Everything You Need to Know About the Wedding Rehearsal Dinner

  • Publication date: 01/04/2024
  • Updated: 01/05/2024

Weddings are like a vibrant dance of love and joy, with a sprinkle of happy chaos. In this wonderful whirl, the rehearsal dinner is a key moment – it's like a peaceful prelude to the main event. Imagine it as the first scene of your wedding celebration, crafting the mood for everything that follows. So, you're curious about the rehearsal dinner, right? It's an opportunity to smooth out any final details, connect deeply with your closest friends and family, and kick off your wedding celebrations in style!

What is a Rehearsal Dinner?

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So, what happens at a rehearsal dinner? Well, it's a mixed bag of activities – a delightful blend of formality and fun. Historically, the rehearsal dinner was all about fine-tuning the ceremony. Picture the wedding party practicing their walks down the aisle, ironing out the choreography of the big day. It was like a dress rehearsal for a Broadway show but with more love and less drama. And then, after the serious stuff was out of the way, it was time to feast and make merry.

Let's shift our focus from tradition to the present. Rehearsal dinners now have taken on a new life. They're about sharing stories, rekindling connections with long-lost friends, and forming new bonds. This is the time for speeches that are a bit more relaxed and filled with laughter, where funny tales about the couple might emerge, setting a light-hearted and festive mood for the wedding.

And let's not forget the food! Whether it's a grand feast or a cozy backyard grill, the food at the rehearsal dinner is a reflection of the couple's personal style and lays the groundwork for the entire wedding weekend. It's less about the dishes served and more about the unforgettable moments being created.

So, what do you do at a rehearsal dinner? You rehearse a bit, you eat a bit more, you laugh, you cry (the good kind of tears), and you bask in the love and excitement of what’s to come. It's a night where two families start to weave together, where friends from different chapters of life come together, and where the journey to 'happily ever after' takes a very real and joyous step forward.

How to Plan a Rehearsal Dinner

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Alright, let's dive into the details of organizing a rehearsal dinner. Think of it as the opening act for the most unforgettable day of your life. This event begins to shape the atmosphere for your wedding. Now, how do you put together a dinner that’s not only fun but also a fitting homage to your soon-to-be wedding?

Selecting the Date

Picking the right date is key. Usually, the night before the wedding is the preferred choice. It's practical – everyone is already in town, and it's a fantastic way to start the festivities. But if you want to break the mold, feel free to choose a different day. Just ensure it's close enough to the wedding to keep the anticipation and joy in the air.

Selecting the Venue

The venue sets the tone. You can go classic with a fancy restaurant, or maybe something more casual like a beachside barbecue. Think about what feels right for you and your partner. This is your show, and the rehearsal dinner venue should reflect your personalities. 

Deciding the Menu

Food, glorious food! The menu at your rehearsal dinner can be a sneak peek into your wedding cuisine, or something totally different. Are you foodies who want a gourmet experience? Or are you all about comfort food that makes everyone feel at home?

Planning a rehearsal dinner is like putting together a puzzle – it's about fitting all these pieces together to create a picture that's uniquely yours. This event is your opportunity to set the tone for your upcoming wedding and, most importantly, to have an amazing time with the people you cherish the most. 

Who Plans the Rehearsal Dinner

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Who takes on the task of planning the dinner before the wedding has evolved from a set tradition to a more adaptable and personal choice. In the past, it was typically the groom's family who organized this event as a gesture of goodwill and support. Nowadays, this norm has changed to better fit varying family structures and the couple’s own wishes.

It’s quite common now for both families to come together and co-host, sharing both the responsibilities and the expenses. Sometimes, the couple themselves might want to steer the planning, particularly if they have a specific vision for the occasion. This joint effort can be a wonderful way for families to connect and share in the excitement of the approaching wedding.

No matter who plans it, the key is to keep the couple's desires at the forefront. The rehearsal dinner is an introduction to their special day and should mirror their unique personality and taste. Clear communication about what everyone expects and prefers is crucial to make sure the event enhances the wedding and is enjoyable for all involved.

When is the Rehearsal Dinner

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Traditionally, it's held the night before the wedding, following the actual wedding rehearsal. This timing makes sense for several reasons, but as with all things wedding-related, there's room for creativity and personal preference.

