As one of the first of my friends to get married, I haven’t had the opportunity to attend many weddings and had never even been to a rehearsal dinner until I hosted my own this past August! While the concept of a wedding is very straightforward to me, I didn’t understand the broader purpose of a rehearsal dinner. I thought the rehearsal dinner was just an unnecessary, but due to etiquette, an unavoidable expense of hosting a dinner for your wedding party, out of town guests, and family. I spent some time researching the topic online and found tons of articles describing décor, themes, invitations, and the overall planning of the event which was helpful, but still left me wondering the purpose of this dinner. Was there a deeper meaning to this event? Do I really need to have one? In short, yes! Let me explain.
Defining the Rehearsal Dinner
In general terms, the rehearsal dinner is a time to bring your close friends and family together as a “meet and greet” before the actual wedding day. It is also a time to acknowledge and thank your guests for traveling, helping with the wedding, and being a part of your big day.
Traditionally, the dinner is hosted by the groom’s parents and takes place directly after the wedding rehearsal in a location preferably close to your venue. Often a dinner as the name suggests, this event can range from a weekend brunch to cocktail hour depending on the time of your wedding or budget.
While some opt to reflect the style of this event to their actual wedding day, this is not necessary and I would urge you to do the opposite. My wedding day was a formal affair with a plated dinner, so instead, for the rehearsal dinner I chose to do a casual BBQ buffet to create a more relaxed environment for my guests. By doing so, my rehearsal dinner and wedding were remembered as two very distinct, but amazing events.
So what is the purpose of the rehearsal dinner? In broader terms my definition above is correct, however more than just an introduction, this event is a time to bring your “fan club” of friends and family together to show them how special they are to you. There are very few times in your life when you will have your closest friends and family all in one place, and this is your opportunity to thank everyone and express how much they mean to you. It is also a time for your guests to share their love and support for you. If you wedding day is anything like mine, it will be hectic, following a timeline, and have little opportunity for these types of moments. By planning ahead, you can host a truly incredible rehearsal dinner that leaves everyone feeling loved and honored to be a part of such an event.
Here are my top tips to make your dinner personal, unlike any others, and most importantly, unforgettable.
Tip 1 – Host the dinner in an intimate setting
My rehearsal dinner was at a local country club a few minutes down the road from my venue. With 45 guests in attendance, we chose a place in which we would completely fill the room in order to create an environment where people would be more comfortable sharing stories and making toasts. Public speaking is a scary thing, but it’s a lot easier to do if you feel like you are gathered in a friend’s home, instead of in a large room, exposed and on display.
Tip 2 – Allow time for guests to make speeches
On our wedding day my Dad, Maid of Honor, and Best Man gave toasts at the reception. While this is traditional, it doesn’t give other guests the ability to share their love, and trust me – many people will want to! We chose to give our guests an opportunity to speak and share their advice by opening up the mic at our rehearsal dinner. It was really amazing to hear all the love, support, and advice that was shared. My guests got to hear stories about us they otherwise wouldn’t have, and my officiant even took what he learned from the dinner and applied it to his speech at the ceremony!
If you plan on doing this at your rehearsal dinner, I would suggest appointing 2-3 people in advance to get the ball rolling on speeches. I found that once a few people start to share, more people feel comfortable talking – you just have to get someone to break the ice! Oh, and obviously serving alcohol helps!
Tip 3 – Celebrate your wedding party
The rehearsal dinner is a great time to share how you know each member of your wedding party, express how amazing they are, and thank them for all that they have done. If you opted for wedding party gifts (which I strongly suggest you should), hand out the gifts as you give each speech. This method gives you time to address each person individually (as opposed to handing out gifts all at once) and is a fun way to show off gifts – especially if you did something creative!
I would recommend drafting your speeches in advance so you have something to reference, and include a funny story if possible! I chose this method, but my husband improvised his on the spot, which worked great for him! The important part is to find a method that works best for you and to not hold back on sharing your feelings. I promise this speech and gift combo will not disappoint and will bring out tears!
Tip 4 – Honor your parents
Don’t forget to thank your parents! It was important for me to find ways to express my gratitude not only for my parents, but for my husband’s as well. While we acknowledged our parents briefly at the wedding reception, I chose to use the rehearsal dinner to hand out cards and gifts. I found this environment less chaotic than my wedding day and allowed time for our parents to process all the kind words we had to say. This was a great way to end the night and set the stage for the next day.
Tip 5 – Share a slideshow that includes your guests
Pull out the childhood photo albums and create a slideshow of you and your fiancé “throughout the years”. Make sure to include photos that show the story of your relationship from first date to engagement, because it’s likely you may be meeting some of your guests for the first time. A slideshow is an easy way for them to get to know you! If possible, choose photos that include your guests as a way to show their importance to you.