Besides the all-important wedding day, there are a few other events surrounding your wedding that will need planning, and they can be just as fun, memorable, and beautiful as the big day itself! One such event, the rehearsal dinner, is usually held the night before the wedding. It is an opportunity to welcome guests, thank your loved ones for supporting you, and to kick off the festivities! Today, I have a few planning tips and ideas to get you started, illustrated with Michèle Waite’s beautiful images of Kate and Tony’s celebratory dinner at The Corson Building.
Purpose: The rehearsal dinner can serve several purposes! Following the actual rehearsal, where the business of fine-tuning and practicing the wedding ceremony took priority, the rehearsal dinner is a time to unwind and enjoy the anticipation of the next day! It also is a “welcome dinner” of sorts for any special out-of-town guests that have been invited. Many of your guests (and even the two families) may be meeting for the first time, so it is a time for introductions, mingling, getting to know each other. Maybe most importantly, the dinner is an opportunity to thank your families and bridal party for supporting you throughout your wedding planning and upcoming marriage.
The Hosts: First things first…who pays for the rehearsal dinner? Traditionally, the groom’s family hosted the dinner as the bride’s family was footing the bill for the wedding. All of the “rules” surrounding wedding planning have definitely loosened over the years, including the rehearsal dinner, but this is still a good place to start. One great benefit to this is that it gives the groom’s family a chance to be part of the planning fun and feel included, even if they aren’t as involved in the wedding.
The Guests: Anyone that is participating in your wedding and was part of the earlier rehearsal is traditionally included on your guest list. Besides your wedding party and immediate family, you may want to invite a larger circle of family members, any out-of-town guests who traveled a long way to be at your wedding, or close friends that are not in your wedding party. The wedding day is busy, so the rehearsal dinner is a great way to get a little more time with loved ones and to connect with people who you don’t get to see as often as you’d like.
Location: The rehearsal dinner is a great opportunity to introduce out-of-town guests to one of your favorite local spots. You could hold your dinner at one of your favorite date restaurants, or just choose a type of cuisine that is a local specialty. Kate and Tony selected the Corson Building, which specializes in farm-to-table dining, so their guests enjoyed the bounty of the season and local farms. The party doesn’t have to be at a restaurant though. A relative’s beautiful home, a favorite park, a boat that offers cruises on a local waterway, or a museum are just a few ideas of alternative venues.
Design: First and foremost, the rehearsal dinner should be unique and different from the wedding and reception. In my own experience in event design, I’ve met with a lot of groom’s families that are planning the rehearsal dinner, and the first thing that they tell me is the color palette of the wedding, or a particular motif that is guiding the design of the wedding. I try to offer some alternatives in this case; the last thing you want your wedding to be is a rerun or look recycled from the night before! This is your chance to use that OTHER color palette that you loved, or bring in the custom calligraphy place cards that were beyond your budget for the larger wedding guest list, or include the moss and acorns that your outdoor-loving fiance had his heart set on!
Toasts: After everyone has dined, the evening often includes toasts to the bride and groom, though it seems to vary by region how elaborate and involved the toasting can be. I’ve attended several rehearsal dinners in the south with 3+ hours of toasting and the opportunity for any guest to speak. (And I have to say, many of them have taken that opportunity! Settle in for a long evening of spontaneity, laughter, and tears!) In the Pacific Northwest, toasts tend to be short and sweet, and are usually just offered up by parents and maybe a few members of the wedding party. The traditional time for the bride and groom to say a thank you to everyone, and distribute any gifts they are giving to their wedding party and parents, is immediately following the toasts.
Favors: Though they are certainly not required, I’ve seen some very thoughtful couples plan a sweet little care package for their guests as they head out the door at the end of the night. A cute bag with a few scones, homemade jam, and a little good morning note make a lovely and easy breakfast for guests staying at hotels or in a hurry to get to scheduled events the next day. You also could do a tiny, delicious truffle for everyone to enjoy as a special “nightcap”, just as luxurious hotels leave a chocolate on the pillow.
Final words of wisdom: Make it an early night! Everyone should get a good night sleep before the big day tomorrow.
Thank you for sharing your celebration with us, Kate and Tony!