  • Night Before the Wedding: This is the traditional pick. It's convenient because the wedding party and guests from out of town are typically already there. Scheduling it this way offers a smooth shift from practicing the wedding ceremony to unwinding and spending quality time with your guests.
  • Two Nights Before the Wedding: Choosing this timeframe gives everyone a breather or time to handle any last-minute details. It’s particularly beneficial if you're expecting a long night full of fun and storytelling, providing a day for everyone to recuperate before the main event.
  • Week of the Wedding: If it's not feasible to have the dinner the night before, holding it earlier in the week of the wedding is a viable alternative.
  • Alternative Timing: A newer trend is to organize the rehearsal dinner after the wedding day, like a "farewell celebration" of the festivities. Although it's unconventional, this method offers a relaxed way to conclude the celebrations and spend additional time with guests, especially those who have traveled a long distance.

Regardless of the chosen timing for the rehearsal dinner, the most important thing is that it seamlessly integrates with the overall schedule of your wedding events.

Rehearsal Dinner Timeline

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A carefully planned rehearsal dinner agenda makes sure the event is enjoyable and runs smoothly, paving the way for your wedding day. Let's explore a typical outline of such an event, remembering that the duration of a rehearsal dinner can differ depending on personal choices and the night's activities.

  1. Arrival and Socializing (30 minutes to 1 hour): The evening generally starts with some time for mingling. This period allows guests to arrive, get comfortable, and engage in conversation with one another.
  2. The Rehearsal (30 minutes to 1 hour): If you're including the actual wedding rehearsal earlier in the day, this part can be skipped during the dinner. However, if you're combining the two, this is when the wedding party briefly rehearses the ceremony. 
  3. Dinner Service (1 to 2 hours): Depending on the style of your dinner (buffet, seated meal, family-style), this part can vary in length. 
  4. Toasts and Speeches (30 minutes to 1 hour): Often, the rehearsal dinner is a time for more personal, informal toasts and speeches. This can be from the host, close family members, and even members of the wedding party. It's a time to share stories, laughter, and maybe a few tears.
  5. Additional Activities or Free Time (Variable): This is a flexible part of the evening and can be tailored to your preferences.
  6. Wrap-Up (15 to 30 minutes): As the evening comes to a close, it's a good idea to have a clear end time, allowing guests (and yourselves) to rest up for the big day.

Remember, this timeline is just a guide. Your rehearsal dinner can be as unique as your wedding. 

Who to Invite to the Rehearsal Dinner

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The guest list of the traditional rehearsal dinner includes the wedding party, immediate family members, and possibly the officiant. However, modern trends allow for more flexibility.

Consider inviting close relatives, out-of-town guests, and dear friends who play a significant role in your life. The idea is to create an atmosphere that's both personal and celebratory. For destination weddings, it's common to extend the invitation to all guests, as it's a way to thank them for traveling far to be part of your special day.

Where to Have Rehearsal Dinner

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Choosing the perfect spot for your rehearsal dinner is like finding the ideal setting for the first chapter of your wedding story. Let's explore some unique rehearsal dinner venue ideas that go beyond the usual and make your rehearsal dinner an unforgettable experience.


Restaurants are classic choices for a reason. They offer a mix of convenience, style, and, of course, fantastic food. Whether you opt for a cozy bistro, a trendy eatery, or a fine dining establishment, a restaurant can provide a hassle-free experience with a touch of elegance. Plus, the variety of cuisines available means you can travel the world through your taste buds. Remember to consider the restaurant's size, ambiance, and location when making your selection.

Outdoor Setting

For those who love nature, an outdoor setting can be magical. Think about a beachside feast under the stars, a rustic gathering in a vineyard, or a chic backyard barbecue. Outdoor venues offer a natural beauty and a relaxed vibe that's hard to beat. 


There's something incredibly warm and intimate about hosting your rehearsal dinner at home. It could be your family's backyard, a relative's estate, or even a rented mansion. A home setting allows for a personalized touch like no other venue can. It's perfect for smaller, more intimate gatherings and gives you the freedom to decorate and cater exactly as you wish.

