How Much Does a Rehearsal Dinner Cost?

A successful wedding means smart budgeting. Here’s what a rehearsal dinner costs according to Zola, the wedding experts!

By Emily Forrest

How Much Does a Rehearsal Dinner Cost?
Photo by Zola

The First Look ✨

Your wedding rehearsal is an opportunity to ensure that getting hitched goes off without a hitch. After, you and your closest friends and family can enjoy one last dinner together before you and your beloved’s union becomes official.

The wedding rehearsal dinner is the perfect place to steady your pre-wedding jitters and usher your chosen guests into the wonderful world of your wedding. Many couples have concerns regarding the rehearsal dinner cost. To assuage those concerns, we’ve created this guide to cover:

  • What weddings and rehearsal dinners cost
  • How to reduce the costs of your rehearsal dinner
  • Everything else you need to know about your rehearsal dinner

Along the way, we’ll sprinkle in some of our wedding wisdom, so without further ado...

Wedding and Rehearsal Dinner Costs

As of 2021, the average cost for a rehearsal dinner is about $1,350 which is an eight percent increase since 2013. Traditionally, the family of the groom hosts the rehearsal dinner. Of course, there’s no blueprint for wedding planning, and it’s completely normal for couples to break from antiquated binaries and pay for their own rehearsal dinners.

No matter who is paying for the rehearsal dinner, here are 10 cost-saving strategies to try so that you can enjoy every bite of your rehearsal dinner (and not spend it calculating what each appetizer will cost).

10 Strategies to Reduce the Cost of a Rehearsal Dinner or Wedding

When it comes to both the rehearsal dinner and the wedding, there are three related areas that can either raise or reduce costs:

  1. The guest list
  2. The food
  3. The venue

Let’s look at 10 specific strategies that you can rely on to decrease those costs. We’ll focus on the rehearsal dinner, but each of these ideas is interchangeable for both your rehearsal dinner and your wedding. Even better? With that extra money you save, you can upgrade your honeymoon or put money aside for a down payment on a home.

#1 Plan Early

Your first step to reducing your rehearsal dinner cost is to always plan early. Why? When you plan far in advance, you’ll have your pick of wedding vendors and wedding venues. That means that you can choose a caterer or location that best fits your budget. If you wait too long to confirm the details, then you might end up stuck with a provider outside of your budget.

If either timing or cost are concerns for your rehearsal dinner or wedding, Zola offers a pre-screened inventory of wedding vendors and venues in your city that you can filter by factors such as availability or price. Remove the guesswork from your wedding planning duties with our reliable and easy-to-use search tool.

#2 Minimize the Guest List

Customarily, you’ll invite the following individuals or groups to your rehearsal dinner:

  • Immediate family
  • Close extended family
  • Wedding party
  • Out-of-town guests
  • Officiant

However, it’s absolutely not necessary to invite all of these people to the rehearsal dinner. The more guests, the more expensive your catering bill will be. Instead, consider only hosting immediate family or minimizing the guest list in other ways.

#3 Choose Low-Key Invitations

The cost of wedding stationery rises as you include more details such as calligraphy, embossing, and ribbons. While these are all lovely touches, you might save them for the wedding invitation suite and keep your rehearsal dinner invitations more low-key.

You can print and mail your own, or even choose digital invitations. If you’re looking to save even more, even a simple phone call can get the job done.

#4 Rethink the Food

As with the guest list, one of the biggest ways to cut costs is by rethinking the food you serve. Let’s look at the average cost per person for a wedding in the United States:

  • Plated Meal – $40
  • Buffet – $27

Obviously, a buffet can reduce costs vs. a plated meal, but there are even more ways to save money. If you choose an open bar, the above costs increase by $15 per person, so saving the open bar for the wedding might be best, especially because you don’t want hungover guests or a hungover wedding party.

You’ll also need to account for the tip for the caterer, which will be between 15 and 20 percent of the final catering cost. To reduce costs further, consider minimizing the extent of the catering and only offer hors d'oeuvres and desserts, or host the rehearsal dinner at a local restaurant. Event Planner Leslie Lukas recommends Mexican or Italian food because they’re generally less expensive than other catered cuisines.

#5 Buy Your Own Liquor

Since an open bar can increase costs by $15 per person, you might consider buying and providing your own liquor instead. Why? If there are any unopened bottles after, you can return them or reuse them for the wedding.

However, make sure to compare prices, as it’s possible that some catering companies will be able to purchase alcohol in bulk at a lower cost. Regardless, guests don’t need an open bar to enjoy themselves, and you’ll save a lot of money.

#6 Reduce the Scale

Another way to reduce the rehearsal dinner cost is to scale back the size of the dinner. If anything, you don’t want your rehearsal dinner to outshine your actual wedding. Additionally, the guest list will be your closest friends and family, so they won’t mind if the rehearsal dinner is more laid back. They’re there to spend time with you and celebrate your upcoming nuptials, not to judge your decor choices or venue.

#7 Embrace DIY Decorations

For couples who are especially crafty, you can create your own decorations for the rehearsal dinner, if not the wedding. For those who aren’t as DIY-proficient, consider embracing an eclectic theme and shop for decor at secondhand stores and vintage markets.

