding party, and out of town guests. We wanted to invite all of our out of town guests, so instead of a dinner, we found a room at a casual bar within walking distance of our hotel where we’ll have a small buffet of bar food (sliders, chicken fingers, soft pretzels, etc) and a host bar. We really didn’t want to have a cash bar, and we wanted to have enough food that it could serve as dinner, so going super casual has allowed us to do both and stay within, and possibly under, my FMIL’s budget.

    We sent out an evite, and we’ve already gotten a lot of positive feedback from people who much prefer to hang out in a more casual environment. Plus, a number of our friends have small children who will be coming in to town for the wedding weekend, but will not attend the wedding itself – it gives us a chance to spend time with them in an atmosphere where they can be comfortable and aren’t required to sit still! I’m really looking forward to it!

    • magster

      I am a big fan of the “rehearsal social” as we have taken to calling it in my family. Both my brother and I did them for our weddings. Since we both married people from other parts of the country and have big families, inviting all out of town guests to a rehearsal dinner was crazy. It also felt crazy to only see these people at our 200+ person weddings (did I mention the large families already?) when they had traveled to be with us. For anyone else in this situation, our solution was the hosted rehearsal social at the blocked hotel bar and it worked really well.

      Lesson learned from my brother’s wedding the year earlier was to ask the bar to create a cut-down list of drinks and to use a ticket system. Even with plenty of tickets flowing and some nice drinks on the menu, our social came in under budget. At my brother’s wedding, a couple “high rollers” basically doubled the tab with their taste for expensive liquors. Cheers!

  • ingrid

    I have to agree on pushing toasts over to the rehearsal dinner. We had about 45 people for the rehearsal (all close friends and family–we both have large families!), and about 100 for the wedding. We had also arranged a series of get-togethers with close family and friends leading up to the wedding, which gave us multiple chances to hang out with our loved ones (most of whom were flying in) so by wedding day we knew we just wanted to make it a big, fun party for everyone. We chose to have just our MOH and BM give speeches on the wedding day.

    We didn’t formally schedule toasts during the rehearsal dinner, but right after we ate (fried chicken with all the fixins, done by my amazing caterer friend who specializes in Southern cuisine :) my mom ended up doing the most magical presentation of a dowry box my father left for me. My father died 10 years ago and while I grieved over the thought of not having him there for all the festivities, my mom’s presentation and speech were just so heartfelt and powerful, they had the entire room in a mixture of laughter and tears. It was really, really wonderful and moving, and it spun off into a series of speeches from family and friends–probably 8 or 10 altogether. It was really great to have that time with our closest loved ones, and there was no rush to move onto the next thing (cake cutting! First dance! etc). At the wedding the next day the speeches were still totally hilarious and moving, but with just two speeches we could go right back to party-time without worrying about cutting off speeches.

  • This is a great write up! I know a few brides who are getting this link asap.

  • Well, well, well. Exhibit A in “it never hurts to ask.”

    One of my vary favorite restaurants, a real slice of local flavor, is directly across the street from our venue. We would love to have our rehearsal dinner there. However, they don’t do reservations and they get very busy on Friday nights.

    Still, I decided today to at least email and ask about it. I emphasized that I know they don’t take reservations, but since they were special to me I want to at least check on the possibility. I just got a very nice replay, congratulating me and thanking me for thinking of them. She said they wouldn’t be able to accommodate a large group, though they wished they could.

    However, she also asked me to send her my address, so that she could send a gift card to my fiance and I. How sweet! Good customer service and above and beyond.

    • And to reward them for good customer service, I should mention their name. Not a good rehearsal dinner venue, but if you are ever in Madison, WI and hungry, stop at the Old Fashioned. http://www.theoldfashioned.com/

      Seriously, I am super touched by her gesture. Who says everyone tries to take advantage of brides! (Well, the popular media, I guess.)

  • Beth

    Our wedding party and family did a lot of work to help us prepare our venue the day before, so we were really thinking about the rehearsal dinner as the necessary way to thank them for all their help. Like, if friends help you move, you provide them with pizza and beer! So that’s what we did! We had a variety of fancy pizzas, salad, and pitchers of beer at a nice restaurant near our venue with an outdoor seating area/fire pit. There were about 25 people there – just the immediate family and members of the wedding party +spouses.

    We didn’t plan for any toasts or anything, but we did have one friend give a really nice toast and we gave presents to our wedding party. Otherwise, it was pretty laid back and was just a nice chance to chat with everyone and get to know some spouses better who we hadn’t spent much time with.

    A friend of mine did a BBQ in a park near the venue and another friend had a taco bar at her house. Both were awesome! My brother had his at a chinese restaurant. I kind of feel like it doesn’t matter what you do! People just want to spend time with each other.

  • We tried to make our rehearsal dinner the alternate wedding dream:
    BBQ from our favorite restaurant (oh, did I mention it was 45 mins from the venue/hotel?), in a brewery (oh, but the brewery had no heat or A/C and the rental fans/heaters- because in Feb in Houston you do not know what weather you’re going to get- would have cost thousands).

    In the end it just wasn’t feasible/worrying would have driven me insane, so we did it at a restaurant. We ended up getting super lucky with this restaurant (which is also a caterer) closing down the whole restaurant for our 100-person rehearsal dinner where we invited every out of town guest (85% of our guest list) and it was awesome and within budget and a ton of fun.
    (By the way, if anyone is getting married in Katy, TX I would recommend them 1000 times. Email me nerdsinloveblog[at]gmail.com for the info!)

  • We had a beach bonfire with hotdogs and s’mores for our rehearsal dinner and it was awesome! We invited all of our out of town guests who were visiting from Ohio in addition to our immediate family and bridal party. Everyone had a great time and it was just the relaxing, fun time we needed to calm our wedding nerves.

    I also completely agree that once the rehearsal dinner starts, all wedding preparation should be done. It was a huge relief to hand everything over to our planner and then go relax with our family and friends.

  • Jess

    Here’s my current issue: I have a few aunts, uncles and cousins who are coming in a day early to help set up the reception hall. The “traditional” invitees total at around 30, but I really want to invite these additional people to the rehearsal dinner as a thank you for taking time off from work and coming in early to help make our day beautiful. My Future MIL, who is very traditional, doesn’t see it this way. (I think part of the issue here is that I’m form a large family that has always been “all hands on deck” whereas the FI’s family is smaller, close-knit.)

    I would rather have a beer-and-pizza party so that I can invite more people, but the FI’s parents are insistent on having a dinner at a restaurant where inviting more people means a considerably higher bill. They are the ones paying, so what should I do? I think it would be terribly rude not to invite those helping that day, but I can’t in good conscience invite more people if it’s going to cost others the proverbial “arm and a leg”.


    • Another Meg

      What if you re-frame it? If your FMIL is traditional, would she accept a “welcome dinner” instead of a rehearsal dinner? Also, it’s fairly traditional to include all out-of-town guests at a rehearsal dinner, if that applies.

  • Sharon Gorbacz

    I threw together the plans for our rehearsal dinner maybe a month ahead of the wedding. Considering that our wedding was going to be super fancy, we decided on a local Italian-American BYOB restaurant that we’d picked up pizza and sandwiches from twice before. I called the Tuesday before for our Friday reservation for a table of 12.
    MIL/FIL picked up the check despite our protests. MIL liked the food so much we ended up going back there the following Monday for lunch.

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