The night before your wedding is an exciting time, filling your stomach with a smorgasbord of delicious food and a kaleidoscope of butterflies. Hosting a wedding rehearsal dinner provides an inconspicuous respite for couples to celebrate their upcoming matrimony with close friends and family from both sides of the aisle.
While the wedding-day decorations will certainly be the star of the show, many couples also kick off their wedding weekend in style by infusing themes or decor into their rehearsal dinners, too.
That’s why we’ve compiled a guide to help couples adorn their rehearsal dinners with the perfect trimmings.
The fun thing about rehearsal dinners is that they give you the freedom to explore non-traditional themes that you otherwise wouldn’t reserve for your wedding day. Take a look at our four favorite rehearsal dinner decoration ideas that you can integrate seamlessly into your pre-vow soiree:
While the most important aspect of your rehearsal dinner isn’t the decorations themselves, a carefully planned banquet can elevate your night to new heights with curated food choices, decor, and even dress codes.
To make your rehearsal dinner the second most anticipated part of your wedding weekend (behind the wedding ceremony itself, of course), use our free search tool to browse Zola’s pre-screened inventory of wedding vendors by design style, price, and location.
Whether you’re planning to say your I dos under the radiant summer sun or opting for a dazzling winter ceremony, you can draw inspiration from the time of year to decorate your rehearsal space in a way that beautifully reflects your environment.
Celebrate your spring nuptials with floral designs and arrangements, such as garlands, centerpiece bouquets, and flower arches to invite your guests into an enchanting meadow of springtime merriment. You don’t even need fresh flowers to embody this theme. Incorporate floral printed decorations, such as:
Really, there’s no limit to the ways you can work in this floral theme. How about floral-printed paper fans for outdoor dinners on a warm spring night? Or a dress code that encourages floral-printed sundresses and bow ties? If you’re dining under the stars, you can even hang blossomy lanterns from nearby trees to impress your guests with botanical grandeur.
When you think of summer, surely a few palpable memories come to mind—picnicking under giant oak trees with watermelon and a cold cup of iced tea, devouring s’mores beside a blazing beach bonfire, or bonding with cousins at a bustling backyard barbecue.
If you’re getting married in the summer months, incorporate your summertime favorites into your rehearsal dinner theme.
Pay homage to campfire nights with an outdoor rehearsal dinner that incorporates personal touches like make-your-own s’mores kits as table centerpieces. Or, ditch the high-heels and blazers by welcoming guests to a casual barbecue complete with hot dogs and popsicles.
Mix in a few summer-themed activities, too—woven grass garlands can create a stunning backdrop for photos with friends and family. The possibilities are endless.
Few can resist the allure of an autumn wedding—warm tones, brisk breezes, and all the pumpkin-flavored treats you could ever want on your wedding day. Transition into the autumnal season with an enticing color palette of reds, oranges, yellows, and browns. Infuse these colors into table cloths, napkins, and centerpieces.
Complete the theme with garlands of autumn leaves wrapped in string lights. You can also allude to your favorite holidays with bountiful cornucopia centerpieces or adorable pumpkins, too.
A dazzling winter wedding can make you feel like you’re Winterland royalty. Like a summer theme, there are endless interpretations of the wintertime season to infuse into your rehearsal dinner decor.
A white color palette with sprinkles of effervescent sparkles in the form of crystal chandeliers or glowing candles will give the impression of gorgeous ice and snow, while a venue filled with glowing fireplaces and wooden beams will ignite your dinner with a sense of cozy camaraderie.
Use your favorite winter holiday to further inspire decoration—imagine a red and green garland made with holly and flickering fairy lights transforming your rehearsal dinner space. You can also purchase fake snow to powder atop the tables or lacy tablecloths that mimic the many facets of a snowflake. Keep the theme alive with gingerbread houses for centerpieces and snowflake sugar cookies for dessert.
