Whether you're having a full-blown wedding weekend or planning more of a low-key event, you and your future husband or wife probably see every opportunity to spend extra time with your guests as a good thing. This is especially true when many of your loved ones are traveling to celebrate your big day. But that doesn't mean you don't have questions about each pre-wedding party. Two events many brides and grooms are confused by? The welcome party and the rehearsal dinner. We asked two wedding planners to weigh in on the differences between each, whether or not a couple needs to have both, and if they can be combined.
What's the difference?
The welcome party is a chance to literally welcome your guests to your wedding and give them a taste of what's in store. It tends to be more informal, ranging from a cocktail reception at your favorite bar to a backyard barbecue. The rehearsal dinner is usually a smaller, more intimate gathering of the bridal party and close relatives, which makes sense since it typically follows a ceremony rehearsal. During dinner, friends and family gather to offer heartfelt toasts and share a delicious meal.
Who gets invited to each event?
Generally speaking, you'll want to open up the welcome party to all of your invited guests, especially if it's a destination wedding. If the budget is tight, consider planning a more relaxed event. "The newest trend in welcome parties is a dessert party," says Gretchen Culver, owner of Rocket Science Events. "For couples who love sweets this is a great way to have fun with desserts and have a wide variety of treats from cupcakes to cookies to candy." The rehearsal dinner has a smaller guest list—you'll invite the bridal party and their dates, your immediate families, and any out-of-towners, so long as it's not a destination wedding, in which case everyone would be traveling.
Do we need to have a rehearsal dinner?
If you're following tradition, then yes. After your wedding rehearsal, you'll invite the key players to celebrate the upcoming ceremony, and you'll be able to spend time with everyone who's helped make the day possible. This is also a good time to thank your parents and wedding party for all they've done. The event doesn't need to be over-the-top. After visiting your ceremony venue, plan to have dinner at a favorite local restaurant. As for the décor, Culver says you can keep it simple. "The décor at the rehearsal dinner can be very nostalgic, she says. "Utilize family photos throughout the space and even in the centerpieces. Include photos of past family weddings or gatherings."
Do we need to have a welcome party?
It really depends on your event and budget. "A welcome party isn't super necessary if your wedding is local and so are most of the guests," says Julie Savage, the creative director at Strawberry Milk Events. But if you have room in the budget and would like another opportunity to spend time with your loved ones, go for it. Just make sure to keep it "upbeat, fun and, informal," says Culver, "so guests don't feel obligated to hang out all night. They might be tired from traveling and want to get to bed early or snag some quiet downtime before your big day."
Can we combine the two parties?
Both the rehearsal dinner and welcome party should happen the evening before your wedding, but you can combine the events to make them work for your timeline, says Savage. "Have your wedding rehearsal and rehearsal dinner with your bridal party and family, and then meet up with the rest of the guests in an open invitation after dinner for dessert and drinks," she recommends.