The second most important event of your wedding weekend will undoubtedly be your rehearsal dinner. Typically, this is a less-formal event during which close friends and family come together (generally following some form of wedding rehearsal) in celebration of the big event. It's especially beneficial if many of your guests are coming from out of town, as it's a nice excuse to spend more time together.
"The rehearsal dinner is one of the most anticipated and cherished traditions of a wedding celebration," says Kimberly Lehman, wedding and event planner at Love, Laughter & Elegance. "For many couples, this will be the first opportunity that their friends and family members will have to meet each other." To make the most of this treasured evening, we asked twp wedding planners to explain how you should go about selecting the right venue for this important pre-wedding event.
Step 1: Determine your budget.
First and foremost, figure out how much money you have to spend on the rehearsal dinner. This will help you figure out what kind of event you're able to have, and how many guests you can invite. Setting your budget also means figuring out who will be shouldering the cost. "Traditionally, the groom's parents are the hosts of the rehearsal dinner," says Lehman. "Today, however, as more couples are paying for the expenses of the wedding themselves, the cost of the rehearsal dinner is often included in the overall budget." Be sure to allow enough time to scout out the perfect venue, taking into consideration the overall cost of enough food and drinks for guests.
Step 2: Settle on a theme.
This is the fun part! Just as you likely chose a theme for your wedding, be it nautical, vintage-traditional, or rustic, you can have fun with the vision you choose for your rehearsal dinner. The food you choose can play a role in this effect as well. Are you big on Italian food? A lover of guac and chips? Don't feel the need to go fancy just because your wedding day is upscale. "A rehearsal dinner can also be as casual as a pizza party or barbecue in the backyard of the couple's home, or a local park," says Lehman. "Generally, whoever hosts the dinner has creative control, taking into account their budget, and the tastes of the couple, aesthetically and gastronomically."
Step 3: Find the right venue.
The rehearsal dinner is often held at a local restaurant or country club, but Lehman points out that any location will do. "A rooftop with a great view in the city, a nostalgic bowling alley, a private home, or a clambake or a bonfire on the beach are all great ideas," she says. Though she does warn that it's wise to choose a venue that's close enough to the wedding ceremony that it provides guests the convenience of not having to travel too far. "Visit several venues to see if there are enough areas for seating and standing, clean restroom facilities, and friendly, well-trained wait staff," she adds. Will the venue allow the wedding party to bring in decorations, entertainment, and catering as needed? Will the venue be able to accommodate special dietary needs of guests? Will there be a dress code? These are all things she suggests considering when finding the right venue.
Step 4: Finalize your invite list.
Just as your guest list for the big day is important (and likely involved some cutting), you can expect the same when it comes to your rehearsal dinner. "If you're having a traditional rehearsal dinner, your guests are your VIPs: your immediate family, bridal party, and their dates," says Tessa Brand, wedding and event planner and owner of Tessa Lyn Events. "A party this size should be able to fit in a private room in a restaurant." However, if you are extending the invite to all guests, she says this is more of a "welcome party," which means you will need a larger space. Knowing your approximate guest count will help you determine the price per guest. "Keep in mind, that even if you invite all your wedding guests, the acceptance for a welcome dinner will be lower than your wedding, as people arrive from out of town at different times."
Step 5: Pick your ideal menu.
"The menu is probably the single most influential factor when debating where to have a rehearsal dinner," says Lehman. "Many couples choose to host their rehearsal dinner in the location they met or where they had their first date." This is cute and all, but remember that your rehearsal dinner can hold as much or as little meaning as you want. After all, you have a whole wedding dedicated to your love for each other the following day. Have fun and be adventurous! "Sharing the experience with those closest to the couple is what it's all about," Lehman adds.
Step 6: Plan your décor.
Once you've locked down your rehearsal dinner venue and selected from the menu options, your next to-do is décor. Brand suggests going with a completely different color scheme for your flowers, and switching up the décor from what you'll have at your wedding. "While the idea of having one cohesive wedding weekend may sound ideal, it is much more fun to switch it up and will show you put thought into each event," she says. "Plus, this leaves an element of surprise for your guests to see on your wedding day." Floral additions are great, too, as they will easily last a few days and can be repurposed for a farewell brunch at the end of the weekend.