Bringing people together to celebrate your love doesn’t always bring the same degree of excitement to your wallet as it does to you and your partner. High costs can seem to creep up out of nowhere even for a more intimate occasion like the wedding rehearsal dinner. For a memorable night with family and friends that’s exquisite and easy on the budget, follow along.
In this piece, we’ll cover everything you need to know from rehearsal dinner basics to creative ideas that will bring radiance and spending relief. Focus more on the wedding-day walk-through and on cherishing small moments—we’ll help you take care of the rest.
Here’s a closer look at what you’ll find below:
Rehearsal dinners are more than just a walk-through of the ceremony. The post-rehearsal time is an opportunity to sneak extra hugs, conversation, and dancing with your closest friends and family members.
Before handing out a few tips about how to put on an affordable event, let’s first talk a bit more about what a rehearsal dinner actually is. Who comes? When does it typically happen? Find answers to these questions and more below.
The what: A rehearsal, of course! You’ll do a general practice of the ceremony from top to bottom to coordinate details such as music, entries, and where to stand. The best part is dinner and drinks afterward with your inner circle of loved ones.
The who: As wedding tradition goes, the rehearsal dinner is generally reserved for you, your partner, the wedding party, the officiant, and anyone else who may hold a spot on the ceremony program. Some couples may choose to expand the guest list to include a few more family members and friends. Talk this through with your partner to see just how big or how small you’d like to keep things.
The where: That’s entirely up to you. We’ll give you a few rehearsal dinner venue ideas below, but there are no rules that dictate where exactly you should hold your rehearsal dinner. From seaside soirees to park picnics, the choice is yours.
The when: Most couples opt to host their rehearsal dinner on the day before their wedding day, as this ensures that all the ceremony dos and don’ts are fresh in everyone’s minds. If you choose to do it sooner, let your wedding guests know so that they can adjust their schedules.
The why: To go over last-minute details to make sure that there aren’t any hiccups on the day of your wedding. It’s also a time when you and your partner can express thanks to friends and family members for all of the time and effort that they’ve put in to help realize your wedding-day dreams.
Now that you’re familiar with some of the basics, let’s talk about the budget.
It’s no secret that weddings can often come with a high price tag. Some couples prefer to go all out for their big day and for additional wedding-related events such as the rehearsal dinner or post-wedding brunches.
But if you’re the type of duo who would prefer to keep spending low for the wedding in order to invest more in a lavish honeymoon or a new home, you’re in the right place. Just because you’d rather keep your celebration budget-friendly, doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice elegance and refinement. Cheap rehearsal dinner ideas do not equate to tacky and tawdry.
Here are a few ideas to help you plan an affordable rehearsal dinner that’s both well-organized and well-polished.
Do it at home. Whether it’s at your residence or a family member’s, having a backyard or patio gathering is a savvy way to avoid the high costs of booking a venue or renting out space at a restaurant. Plus, it allows you to have full control over all the details such as decor, duration of the event, and dinner choices.
Find a low-cost venue. If you don’t quite have the space to host an event at home, consider another low-cost alternative such as a public beach or park. It gives you just as much freedom to decorate and tailor it to your liking without the pressure of getting your house event-ready. However, it might not be completely free, so be sure to ask about the cost of a permit and how to go about reserving the space for the date you need.
Book a space within your price range. Not a fan of backyard barbecues or public park gatherings? Use the Zola Vendor Search tool to find a ready-made venue that’s within your budget. Filter through the available spaces by price, setting, and capacity to find one that works with your vision and your wallet.
Coordinate a potluck. Especially if you opt for an at-home affair, you can join forces with your rockstar wedding crew and eager-to-help family members. Set up a spreadsheet with plenty of time to spare for people to sign up for different dishes. It doesn’t get much more affordable than this and you’ll probably find that people are happy to contribute in any way that they can.
Opt for buffet-style catering. If you’d rather leave the cooking to the professionals, elect to hire a catering service. Ask about buffet-style dinner options since this will allow you to keep a fixed cost per person instead of opening it up for guests to order individual meals and drinks.
Ask about your venue’s event policies. If you’ve reserved a date and time for your rehearsal dinner at a hotel or restaurant, ask them to be upfront with you about the total costs. You’ll need to pay the rental fee for the locale, of course, but it would be important to find out if there are any minimum spending requirements for food and drinks.
