Maybe you can see your big day clearly in your mind. But what about those other pre-wedding events that allow for even more opportunities to hone your design skills and wow your guests?
The rehearsal dinner, for example, is a close-knit gathering that can be just as elegant and dreamy as your wedding day, without putting much of an added burden on your time or budget. Some couples may prefer to host their wedding rehearsal dinner at a separate venue or to book a private room in a favorite local restaurant.
But how about an at-home hoorah?
In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about how to transform your backyard, patio, rooftop, or expansive indoor space into the perfect rehearsal dinner to remember.
Before diving head-first into the specifics of what to include and how best to do so, let’s take a look at a few common—yet sometimes overlooked—considerations. What even is a rehearsal dinner and why is it deeply rooted in wedding tradition? Understanding the purpose of such an event will help us later to marry intention and design details together.
A rehearsal dinner follows the run-through of the actual wedding, which is designed for the happy couple and their respective families and wedding parties to work out any ceremony kinks before they happen.
After instructing your flower girl on how to proceed and your ring bearer on where to stand, you may choose to take the opportunity afterward to spend some extra time with your closest friends and family. And yes, as the name suggests, it typically involves dinner, appetizers, or a meal of some sort, as well as gift-giving, speeches, and other memorable moments.
In most cases, rehearsal dinners are scheduled for the evening before the wedding day itself. So if your wedding is set for Saturday, Friday night could be a good time to go over those last-minute details and spend some quality time with your wedding crew over this wedding weekend.
Some couples may opt for a rehearsal earlier in the week before the rest of the wedding guests start to arrive. If you’re planning to host it further in advance, give everyone in the rehearsal a heads-up so that they can adjust their travel plans accordingly, if necessary.
Even if you’re planning for a 300-person event on the day of your nuptials, your rehearsal dinner will still typically be a smaller soiree. You’ll definitely want to keep tabs on the size of the guest list to ensure that the space you’ve chosen accommodates your crowd.
And who, exactly, will be a part of that crowd? Remember this: your wedding, your choice.
Traditionally speaking, however, the rehearsal dinner is reserved for:
If you have a little extra space—in your venue and in your budget—you may consider extending the invite to grandparents and wedding party plus-ones, too.
If you’re all about preserving wedding tradition, the groom’s parents are expected to host this particular event. However, not all weddings fit the classic mold, so the specifics surrounding this topic should be discussed amongst those in your and your partner’s families.
Whether your partner’s parents offer to foot the bill for the food, decor, and drinks, or you split it evenly, keeping open communication about finances and hosting responsibilities is key to a stress-free planning process.
The rehearsal dinner gives the couple a quieter time to enjoy the company of their family and closest friends. It’s also an opportunity to say thank you to those who have agreed to participate in the celebration and have worked hard to pull it all together.
Couples may take this time to extend their thanks by presenting their wedding party with a note and a small gift. You could also open the floor to family members who want to say a few words as a toast to the couple before the formal speeches on the following day.
Now that you’re an expert on rehearsal dinner basics, it’s time to get specific. We’ve put together a checklist that should help you cover everything from the essentials to personal touches.
Come back to this list whenever you need to, or plug it into your calendar on Zola’s desktop or mobile app to get real-time reminders when important to-dos start sneaking up on you.
Here’s what you’ll need to do for at-home rehearsal dinner success:
Build your guest list – This should be simpler than deciding on the guestlist for your actual wedding day, but there are decisions to be made here, too. Decide how big or how small you’d like the event to be while also considering your budget and how many guests your space can comfortably hold. Zola’s Wedding Guest List Manager is an ideal tool for this to-do since it helps you to stay on top of who’s coming, their dietary preferences, and how you can reach them.
Pick an appropriate theme – Cohesion is key. For easy planning and sentimental value, it helps to incorporate the style of your wedding day into your rehearsal dinner, too—without giving away too many details from the main event, of course. Keep things rustic and casual to match your barnyard wedding, or pull in lush greenery and botanicals for a bohemian-style celebration.
