Rehearsal dinners are an essential part of any wedding, allowing the opportunity to express gratitude to those closest to the couple and celebrate in a more intimate way before the full festivities begin. It’s also a time for family members to unite, reflect, and connect with each other in a more leisurely manner before the pressure on the big day. But how long should they last? Here’s some advice on a rehearsal dinner timeline.
Allow about two to three hours (or more) for a rehearsal dinner. This time frame includes about half an hour for people to arrive from the ceremony rehearsal, mingle, and then get settled with their drinks; an hour to 90 minutes for the meal itself; and then 10 to 20 minutes (or more) for speeches and gift-giving.
How large your rehearsal dinner is will determine in part how long it is, so first, figure out whom you want to invite. Traditionally, rehearsal dinners include immediate family members. the wedding party and their guests, and guests from out of town who have traveled a long way to attend. You might also include your officiant, readers, ushers, the ring bearer and flower girls, and other extended family members, depending on how close they are to you.
If you end up with a long wedding guest list for the rehearsal dinner, you can cut down on costs by making it more of a wedding reception, with drinks and snacks, or a buffet-style event (or even a backyard BBQ!) instead of a full sit-down served meal. That may also make the rehearsal dinner slightly shorter in duration—but you’ll still want to make sure that there’s plenty of time for people to eat and socialize.
Rehearsal dinners tend to be directly after the ceremony rehearsal. However, they don’t have to be—feel free to do a lunch or brunch, if you prefer.
If the wedding venues are in different places, factor in plenty of travel time from the wedding rehearsal venue to the rehearsal dinner venue. Stay away from a wedding rehearsal dinner venue where guests will have to travel more than 45 minutes.
Allot more time for speeches if you’re opening the mic up to others besides the host and wedding party (or if anyone particularly likes grabbing the spotlight). Some couples also opt to include a slideshow, which will add on a few more minutes. Remember that you should take a few moments to thank those taking part in the wedding ceremony. This traditionally occurs when you present gifts to members of the wedding party (and perhaps your parents) as a thank-you for their support.
Try to wrap up the evening on the early side (10 p.m. at the latest), especially if the actual wedding is the following day, so that guests—including the bride and groom-to-be—can get plenty of rest before the big day. This isn’t the time to have an all-night rager! If your wedding day falls on a Sunday or a holiday, you can have your rehearsal dinner two nights before, so that everyone has time to relax the night before the main event.
No matter whom you plan to invite or whether the dinner is more formal or casual, make sure to allow plenty of time for guests to enjoy themselves. You don’t want anyone to feel rushed at an event that’s meant to express gratitude and kick off the fun times. You want to be sure that everyone feels comfortable with each other before the stress of the big day.
The rehearsal dinner sets the tone for the wedding itself, so you want to be sure that everyone feels relaxed, happy, and ready to continue on with the goodwill and celebrations. And while there are some traditional rules about wedding rehearsal dinners, many couples today feel free to adapt and amend those to their own preferences. So, go ahead and make it your own and tailor it to your own needs.