Think back to the days of crayons and multiplication tables—who, or what was your first love? The adorable red panda? The noble steed? The daring Komodo dragon? Your favorite animal could be the key to a quirky and cute rehearsal dinner theme that’ll have your whole wedding party roaring with excitement. Here are some of our favorites:
Embrace the traditional color palette of Safari explorers and their animal friends when choosing your decorations. Greens and yellows will conjure the savannah grasslands. Or, you can accessorize your space with zebra, cheetah, giraffe, and tiger prints. Use these colors or patterns when choosing:
For a truly whimsical touch, replace standard balloons with balloon animals shaped like giraffes, snakes, elephants, and more. Your favorite animals can also make an appearance as name cards or photo booth backgrounds.
Invite the whole zoo to your rehearsal dinner for a flock of rehearsal decor inspiration. You can incorporate an endless number of animal prints or patterns, or you can choose one animal to lead you into your wedding day.
Do you love pandas? Elegantly incorporate them into signage, napkins, centerpieces, and more. You could even embrace an animal-inspired color scheme, such as black and white for the panda-lovers.
Will kids be in attendance at the rehearsal dinner? If the answer is yes, consider booking a small petting zoo for an immersive decoration experience that guests of all ages will love.
Winged creatures great and small can inspire your decorations both symbolically and literally. Seamlessly incorporate birds figuratively into your rehearsal dinner decor by embracing their bright and vivid colors or using feathers as a unique decorative touch.
Feathers can also be added to centerpieces and floral decorations, while enormous plumes are perfect for a more extravagant affair. You can also use your favorite bird as a motif on napkins or stationary. Or, go big and hire some real doves to make guests gasp in awe.
There’s a vivid and wonderful world beneath the earth’s lakes, rivers, and oceans, teeming with aquatic creatures who’d love to make an appearance at your rehearsal dinner. Center your dinner around a single animal, or embrace the ecosystem entirely with dark blue hues, sparkling lights, and bright green foliage.
Adorn your table settings with faux sand dollars and starfish centerpieces, or opt for other decorative touches like colorful coral. You can also get creative with tiny fish bowl centerpieces (fish optional) or host your rehearsal dinner at the aquarium for decorations that can swim along past your guests.
Select your favorite movie or genre to inspire your rehearsal dinner decorations. You can choose explicit references or reflect your chosen film in a more subtle way, whether it’s a color scheme, a favorite outfit, or a romantic backdrop that’ll have your guests swooning even before you and your spouse say your vows.
For “Harry Potter” fans, there’s an endless number of Hogwarts-themed decorations for muggles to enjoy. Create a color scheme through you and your beloved’s Hogwarts houses. This color palette can come to life through stationery, napkins, tablecloths, and flowers. Additional magical touches include:
Whether you’re a fan of “Twilight” or “Dracula,” embrace the world of immortals for a rehearsal dinner that your guests will remember for centuries (bonus points if it’s a Halloween wedding).
Go romantic with a gorgeous blood red color scheme that evokes gothic elegance. If you’re leaning more toward “Twilight” triviality, you can incorporate kooky decorations such as complimentary plastic fangs for guests to wear for photobooth fun.
Sci-Fi-inspired decorations can be absolutely out of this world. Bring intergalactic style back down to earth with monochrome colors, silver balloons, and unusual flower arrangements filled with buds that look like they were plucked from a galaxy far, far away.
You can also choose more muted sci-fi decorations by conjuring the night sky. Select a black color scheme and fill the room with sparkling string lights and luminous planets to take your guests on a journey through time and space. If you’re dining outdoors, sparklers are lots of fun and will create truly stunning star-studded pictures.
Incorporate the classics that you love the most. Are you a sucker for the oldies? Do you and your spouse-to-be regularly adopt the mid-Atlantic accent when deciding on dinner plans? Do you stare at your partner with the same passion shared between Gatsby and the green light? Incorporate your love for old-timey vibes with a movie-themed rehearsal dinner.