Choose a location – You’re already more than halfway there: at home. But will it be at your home or someone else’s? And how far away is it from the wedding venue itself? Try to keep your event local and work out the details of the space with the gracious homeowner and now host. Will it require some light landscaping? Are there any indoor options available in case of inclement weather? An at-home dinner party certainly takes the stress out of searching for available wedding venues, but it still requires a thorough assessment to determine how event-ready it may or may not be.
Send out invitations – Keep your theme and color palette in mind for these, too. Choose a simple and sleek design for modern minimalism or something with a metallic foil for effortless elegance. These are often sent separately from wedding invitations itself, but should include the time, date, location, and RSVP instructions.
Shop for decorations or DIY – You might find that a patio or rooftop terrace at someone’s home might not need too much dressing up. In this case, a few simple, handmade pieces might do for decor. A wide-open lawn, on the other hand, is more of a blank canvas that you can shape however you please. Either break out your DIY kit or start shopping for the items you’ll need to transform a bland backyard into a beautiful banquet hall type.
Figure out the food – Food truck, full-service catering, or maybe dinner delivered to your door? The options for good eats at your rehearsal dinner are abundant, but you’ll want to decide early so that you can book your preferred service with plenty of time to spare. For the budget-conscious couple, coordinate with a few family members for a potluck meal. An at-home rehearsal dinner with a homemade meal adds a wonderfully personal touch, and it is a perfect way to incorporate a few favorite family recipes.
Set up a schedule of events – Be specific about where and what time to meet for the rehearsal itself. Will guests need to go right from the rehearsal to dinner, or will they have some free time in between? You may want to include these specifics on the invitations themselves or on your wedding website. If you’re planning to have a few formal toasts, a slideshow, or dinner games, give your rehearsal dinner guests an idea of your timeline so that they can arrange logistics accordingly.
Now that you’ve taken care of the logistics, it’s time to get creative. If you love design, this part will be a blast. But for those who aren’t as creatively inclined, we’re here to guide you through the process. Read on for our tips and tricks on choosing and executing a theme, plus how you can tailor your at-home space to your liking.
Location? Check! You’ve opted for an intimate, at-home gathering. But as for the rest of it, you might still find yourself stuck on how to bring a design theme to life.
Not to worry. We’ve already brainstormed a few wedding rehearsal dinner ideas for you, as well as some must-have decor details that you might not have considered yet. Couples with all kinds of style preferences will be able to find a way to remodel a space in their home to fit their unique vision.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
The posh picnic – Whoever said picnics had to be casual? If you have space on your lawn, turn it into a sophisticated and elegant dinner setting with the relaxed vibes of a picnic. Combine a long, wooden table with light, airy linens and greenery—or an actual picnic blanket with pillows as cushions and wooden palettes as a pseudo-table. Add a few candles and patio lights, and voila! You’ve got yourself a stunning soiree that’s inviting and easy to put together. Complete the setup with charcuterie boards featuring local cheeses, seasonal fruits, crackers, and pepper jelly.
The happy camper – Decorate your backyard with a few classic picnic tables and simple centerpieces. Hang a few mason jars with tea light candles and get creative with beverage coolers. Use a canoe or wheelbarrow to hold drinks for a look that’s rustic, cozy, and chic. Consider hiring a local food truck to cater the event and set up a s’mores station for an after-dinner campfire and a sweet snack.
The rooftop rendezvous – If you live in a city where outdoor green space is limited, consider taking advantage of a rooftop terrace for your rehearsal dinner. A spectacular view of the city from above is just about all the decoration you’ll need, but feel free to add in some florals and a sheer chiffon table runner to soften up the look. Book a caterer in your area using Zola’s wedding vendor search tool to locate a few pre-approved neighborhood eateries. Looking for something unique for after dinner? Set up a bar area with a selection of sweet wines and pair them with an appropriately palatable dessert.
Once you’ve decided on your theme, browse the internet for images, design inspiration, and crafty DIY tricks to help you put together a mood board. Consider your event aesthetic when sending out wedding invitations or creating place cards, too.