Ask a creative friend for a favor. You’ve already booked a photographer for your wedding day but you’d like to get a few snaps of you, your partner, and your crew at the rehearsal dinner too. See if one of your friends who’s got an eye for photography wouldn’t mind documenting a few special moments throughout the night. They might offer to do so free of charge, but consider thanking them for their efforts with a bottle of wine or a gift card to their favorite eatery.
Opt for handmade decorations. The internet is chock-full of good ideas for DIY decorations. You might be surprised to find that most projects are fairly easy to succeed at too, so you won’t need to be a master crafter to pull it off. From upcycled picture frames and shutters to wood-burned coasters, the sky’s the limit when it comes to handmade, budget-friendly decor.
Now that you’ve packed your brainstorm list to the brim with affordable rehearsal dinner ideas, let’s see how you can pull them all together. Get your creative juices flowing a bit more in the next section where we’ll help you tie your ideas together into a charming and cohesive rehearsal dinner theme.
Not quite sure where to start when it comes to choosing a theme for your rehearsal dinner? Sometimes all you need are a few ideas to help nudge you in the right creative direction. Get some inspiration from the following and feel free to adapt them to fit your own unique vision.
Piazza pizza party – Look to Venice, Italy for your inspiration for this budget-friendly theme. Decorate your back patio with lights, greenery, and maybe even a small garden fountain to channel the aesthetic of an Italian piazza. For dinner? Pizza, of course! It’s always a crowd favorite and something that’s quick and easy to put together. It feeds a number of people, too, so getting it catered by a local ristorante shouldn’t run up a high bill. Set up a gelato bar for dessert and include a station for guests to add their own toppings.
Backyard barbecue – If you’d rather opt for a more casual theme, take advantage of backyard space for some grilling and lawn games. The venue is free, of course, and it will give you and your crew a chance to be comfortable and informal before having to dress to the nines on the following day. Coordinate a potluck, if you want, and include some classic homestyle dishes such as macaroni and cheese or potato salad to pair with the barbecue burgers and kebabs.
Parisian charcuterie picnic (aka grown-up Lunchables) – Save yourself some time with a simple, yet classy charcuterie spread. Take a quick trip to your local bulk store (think Costco or Sam’s Club) to pick up an assortment of deli meats, pre-sliced cheeses, crackers, and bread for a delectable, self-serve rehearsal dinner. You can also purchase plenty of fruit and veggie plates for a balanced meal.
Add a few checkered tablecloths and some tapered candles in wine bottles, and you’ll have a little taste of Paris the night before your big day.
Since you’ve been planning your wedding, you’re probably no stranger to lists by now. The number of to-dos that pile up for wedding day details can be a bit overwhelming at times.
Keep everything in order and in one place by customizing your task list at Zola. Plus, our app is designed to send you notifications whenever a deadline is approaching. The good news? You can use this handy tool for your rehearsal dinner checklist, too.
Not sure where to begin when it comes to prioritizing tasks? Here’s a list of things to get you started down the aisle on the right foot.
Set up a budget – You might already have a budget set for the wedding day itself, but it’s a good idea to make another one for your rehearsal dinner too. Even though you’re catering to a smaller crowd, costs for food, decorations, and wedding party gifts can add up quickly. Work out with your partner and your families how much you’re willing to spend, and then do your best to adhere to it.
Decide who to invite – As we mentioned before, this event is typically reserved for your closest family members, your wedding crew, and anyone playing a part in the ceremony itself. Feel free to do things your own way by opening it up to plus-ones or a few extended family members. However, just be mindful of how that might affect the budget before doing so. Another idea is to keep the dinner to just your inner circle, and then open a space up later in the night for more guests to stop by for mingling and a few pre-wedding day cocktails.
Pick a theme that works with your wedding style – Modern and formal? Or, vintage and bohemian? Your rehearsal dinner can be a design extension of your wedding day and an opportunity to weave in a few recurring motifs throughout the entire weekend. Or, you can change things up completely by hosting a dinner with its own unique style and personality. If the wedding day is a black-tie affair, perhaps you’d prefer a casual beachfront barbecue for your rehearsal dinner. Whatever you decide, use the theme as a base from which all other details will extend.