Some of our favorite examples include:
“Great Gatsby”-inspired roaring twenties bash – For a rehearsal dinner straight out of the 1920s, decoration ideas include art-deco style centerpieces, tall floral arrangements, and balloons in golds, blacks, and silvers. Enormous feather blooms, hanging beads, and fringed tablecloths will make your guests feel like they’ve taken a step back in time into 20th-century Long Island.
“Pretty in Pink” promenade – Invite guests to wear their best eighties dresses and tuxes and purchase campy decorations reminiscent of a high school gymnasium dance, such as a magnificent balloon arch or a cocktail punch table.
“Casablanca” gin-joint affair – Book an out-of-the-way speakeasy for a romantic affair complete with white suits, black ties, and sophisticated red-rose centerpieces.
If a city holds special significance to you and your partner, honor the locale with a location-themed rehearsal dinner that pays homage to the place you two love most.
As they say, Paris is for lovers. Celebrate the twinkling city lights by filling your rehearsal dinner venue with romantic candles and string lights. Use the Eiffel Tower as a motif on napkins or stationary, or even as the centerpiece on each table. You can even decorate the space with checkered chairs and tables straight from a French bistro along the Seine.
If New York is more your style, then rest assured, there are numerous options for decorations. Celebrate New York’s iconic cityscape with a projection or painted backdrop for guests to take photos in front of and enjoy while they chow down on Italian staples and cheesecake. Then pick your favorite New York symbol to use as a motif for decorations, such as:
You can choose explicit references, such as centerpieces crafted from red apples and flowers, or more subtle nods, such as yellow and black balloons, to evoke the charm of a yellow taxi. You can even customize your signage and stationery to mimic the iconic visual style of the New York subway signs.
This southern California city awakens images of laid-back, casual beachside days. Flowy, gauzy white fabric draped across tables and walls can help your guests feel as if they’re in a breezy cabana. You can also choose more obvious decorations such as beachy centerpieces built from sand and seashells. You might even craft garlands made from seashells and starfish.
For more whimsical couples, make your rehearsal dinner a veritable tiki bar or beachside barbecue. Guests can enjoy their drinks from carved coconuts, and pineapples can make simple, yet fun centerpieces.
Snowbirds can bring a little bit of Aspen’s snowy peaks to their rehearsal dinner through elevated party decorations. Imagine garlands made from paper or plastic snowflakes and sparkling string lights that mimic the best powder days. Rather than entertaining a traditional bar, create a wood log hut wrapped in string lights where guests can order up hot and cold drinks. For an outdoor rehearsal dinner, a bonfire can be a comforting touch and experiential decoration, especially if you incorporate s’mores.
Looking for the perfect venue to complement your rehearsal dinner decoration ideas? Search for wedding venues at Zola. Our pre-screened inventory of venues in your city is available to search by:
Now that you’ve got a good idea of what kind of decorations to purchase or create for your rehearsal dinner, let’s tie up any rehearsal dinner strings before you tie the knot. Below, you’ll find guidance about the whos, whats, wheres, whens, hows, and whys of rehearsal dinner planning.
No matter the day of the week your wedding takes place, the rehearsal dinner is traditionally held the night before the nuptials, and occurs after the ceremony rehearsal. Not all couples have wedding rehearsals, but many still host dinners the night before their wedding. Here’s the timing for weekend weddings:
Friday weddings – If you’re hosting an end-of-week wedding, you can host your rehearsal dinner the Thursday before the wedding. Or, if your wedding party is unavailable during the week, you can opt for a Friday or Saturday soiree the week before.
Saturday weddings – For Saturday weddings, the rehearsal dinner is usually Friday night.
Sunday weddings – For Sunday weddings, the rehearsal dinner can be held on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday night.
It’s best practice to schedule your rehearsal dinner earlier in the evening so that you and your guests can get your beauty sleep before the big day.
Out of respect to your guests and convenience, it’s best to host the rehearsal dinner near the wedding venue and the accommodations where your guests are staying. It’s also helpful to provide transportation, such as a party bus, a van, or a limousine, for guests (if you’re able).