Unique Venues

Why not think outside the box? Museums, art galleries, historic buildings, or even boats can provide a stunning backdrop for your rehearsal dinner. These places offer a unique experience for your guests and can reflect your interests as a couple.

When picking a place to have a rehearsal dinner, think about the experience you want to create for yourselves and your guests. This pre-wedding event is a chance to reflect your personalities and set the tone for your wedding. 

Do You Need to Send Out Invitations for the Rehearsal Dinner

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Here, it's important to think about the tone and formality of your event. For more formal dinners, printed invitations can set the right tone and help convey the significance of the occasion. They also serve as a lovely keepsake for guests and a way to build excitement for upcoming celebrations.

However, for less formal or more intimate gatherings, digital invitations or even personalized emails or phone calls might be more fitting. These methods are not only cost-effective but also allow for quick and easy communication.

Regardless of the method chosen, invitations are crucial for logistical reasons. They provide guests with essential details like the date, time, location, and any special instructions or themes. Invitations also help with headcount and planning, ensuring that everyone who should be there is accounted for. 

Rehearsal Dinner Traditions

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Over time, various customs have become associated with this special gathering, making it a cherished part of the wedding festivities. Let's explore some of these traditions that add depth and meaning to the question of what is the rehearsal dinner for.

Welcoming Speeches

Traditionally, the host of the rehearsal dinner kicks off the evening with a welcoming speech. This is a warm gesture that sets a hospitable tone for the night, welcoming all guests and expressing gratitude for their presence.

Toasts and Roasts

Unlike the more formal toasts at the wedding reception, rehearsal dinner toasts tend to be lighter, often filled with humor, personal stories, and even gentle roasting. It's a time for the wedding party, close family, and friends to share memories and well-wishes with the couple in a more relaxed setting.

Passing Down Family Heirlooms

In some families, the rehearsal dinner is a meaningful time to pass down family heirlooms or gifts to the couple. These might include jewelry, family photos, or other sentimental items that carry the family legacy.

Cultural Customs

Many families incorporate cultural or religious customs into their rehearsal dinners. This can range from specific prayers, songs, and dances, to special ceremonies that honor the couple’s heritage and traditions.

The "Last Single Toast"

In some circles, there's a tradition where the couple makes a 'last single toast.' It's a playful nod to their single lives before they officially tie the knot, often filled with humor and affection.

Relaxed Dress Code

While the wedding day often calls for formal attire, the rehearsal dinner tends to be more relaxed. This allows everyone to unwind and enjoy in a more laid-back environment.

Tips for a Smooth Rehearsal Dinner

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To help you navigate this journey, here's a list of tips designed to ensure your rehearsal dinner not only meets but exceeds expectations. These pointers are all about blending practicality with a touch of flair, ensuring that this prelude to your big day is enjoyable for everyone involved.

  1. Start Planning Early: Like any significant event, the earlier you start planning, the better. This gives you ample time to select the perfect venue, finalize the guest list, and sort out the finer details without rushing.
  2. Personalize the Event: Infuse the dinner with elements that reflect your personalities as a couple. This could be through menu choices, decorations, or even a unique theme that tells your story.
  3. Plan a Simple yet Engaging Program: While the rehearsal dinner doesn't need to be as structured as the wedding, having a simple program can guide the evening. 
  4. Consider Dietary Restrictions: Make sure your menu caters to the dietary needs and preferences of your guests. This thoughtful gesture ensures that everyone can enjoy the meal.
  5. Coordinate with Vendors in Advance: If you're using external vendors for catering, decor, or entertainment, coordinate with them well in advance. Clear communication is key to ensuring everything runs smoothly on the day.
  6. Designate a Point Person: On the day of the dinner, designate a trusted person to oversee the event. This allows you to relax and enjoy the celebration without worrying about the logistics.
  7. Capture the Moments: Consider having a photographer or setting up a special area where guests can take photos. These memories will be cherished long after the wedding.

By following these tips, your rehearsal dinner is set to be a delightful and stress-free event that sets the perfect tone for your upcoming wedding. It’s a time to celebrate, reflect, and look forward to the joyous journey that lies ahead.

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Natali Grace Levine Editor-in-Chief

Manages The Wezoree's content strategy
Writes and edits articles for the Inspiration Blog