The rehearsal dinner is one of the most underrated parts of planning a wedding, which is a little unfair.
When you think about it, rehearsal dinners have everything you love about a wedding—delicious food and drinks, music, convivial atmosphere, and the love of family and friends.
If the wedding day is the “main course,” you can think of a rehearsal dinner as the appetizer that gets everyone excited for what’s coming next. And, just like an appetizer, the rehearsal dinner should complement (rather than compete with) the main event.
The Lightner Museum is no stranger to weddings, so we’re sharing our tips for how to plan a rehearsal dinner that will set the perfect tone for your upcoming wedding weekend. Read on for all of our tips on how to plan a rehearsal dinner!
Rehearsal Dinner Host & Guest List
Traditionally, the wedding is hosted by the bride’s family and the groom’s family will pay for the rehearsal dinner. Nowadays, couples are realizing that this arrangement doesn’t work for everyone.
Perhaps it’s a same-sex couple getting married. Or certain family members live out of town and find it difficult to plan a rehearsal dinner over a long distance.
Thankfully, there are no rules about who should plan the rehearsal dinner. Either (or both) of the couple’s families, or the couple themselves, can be the host.
Once you know who is hosting the rehearsal dinner, it’s time to decide on the guest list. The number of guests you invite will significantly narrow down your options for the venue; you’d hate to book a lovely space, only to realize there’s only room for half of the guest list.
Traditionally, the rehearsal dinner guest list should include the wedding party, immediate family members, and out-of-town guests, but there’s no need to feel restricted. If you have the room and the budget, feel free to invite whomever you’d like!
You’ll want to make sure you send out some form of invitation for the rehearsal dinner a few months in advance. But what type of invitation should you send out?
The rehearsal invitation doesn’t have to be as formal as your wedding invitation. For a casual rehearsal dinner, such as a backyard BBQ, a simple e-vite is fine. For a more formal affair, sites like Minted and Shutterfly offer affordable options in a huge variety of templates and color palettes.
If you’re looking for a way to incorporate more guests, wedding welcome parties are also becoming increasingly popular, especially if you are planning a smaller or more formal rehearsal dinner. Welcome parties, which are often more casual and have a larger guest list, offer an additional opportunity for guests to meet, relax, and get to know each other prior to the wedding festivities.
Choosing a Theme for Your Rehearsal Dinner
Having a cohesive theme, aesthetic, or mood for the rehearsal dinner does two important things. First, it makes event planning easier. Knowing that you’re planning a “Night in Spain,” for example, makes it much simpler to choose a menu, dress code, and more.
Second, a theme can create an immersive, unforgettable experience for your guests. Your theme can be based around a cuisine, such as Latin or Italian, or you can pick a seasonal theme, such as “Winter Wonderland” or “Fall-ing in Love.”
Popular rehearsal dinner themes include:
• Tropical Luau
• Garden Party
• Tuscan Dinner Party
• Game Night
When to Start Planning & The Rehearsal Timeline
Typically, planning the rehearsal dinner starts soon after the wedding venue is booked. Lindsay Ohlin, wedding coordinator and owner of Coastal Celebrations in St. Augustine, FL, shared that many of her couples start planning their rehearsal dinner about a year and a half prior to their wedding date.
The rehearsal dinner typically takes place after the ceremony rehearsal, a day or two before the wedding day. If you have out-of-town guests that you would like to attend the rehearsal dinner, it’s important to let them know several months in advance when the rehearsal dinner will be so they can make appropriate travel plans.
Allow about an hour for the wedding ceremony rehearsal at your wedding venue. If the rehearsal dinner is taking place at a different location than the wedding itself, couples often schedule a time gap for everyone to change and freshen up.
If you are hosting a wedding welcome party, this can take place the day before the rehearsal dinner, or even on the same day. If your venue allows, you could even extend your rehearsal dinner into a wedding welcome party—inviting additional guests to join in on the fun after the formal rehearsal dinner ends!
Finding the Right Rehearsal Dinner Venue
Having the right setting for the rehearsal dinner is what makes the rest of your planning really come together.
Luckily, as a popular destination wedding locale, St. Augustine has plenty of rehearsal dinner locations to choose from as well. Restaurants are an obvious choice, as the “dinner” is built right in, but don’t discount other locations!
Some wedding venues also have packages for rehearsal dinners on days that have lower demand for weddings. Plus, you know they have experience coordinating toasts, serving large groups, and incorporating other activities into your timeline.
Rehearsal Dinner Dazzling Details
Choosing the your guest list, location, theme, and date of your rehearsal dinner creates the basic template for the event, but to make the evening unique to you, consider adding a little sparkle. Remember, the rehearsal dinner is the perfect chance to get the guests hyped about your wedding, so it’s an opportunity to have fun!
Here are some unique rehearsal dinner ideas to inspire you!
• Offer a themed signature cocktail
• Sweeten the evening with a hot chocolate bar or s’mores bar
• Offer games such as cornhole, giant Jenga, or couple’s trivia
• Sing karaoke
• Have a photobooth
• Get toes tapping with live band or musician
• Hire a cigar roller
• Incorporate unique treats, like snacks from your favorite fast-food joint, popsicles, honey, or other local flavors
• Set up casino tables (just for fun, of course!)
• Make it a costume party
• Choose a unique location such as a bowling alley, yacht, or museum
If you’re having trouble planning your rehearsal dinner, don’t hesitate to ask! The events team at the Lightner Museum has their fingers on the pulse of all wedding-related events and can recommend an option that’s perfect for you.