#8 Reuse Anything and Everything

Another money-saving strategy is to have decorations play double-duty at both your rehearsal dinner and wedding. We’re talking:

  • Tablecloths
  • Floral arrangements
  • Centerpieces

Bonus: your wedding weekend will look even more cohesive.

#9 Say Goodbye to the Wedding Planner

Wedding planners use multiple pricing structures, including:

  • All-inclusive fee – An all-inclusive fee includes both the cost of the wedding planner and all of the other wedding costs.

  • Combination percentage and flat fee – A combination percentage and flat fee is an initial fee plus 15 to 20 percent of the total vendor and venue costs.

  • Flat fee – A flat fee is a total sum that might depend on the extent of the services provided.

On average, a wedding planner can cost between $1,800 and $4,000 total, or between $75 and $200 per hour. While they're undeniably helpful, they can be a huge burden on your budget. Instead, you can save a lot of money by accessing free tools at Zola, including:

  • Wedding website
  • Guestlist manager
  • Custom wedding planning checklist
  • Expert advice

Zola empowers couples to become their own wedding planner so that they can pull off their dream day without breaking their budget.

#10 Explore Rehearsal Dinner Alternatives

Another method to majorly reduce the rehearsal dinner cost is to explore alternatives. You know what will be the most special for you and your partner and your families, but here are some of our favorite alternative locations to inspire you:

  • Backyard – Save on costs by hosting your rehearsal dinner in your backyard or your family’s backyard. You can have an informal barbecue or order catering.

  • Bowling alley – Plan your rehearsal dinner at a bowling alley where your guests can have fun while they enjoy light food and drinks.

  • Cocktail hour – You can reduce costs while maintaining a formal atmosphere by hosting a cocktail hour either at a restaurant or through catering. It will likely be less expensive to offer your guests hors d'oeuvres or drinks.

  • Food truck – Hire a food truck for friends and family to enjoy an unforgettable rehearsal dinner. The food truck can come to your home or a local park. Everyone loves tacos.

  • At home – For a more intimate rehearsal dinner, host it in your own home or the home of a family member. Your guests can enjoy catered food, a home-cooked meal, or even a potluck dinner.

  • Outdoors – Remove the cost of the venue by hosting a rehearsal picnic outdoors in a local park or at a beach. The scenery will be beautiful, and you can order catering or save even more money by bringing your own food.

  • Restaurant – Host a simple and inexpensive dinner at a restaurant of your choice. You can choose a laidback pizzeria, trendy brewery, or favorite restaurant.

  • Wine tasting – Visit a local winery or wine bar for a simple wine and cheese tasting, rather than a traditional rehearsal dinner.

Make sure to get quotes from local catering companies to ensure that the above options are less expensive than a traditional rehearsal dinner, as costs vary by location. If you want to explore the full range of pre-screened wedding venues in your area, search through Zola’s pre-screened list of wedding venues based on:

  • Availability
  • Capacity
  • Price
  • Setting
  • Venue type

You’ll find everything from banquet halls, restaurants, gardens, and galleries that can accommodate your rehearsal dinner, wedding ceremony, or reception venue.

Everything Else You Need to Know About Rehearsal Dinners

Now that you’ve mastered your budget, it’s time for all the other details and choices that planning a rehearsal dinner includes. We know that organizing a rehearsal dinner, let alone a wedding, is no easy task. To help couples stay on track, keep reading to learn more about:

  • The rehearsal dinner invitation wording
  • The ideal rehearsal dinner timeline
  • The master list of all your other rehearsal dinner related questions

Rehearsal Dinner Invitation Wording

Writing your rehearsal dinner invitation can be a surprisingly difficult task. You’ve got to get the wording right and then decide what tone to use. Below, you’ll find some examples of how to write different invitation styles:

  • Creative invitation – Join Mr. Kim and Ms. Hahm for the prelude to the final act of their engagement and the first chapter of the rest of their lives: their rehearsal dinner. It will take place on Friday 29th December at 6 p.m. at Greenbriar Park, 88 Park Road, Austin Texas. Get your carrier pigeons ready and RSVP by December 15th.

  • Formal invitation – Ms. Greenfield and Ms. Jackson request your attendance at their rehearsal dinner on Thursday 8th June at 5 p.m. at La Cocina Bonita, 188 Round Road, Greenwich, CT. Please RSVP by May 20th.

  • Fun invitation – Roses are red, violets are blue. Tomorrow we say “I Do,” so we want to celebrate with you. Whether you’ve trekked across the country or are just down the street, the Ace Hotel, 50 Royal Avenue, Seattle, WA is where we’ll meet. We hope to see you on Saturday 15th April at 5 p.m.. Send your RSVP by March 25th, and we’ll see you then.

  • Romantic invitation – The lovebirds Mr. Chauhan and soon-to-be Mrs. Chauhan invite you to share their love at their rehearsal dinner on Saturday 5th October at 8 p.m. at the Triple-A Steakhouse, 250 Oceanside Drive, Jacksonville, FL. Cupid requests you send your RSVPs our way by September 15th.