Think you’ve thought of just about everything? Keep scrolling through the next section to be sure that you’ve covered all of the bases.
You’re nearly ready to ride off into the rehearsal dinner sunset. But before you go, we’d love to send you off with a few more professional tips and tricks from our experts. Event planning is our forté, so take a minute to consider the following to be sure that you and your guests are in for a beautiful, blunder-free evening:
Add some homegrown flare – Getting married in Maine? Consider a backyard lobster bake—complete with steamer clams and chowder. Going to kiss your bride in Mississippi? Bring the flavors of blue crabs and gulf shrimp to your rehearsal dinner menu. Take whatever makes your location unique and tie it into the details of your dinner event. It’ll be a real treat for out-of-town guests and an age-old favorite for local family members and friends.
Be mindful of the weather – Unless you’ve got an indoor space at home that fits your wedding aesthetic and is large enough to accommodate all of your guests, chances are that you’ll have to make use of the great outdoors for this event—and all the various weather occurrences that come with the area. If you know that rain is often in the cards for your region, make sure that your event space has some sort of covering such as a canopy or tent, or an indoor alternative.
Dress appropriately – Your wedding party probably has their carefully coordinated outfits all ready to go for the day of your nuptials but dressing for a rehearsal dinner can be a bit challenging if guests don’t quite know what to expect. Will it be just as formal as your wedding day or are you opting for an event that’s more casual and comfortable? Clue them in on the details ahead of time so that they can plan and dress accordingly. And if you’re planning to include any lawn games or activities such as swimming, invite them to pack a change of clothes.
Make table charts – Though not nearly as elaborate as the seating arrangements you’ve made for your wedding day, you’ll still want to plan for rehearsal dinner configurations. Will a long, banquet-style table be enough for all of your guests? If you prefer an array of smaller tables and chairs, decide how important it is to you if they’re all matching. Rehearsal dinners at home can be an affordable option, but if you’d prefer to avoid mismatched folding chairs that your family members have brought upstairs from the basement, you may want to consider renting a uniform set instead.
Plan for a photo opp – A rehearsal dinner is full of moments you’ll want to remember forever, just as your wedding day is. If you’ve already booked a day-of photographer, ask about any package deals they offer for a discount on the rehearsal dinner. Otherwise, consider putting a photo-savvy friend in charge of documenting some special moments throughout the night. You’ll be getting plenty of pictures on the day you say “I do” but these more intimate events are worth saving in an album, too.
Provide clear directions for your guests – If your home is located down quiet, country back roads or in a busy urban area with limited parking and one-way streets, make sure that your attendees are given clear instructions, both for driving and parking. You can include them directly on the event invitations or on your wedding website.
Fill the evening with fun – With a laidback venue like your own backyard, plenty of space for anything your heart desires, and an evening spent around friends and family, is there anything more fun than games galore? Fun and easy backyard games include cornhole, bocce, giant Connect Four, ladder toss, portable mini golf, and more. With a bit of DIY talent, you can make your own versions and reuse them for family affairs, or buy or rent them for a relatively low price. If games aren’t quite your thing, consider renting a dance floor and DJ (or making a sweet Spotify playlist) and starting the party a little early.
Whether you’re at home or elsewhere for your rehearsal dinner, don’t forget to savor this time with those who are near and dear to you and your partner’s hearts. Your rehearsal dinner is a perfect moment to go over the details of the coming days, but also to reflect back on the wedding planning journey and the people who have put forth the effort to bring your love fest to life.
And because your wedding season will blow by in the blink of an eye, don’t stress too much about the details. That’s what Zola is here for—to tie up any loose ends before you tie the knot, and to facilitate decision-making along the way.
Here’s how we can help:
By helping you find thoughtful, personalized gifts for your wedding party in our Wedding Boutique.
By locating trustworthy florists, photographers, and caterers in your area so that you can rest easy knowing that all the important pieces of your event will be handled by people who are masters of their craft.
See why thousands of couples have already said “I do” to Zola. The first step toward your dream rehearsal dinner starts here.