8 Common Rehearsal Dinner Questions, Answered

Plus, expert tips for how to make the most of this prewedding event.
lindsay tigar the knot
Lindsay Tigar
lindsay tigar the knot
Lindsay Tigar
Wedding Planning Contributor
  • Lindsay contributes articles to The Knot Worldwide, with a specialty in honeymoon travel and creating wedding planning.
  • Lindsay owns a content agency, Tigar Types, to help businesses of all sizes grow their digital footprints.
  • Lindsay freelances for a plethora of publications, covering many topics, ranging from wedding advice and planning to travel, health and more.
Updated Apr 24, 2023

There's an undeniable excitement that comes with planning your wedding day. But these days, couples often get more than a single day to celebrate—they get a multi-day schedule of events. As tradition recommends, it's customary to host a rehearsal dinner the night before the wedding to honor your most VIP guests. But what exactly is a rehearsal dinner? While it's not as major as the wedding itself, it's still an important event that you don't want to overlook or leave to the last minute. With help from a few wedding industry experts, we're answering all the basic questions, from who attends the rehearsal dinner to when it takes place and who's responsible for planning.

In this article:

What Is a Rehearsal Dinner?

Traditionally, the rehearsal dinner is a meal following the practice run of the wedding ceremony. It takes place on the eve of the wedding day (sometimes a day or two earlier, depending on your schedule) and is the final prewedding event before the couple is married. On top of giving the couple some quality time with loved ones, the rehearsal dinner is a chance for both families to gather and kick off the wedding weekend—an ideal way to introduce relatives and friends who haven't met before.

"It provides couples a time to host a private celebration in honor of their wedding party, parents and other immediate family members, and friends," says Tara Melvin, owner and event planner at Perfect Planning Events in McLean, Virginia. "It allows them to unite, reflect and celebrate right before emerging into an ocean of individuals that they may or may not have the opportunity to engage in conversation on the big day."

Rehearsal Dinner Traditions

Truth be told, it's tough to find an official rehearsal dinner history or pinpoint exactly when they became part of the wedding experience. But according to Thomas Waters, owner and event coordinator at The Renaissance, a wedding venue in downtown Richmond, Virginia, there is one likely assumption we can make. Waters says that rehearsal dinners probably started gaining popularity when weddings went from small church ceremonies or backyard parties and instead became months-long productions. This slowly began in the 1950s, and since then, the wedding market as we know it today has continued to grow.

As weddings became more lavish and ornate, the need to have a ceremony rehearsal and gather your wedding party and family members became more critical. "With this wedding explosion, there was no choice but to get everyone together to rehearse the ceremony so it goes smoothly," Waters says. "Throw in the fact that photographers and videographers are now a very normal thing, and it increases the importance of everyone being in the right place at the right time."

While there aren't as many rehearsal dinner traditions compared to wedding day traditions, one sweet idea is the wedding shower bouquet. For this tradition, the maid of honor (or a bridesmaid) saves the ribbons and bows from gifts that are opened during the wedding shower. These are turned into one giant bouquet that the bride carries during the wedding rehearsal in place of her actual bouquet.

During the meal portion of the rehearsal dinner, it's tradition for the couple to make a short toast, as well as anyone who isn't giving a speech during the wedding reception. (If you need a refresher, here's a rundown of who gives wedding speeches and when.)

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When Is the Rehearsal Dinner?

The rehearsal dinner typically takes place the afternoon or evening before the wedding day. Depending on your venue's availability, it may need to be a couple days earlier or take place in the morning instead of the evening. Since the point of the rehearsal is to give your wedding party time to practice the ceremony, try to schedule it as close to the wedding as possible so that it's still fresh in everyone's minds.

How Long Does a Rehearsal Dinner Last?

Following the run-through of the ceremony, which usually lasts about an hour, the rehearsal dinner lasts about two or three hours. Some couples choose to extend the rehearsal dinner with an after-party or welcome party for the rest of their guests, but in general, you want to avoid going too late into the night. Remember: You have an early wake-up call for your wedding day!

Who Plans the Rehearsal Dinner?

Traditionally, the rehearsal dinner is hosted and paid for by the groom's parents. But some couples may not include anyone who identifies as a groom, and more couples than ever are paying for their own weddings, so the final decision is up to you. "Modern couples who are assuming the investment of their wedding usually take on the rehearsal dinner," says Melvin. Alternatively, you can decide that all of the parents or a group of people will collectively pay for the rehearsal dinner.

Who Attends the Rehearsal Dinner?