  • Simple invitation – Please join Mr. Rogers and Mr. Rodriguez for their rehearsal dinner on Saturday 2nd February at 6 p.m. at Three Strikes Bowling Alley, 67 North Avenue, Minneapolis, MI. Please send your RSVP by January 16th.

If you’re in search of the perfect invitations, explore Zola’s wedding stationery options. When you shop at Zola, you’ll enjoy:

  • Hundreds of designs
  • Matching suites
  • Free guest addressing
  • Free shipping
  • Free matching website templates
  • Free guest list manager

Don’t let the minutiae of wedding invitations get you down; find the fun again with our spectacular designs.

Ideal Rehearsal Dinner Timeline

Your wedding weekend schedule is a very precise balancing act. There’s so much to get done, but so many competing schedules to contend with. Never fear, if you decide to host a full-on formal rehearsal dinner, here’s an ideal timeline:

  • Wedding rehearsal (5:00 - 6:00 p.m.) – You’ll likely have a wedding rehearsal to make sure that your big day runs smoothly. Your wedding party and officiant will be present, which is why most couples invite them to the rehearsal dinner afterward.

  • Travel time (6:00 - 6:30 p.m.) – You’ll need to account for travel time between the wedding rehearsal venue and the rehearsal dinner venue. Choose somewhere within a 30-minute drive at most.

  • Cocktail hour (6:30 - 7:30 p.m.) – You can start your rehearsal with a cocktail hour where guests can enjoy drinks and hors d'oeuvres. The cocktail hour can be lengthened up to 90 minutes if you’d like more time for everyone to get to know each other better.

  • Dinner toasts (7:30 - 7:45 p.m.) – You can direct guests to their seats at 7:30 p.m. and then the host can welcome everyone officially. Next, you and your partners or friends and family can give a toast.

  • Appetizer, main course, and dessert (7:45 - 8:45 p.m.) – You can enjoy the appetizers, main course, and dessert over the next hour as you laugh with friends and family and celebrate your love.

  • Post-dinner toasts (8:45 - 9:15 p.m.) – You can allow more toasts after dinner for other guests who want to speak. Make sure to keep a cap on the number and lengths of toasts, or you could be there all night. Invite loved ones to save their toasts for the wedding reception too.

  • Post-dinner coffee (9:15 - 9:45 p.m.) – You can serve coffee to give guests a little boost as they finish their post-dinner mingling and the rehearsal dinner ends. This is the time guests will begin to leave either to go home or to an after-party.

  • After-party (9:45 - 11:30 p.m.) – You can invite guests who are ready to rally out to a local bar after the rehearsal dinner. Take a lesson from Cinderella and be home by midnight. You’ll need plenty of beauty rest (and hydration) before your wedding.

Even if you don’t choose to host such an extensive rehearsal dinner, you can still use the above timeline to guide your scheduling decisions.

All Your Rehearsal Dinner Questions Answered

The invitations are written and the timeline is set. What else do you need to know? Below, we’ve answered all of your rehearsal dinner-related questions:

  • Who should pay for the rehearsal dinner? It is traditional for the family of the groom to host the rehearsal dinner, but such customs are no longer relevant for many couples. Instead, they might host the dinner themselves or split the costs with family.

  • When should the rehearsal dinner take place? The rehearsal dinner typically takes place on the night before the wedding and after the actual wedding rehearsal. So, for a Friday wedding, the wedding rehearsal might take place on Thursday night or during the weekend prior. For a Saturday wedding, the dinner would be Friday night, and for a Sunday wedding, the rehearsal would be Saturday night.

  • Where should the rehearsal dinner take place? You can plan your rehearsal dinner wherever you’d like. Ideally, choose somewhere that is near the wedding venue and convenient for guests.

  • Who should attend our rehearsal dinner? You can invite immediate family, close extended family, the wedding party, out-of-town guests, the officiant, and anyone else you want. Out-of-town guests aren’t always invited, but it can be a polite gesture since they’ve traveled to attend your big day.

  • What should we write on our invitations? You should include the hosts, the couple, the place, the date, the time, the food, the attire, and RSVP information. If guests need to bring anything, let them know that too.

  • When should we mail our invitations? Ideally, you will mail the rehearsal dinner invitations four to six weeks before the dinner. If you send them out too late, guests might be busy or might run out of time to RSVP.

  • Why do we need a seating chart? It’s not necessary to create a seating chart, but it’s helpful for larger gatherings. For guests who don’t know anyone else, seat them near potential new friends who share similar interests.

Any more questions? Find more expert wedding advice on our website.

Budget-Friendly Wedding Advice

Whatever your budget, your rehearsal dinner and your wedding day are sure to be unforgettable. Zola is here to help every couple, no matter the scope of their budget. Register at Zola and guests can access over 100,000 products from over 10,000 top brands, or contribute to cash funds.

Even better, Zola couples receive 20 percent off the items in their registry for the next six months after their wedding day. With free shipping and returns and even a free thank you note manager, managing your wedding registry will be as easy as one, two, three when you say “I do” to Zola.

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