Traditionally, the groom’s family hosts the rehearsal dinner and covers the costs. However, many couples no longer follow those traditions. In fact, co-hosting can be a wonderful way for both families to intermingle. Moreover, many couples today pay for both their rehearsal dinner and wedding themselves.
One of your first rehearsal dinner planning decisions will be whom to invite. We recommend the following categories:
Immediate family – Your immediate family is usually at the top of the rehearsal dinner guest list. Not everyone feels this way, but generally, couples invite their parents, siblings, and grandparents.
Close extended family – It’s not necessary to invite your extended family, but many couples invite aunts, uncles, cousins, or godparents if they are particularly close to them.
Wedding party – The entire wedding party is usually invited to the rehearsal dinner, but it is optional whether you want to invite their plus ones.
Out-of-town guests – Unless you’re hosting a destination wedding, it is a polite gesture to invite out-of-town guests to the rehearsal dinner since they’ve spent time and money traveling to your wedding.
Officiant – Customarily, couples will invite their officiant to their rehearsal dinner since the rehearsal usually precedes it.
Rehearsal dinner invitations can come in many forms, from paper invitations to digital invites. You can typically customize your invitations based on the formality of the event and the theme of your dinner. Regardless of the specifics of the event, every invitation should include:
It’s polite to send out rehearsal dinner invitations four to six weeks in advance. Then, guests can organize their schedules with plenty of time. You can also use this time to reach out to anyone who hasn’t RSVP’d.
The average cost of a rehearsal dinner is $1,330, which is about three percent of the cost of the average wedding. Either the parents of the couple or the couple themselves will usually pay the bill. If you’re looking to reduce your rehearsal dinner costs here are three options:
The guest list – Decreasing the number of guests invited to the rehearsal dinner will directly decrease the cost.
The extent – If you’re already planning a big wedding, you can save money by hosting a smaller, more informal rehearsal dinner.
The catering – The type of catering service or restaurant you choose greatly affects the cost of the rehearsal dinner. If you’re looking to save money for your honeymoon, opt for a less expensive venue or catering service.
If you’re worried about cost, the Zola vendor search function allows you to filter by price as you search for:
For more informal or smaller rehearsal dinners, a seating chart is usually unnecessary. On the other hand, larger rehearsal dinners or ones where guests don’t know each other benefit from the organization of a seating chart. You can write your own seating chart or buy a template online to print. When planning your seating chart, consider:
The couple – The couple themselves should get the best seats, usually at the head or center of the table.
The parents – The parents of each partner should be seated near the couple or other family members.
The host – The host of the wedding, if it’s not the parents, should also be seated near the couple.
The bridesmaids and groomsmen – The bridesmaids and groomsmen should sit with each other or with their plus-ones.
The ring bearer and flower girl – The ring bearer and flower girl should both be seated with their parents.
If you have guests who are alone and don’t know many other guests, try to sit them next to other guests with similar interests or complementary personalities.
Couples absolutely don’t have to have a traditional rehearsal dinner. They can get creative with the location, the food, and the size of the guest list. Alternative ideas include:
Potluck dinner – Set up a potluck dinner at someone’s home and have guests bring food and drinks for a more casual get-together.
Backyard barbecue – Organize an intimate barbecue for your guests in your backyard or a loved one’s backyard.
Park picnic – Reserve picnic tables at your local park and bring a delicious basket of packed food to eat with family and friends.
BYOB beach party – Plan a smaller affair on a beach and have guests bring their own light food and drinks to enjoy as you all relax on the shoreline.
Cocktail hour – Host a more formal cocktail hour or just make a reservation at a restaurant or bar for drinks and appetizers that don’t require lots of planning.
Even better, for any of these alternatives, you can still undertake your rehearsal dinner decoration ideas to make it feel special and unique.
Whichever decorations and theme you choose, your rehearsal dinner is sure to be a night you’ll never forget—only rivaled by your wedding day itself.
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