Choose and book the venue – If budget consciousness is a priority for you, picking a venue can be an opportunity to save big or not. Even for small groups, some wedding venues may cost a pretty penny just to reserve the space and could even require a minimum tab for food and drinks. An at-home event won’t cost you anything to book the space, of course, but it may require more investment in details such as decorations and floral arrangements. Decide what’s most important to you in an event space and give yourself plenty of time to book in advance.
Coordinate catering – If you’ve chosen a restaurant or a hotel function hall, you might not even need to give catering much of a second thought. These spaces are well-oiled machines when it comes to hosting events and probably already have menu options and in-house catering services ready to go. If you’ll be celebrating at a park or at home, you and your partner will have to work out these details yourselves. Shop around to find something that satisfies your flavor palette and budget, or consider cooking a few dishes yourself.
Send out the invitations – Pardon the obvious, but if you’re hosting an event your guests will need to know where to go and what time to be there. Your wedding party is probably already expecting a pre-wedding walk-through as part of their duties, but be sure to clue them in on the details of the dinner and the rehearsal itself so they can add it to their schedule. Consider coordinating wedding invitations to match the theme of your dinner. A few floral accents would be well-suited for a garden party, or you can establish elegance with a gold metallic foil.
Create a playlist – You don’t necessarily need to book a DJ or a band for your rehearsal dinner (unless you want to, of course) but some background music for mealtime and mingling could be a nice touch. Curate a playlist to your liking for an at-home affair or check with your venue to see if you’re able to provide your own music. If you’ve got a family or friend who is musically inclined, you might consider asking them to play a few songs for a laid-back dinner—complete with sing-alongs and dancing.
Include a few fun activities – You and your guests are there to take care of the logistics before the big day, but don’t forget to have fun, too. Beyond dinner and drinks, consider adding a few games and activities to let loose the night before your ceremony. Lawn games and Jenga are always a hit. Or, you can encourage people to get creative by setting up a DIY table for crafting or scrapbooking.
Say thank you and enjoy the company – This will likely be your last event with family and friends as an unmarried couple. Soak in those moments with the people who have come from near and far to rally behind your love story before the wild ride of married life takes off. Consider taking this opportunity to send out a thank you to them too. A handwritten note is a simple, heartfelt gesture; or, shop for a few small gifts that your wedding party will be able to have as a keepsake for years to come.
When it comes to weddings our well never runs dry. Stay tuned for more rehearsal dinner hacks in the section below.
Feeling just about ready to dive into the planning part of your rehearsal dinner? Before you go, let’s send you off with a few more tips and tricks to ensure a smooth and stylish soiree. Add this advice to your checklist for you to come back to whenever you need a reminder.
Don’t forget to keep an eye on mother nature. Some weather is unpredictable, but keep tabs on the forecast in the days leading up to your rehearsal dinner in case you need to make any last-minute adjustments.
Incorporate a taste of the town. Whether you’re celebrating in your backyard or in an upscale restaurant, pay attention to what makes this part of the world different from others. Include some local flavors made famous in that region or any seasonal treats that are hard to find elsewhere.
Let your wedding guests know the best way to dress. Being clear about attire is important, especially for your rehearsal dinner. If you have any activities planned that require a change of clothes, give the invitees a heads-up so that they can pack accordingly. Additionally, if you’ve opted for a laid-back get-together, tell your friends and family that it’s okay to keep it casual.
If you’re hosting at home, be sure to give your attendees clear instructions about how to arrive. Particularly if your home or the event space is located in a remote area where cell service is sparse, be in touch with them ahead of time in order to avoid losing a friend down a country back road.
The rehearsal dinner may just seem like one more thing you have to plan on top of your wedding day, but given the right tools and tricks, it can actually be quite easy and fun. Especially, when you let Zola help you take care of the essentials.
Here at the hub of all things wedding related we believe in:
Helping you celebrate your love through every step of the wedding planning process.
Sharing the news of your wedding day and the details of your love story on your very own, easy-to-customize free wedding website.
Connecting you with the right florists, photographers, and other wedding vendors to bring each piece of the planning puzzle together into one picture-perfect event.
Your rehearsal dinner is already starting to take shape. Keep molding the magic right here at Zola.