The Redesigned Rehearsal

Historically, rehearsal dinners have been an intimate restaurant affair for immediate family, wedding party members and their significant others, and the parents of any child attendants. However, in recent years, there has been a shift toward opening up these traditional celebrations to more guests, as well as branching out from the standard sit-down meal.

Here, two wedding planning experts weigh in on the why and how of a more inclusive and creative pre-big day party.

The Perks

Weddings generally bring together many people from many different backgrounds, notes Brooke Sheldon, owner of Lilybrooke Events in Kennebunkport, Maine. “Having everyone get together at the rehearsal dinner serves as an ice-breaker – by the time the reception rolls around, everyone is already old friends.”

It’s also a great way to ensure you – the bride! – actually get to spend quality time with all your nearest and dearest. “The wedding day goes by so fast, and the couple may feel pulled in many different directions,” says Wendi Hroncich, founder of Seattle-based Ethereal Events. Hosting a more inclusive rehearsal dinner decreases the big day pressure on the bride and groom, and allows for more relaxed hanging out.

The Guest List

If you have the inclination and the budget, go ahead and include everyone in your rehearsal festivities. But if you must draw the line somewhere, just make sure your invite list is consistent.

For example, due to the time and expense involved in traveling, destination-wedding rehearsal dinners have typically involved all the guests, says Sheldon. Playing off that trend, many stateside wedding couples are now opting to include all out-of-town guests in the day-before bash. Others might prefer to host all their extended family members.

The Party

If the guest list is small or money is little or no object, the rehearsal dinner is a lovely way to add a playful or unconventional element to your gala. Hroncich has had couples treat guests to the famed interactive dinner show Teatro ZinZanni, or spring for dinner cruises that show off the city skyline. Sheldon coordinated a fireworks-filled July Fourth lobster bake on a river. The couple had a private, tented section of lawn for several hundred guests, but selected a space next to a public pops concert for free entertainment. Other creative options include a catered affair at a cool space like an aquarium or racetrack, or picking a unique theme like Old Hollywood or a luau.

That said, by no means is it necessary to spend a fortune to have a fabulous fête. Your real focus should be having a rehearsal dinner that feels like it represents who you are as a couple, and fits in with the rest of your wedding weekend events, says Hroncich. A backyard BBQs, a picnic in the park, a pizza party on the patio or a taco truck and s’mores on the beach are all great bets.

“If you have a fun location, then be casual with the meal,” says Sheldon. “The enjoyment is really about the atmosphere you create.”

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