The rehearsal dinner guest list should be fairly limited—remember that this isn't a welcome party or an event where everyone needs to be included. Invite anyone who's participating in the wedding ceremony, including bridesmaids, groomsmen, flower girls, ring bearers, ushers and readers. Parents and immediate relatives, such as grandparents and aunts or uncles you're close with, should also be on the list. Finally, it's a nice gesture to extend an invitation to any wedding party plus-ones, as well as your officiant and their plus-one.

What Do You Do at a Rehearsal Dinner?

The rehearsal dinner is different from the rehearsal ceremony, but the two events are usually scheduled back-to-back and referred to interchangeably. During the dinner portion, the main priority is for the couple to spend time with their closest loved ones. One or both sets of parents may choose to give a toast at the rehearsal dinner, and the couple will thank everyone for joining them before presenting gifts to the wedding party (if they're not giving gifts on the day of the wedding).

Where to Have a Rehearsal Dinner

When it comes to finding a rehearsal dinner venue, consider how many people will be attending before you start contacting potential locations. If you only have a small group of wedding party members and loved ones, you might be able to get away with booking a couple of tables at a restaurant or renting out a section of a swanky cocktail bar. For larger groups, you might need to turn to other party venues, such as a hotel banquet room or reception hall. Head to The Knot Marketplace to find rehearsal dinner venues near you, which you can filter by price, guest capacity and style. If you can find a rehearsal dinner venue that holds special meaning to you as a couple, that's even better—maybe you have a favorite restaurant you go to every Friday night or there's a local spot that serves cuisine reflective of your cultures.

Should You Send Rehearsal Dinner Invitations?

Since you've likely already spent a pretty penny on the wedding invitations, you may opt out of sending official stationery for the wedding rehearsal dinner, which is totally okay.

"The rehearsal dinner is meant to be a more casual event, and a personal invitation goes a long way in connecting families and friends," says Keith Willard, owner and wedding planner at Keith Willard Events in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. "If there is an invitation, it could be confused with a welcome reception, which is different from rehearsal dinner," he adds.

Instead of sending paper invites, Willard says that a phone call or virtual invitation are just as helpful. But if you do choose to send rehearsal dinner invitations, they should look different from your actual wedding invitations and clearly outline the timing for the event. Be sure to include when people should arrive for the ceremony rehearsal and when dinner will begin, along with addresses for both locations. RSVP instructions and optional food choice should also be included.

Is There a Rehearsal Dinner Schedule?

Following the ceremony rehearsal, the rehearsal dinner is meant to be much more relaxed. You don't need to follow a minute-by-minute schedule (there will be enough of that on the wedding day), but you should make time for everything you want to cover. Toward the end of the dinner, the couple should plan to give their brief speech and present gifts to the members of their wedding party. The dinner might conclude with a quick toast by the host(s) and a video or photo slideshow to surprise the couple.

Expert-Approved Rehearsal Dinner Tips

Your rehearsal dinner is a good opportunity to treat your loved ones to a special prewedding celebration, but there are also some practical aspects to it. Keep these expert rehearsal dinner tips in mind to make the most of yours when the time comes.

1. The rehearsal dinner should be an extension of your wedding day.

We're not talking about going overboard with flowers or decorations (unless you want to), but the rehearsal dinner should reflect your love story as much as the wedding day itself. Even though it's not the main event, the rehearsal dinner is still important, and there are ways to personalize it so that it feels just as special. Name a signature drink after your pet or have table names inspired by places you've visited. "You'd be surprised at how little things like that will be the most memorable things that the guests will take away with them," says Waters.

2. Conversation and quality time should be top priorities.

The rehearsal dinner is an excellent time for family and close friends to gather before the busy schedule of a wedding day. To ensure everyone is at ease and enjoying themselves, take time to introduce family and friends who haven't met before. It will help make all the difference when everyone's celebrating together the following day.

3. Limit the party to a couple of hours.

Since the next day—your wedding day!—will be a busy one, the rehearsal dinner isn't the time to have an all-night rager. Willard suggests beginning at a reasonable hour and, more importantly, ending at a reasonable time. "For most rehearsal dinners, I allocate two hours at maximum," he says. "This will give your guests a marker for when it is OK to leave and reduces that opportunity to overindulge in both food and drink."

4. Savor the time with your loved ones.

During the rehearsal dinner, Waters encourages couples to make an effort to approach every guest to share a moment with them, paying extra attention to loved ones who have traveled from out of town. "Let them know how happy you are that they could make it and how excited you are to see them, especially if you haven't shared space with them in a while," says Waters.

The rehearsal dinner is also a special time to revel in the moment and enjoy being surrounded by friends and family, even the ones who you see on a regular basis. Your wedding day will go by in the blink of an eye, so it's all the more meaningful to pause, take photos and make memories.

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