Throwing a rehearsal dinner allows the couple’s families to meet and celebrate before the big day. Rehearsal dinners also give the wedding party a chance to practice for the wedding ceremony.
Put simply, a rehearsal dinner is an appetizer to the main course: your wedding.
This intimate gathering allows for better communication and planning, as well as some much-needed bonding time for everyone involved. To kick it off successfully, you’ll need to find the right venue.
In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know:
There are several different routes you can take when planning a rehearsal dinner. Keep in mind that the type of venue you choose is going to affect the overall experience. Traditionally, rehearsal dinners tend to be much smaller than wedding receptions. Of course, some couples prefer to throw a larger dinner with a longer guest list—ultimately resulting in a whole weekend of wedding fun.
Whether you’re going big or keeping it small, here are some of the most common rehearsal dinner venues:
Unsurprisingly, the most common venue for rehearsal dinners is a restaurant. Benefits of picking this option for your rehearsal dinner include:
Ease: Throwing your rehearsal at a restaurant is not only traditional, but it’s also easy. When you choose a restaurant venue, nobody has to worry about hosting, cooking, or cleaning up after everyone. All you have to do is plan your reservation, and the restaurant staff will take care of the rest.
Good Food: When you choose a restaurant you love, you really can’t go wrong with the food. Many couples opt for restaurants they’ve tried before or ones that family and friends have recommended. Keep in mind: This is a dinner, so you’ll want to make sure the food is up to par.
Space: If your guest list is fairly small, a large table at a restaurant should offer plenty of seating. For larger parties, you may want to rent out a private room at the establishment—or possibly the entire restaurant for a certain amount of time. Regardless of the size of your party, it’s important to call the restaurant and inquire about availability well in advance.
Of course, every venue comes with its own set of challenges. When considering a restaurant for your rehearsal dinner, keep in mind that larger reservations can cost more money—particularly if you’re renting out the entire place for the evening. The cost of each dish is also a factor to consider, especially if you plan on financing the dinner yourself.
Some couples choose to host their rehearsal dinner at the same venue as their wedding. This option offers some unique advantages and conveniences, such as:
Price: Many wedding venues offer discounts on rehearsal dinner bookings. If you’re able to bundle this option in your venue’s wedding package, hosting at the same location can significantly reduce your wedding costs.
Convenience: Before the rehearsal dinner, the couple and their wedding party will usually do a practice run of the ceremony. Doing this at the actual venue gives everyone a chance to get comfortable with space—and hosting your rehearsal dinner in the same location will cut down on travel time.
Sneak peek: Your friends and family are most likely dying to see the wedding venue, and hosting your rehearsal dinner here will give them a sneak peek of what’s to come.
With these benefits in mind, couples must weigh the disadvantages of this option, as well. Hosting your rehearsal dinner at the same venue can be a little monotonous, especially if you’re using the same room. When considering this option, try asking the venue if they have any other areas where the rehearsal dinner can take place, just to spice things up a bit.
If you want to find a wedding venue that doubles as your rehearsal dinner space, you can utilize Zola’s wedding venue search tools. Be sure to use the search filters to find the perfect capacity, cost, and setting for your dream day. For a venue that’s likely to include a rehearsal dinner space, apply the “Service Level” filter under “All Filters” and select “All-Inclusive.”
At-home rehearsal dinners have become increasingly popular in recent years. Benefits of choosing this modern venue option include:
Flexibility: When you throw a rehearsal dinner at home, you’ll be faced with fewer restrictions. This venue is free from time limits, and you can serve whatever food you want—whether that’s your wedding caterer’s food or a local restaurant.
Space: Another advantage of throwing your rehearsal dinner at home is the additional space you’ll have. Some people utilize their entire household for this event, while others opt for a chic backyard celebration. Either way, this venue can offer a bit more space than most restaurants can.
Cost: The final reason you may opt for an at-home rehearsal dinner is the cost. Renting out a restaurant or event space can be pricey. After months of making hefty wedding expenses, a rehearsal dinner price tag may be the last thing you want to deal with. Hosting your dinner at home is a great way to cut costs, without sacrificing this fun tradition.
Although hosting your rehearsal dinner at home can be flexible and cost-effective, it’s not an option that works for everyone. While some couples may prefer the ambiance of a restaurant or event space, others simply don’t have the space for this kind of gathering. In some cases, a friend or family member may offer to host your rehearsal dinner at their home—but it’s always best to wait for this suggestion, rather than asking for it directly.
Banquet halls are a common venue for wedding receptions, but some couples choose to rent this space for their rehearsal dinner instead. Reasons you may want to consider this type of venue include:
Large Parties: When it comes to large rehearsal dinners, a banquet hall is going to be the most spacious option available. With this type of venue, you’ll have virtually no restrictions on your guest list—so feel free to include as many people as you’d like.
Freedom to Decorate: If you’re planning on following a theme for your wedding events, then a banquet hall is the way to go. Couples will have the freedom to decorate this venue any way they choose, making it easy to stick to an established wedding theme (without recycling the wedding venue).
Private: When you rent out an entire banquet hall, you’ll get the utmost privacy for your rehearsal dinner. Unlike a restaurant, where other guests will be filtering in and out, a banquet hall can be reserved for an entire evening fairly easily.
While the freedom and space of a banquet hall will be ideal for some couples, there are some issues you’ll want to keep in mind with this type of venue. First and foremost, renting out an event space can be expensive, so you’ll want to carefully calculate whether this fits into your budget or not.
In addition to reservation costs, you may be responsible for renting tables, chairs, and place settings, as well. Not to mention the cost of catering the event with a separate vendor. When all is said and done, the cost of a banquet hall rehearsal dinner can skyrocket pretty quickly.
Now that you have an idea of the different types of rehearsal venues, it’s time to determine which one is right for you. To help you narrow down your choices, consider the following factors:
Budget: Keep in mind that you (or the person financing the dinner) will be paying for everyone’s meal, drinks, and possibly a reservation fee, depending on the location. Event spaces and restaurants typically charge a fee for reserving the space, as well as a deposit beforehand. These are just a few of the costs you’ll need to consider when planning your rehearsal dinner on a budget. For reference, the average rehearsal dinner in the United States costs about $1,330 as of 2020.
Guest List: Your guest list is going to play a huge role in the venue you settle on. Larger venues will work best for more inclusive guest lists, such as banquet halls or outdoor spaces. Restaurants are a better option for smaller parties unless you can rent out the entire place for the evening. For mid-sized parties, hosting your rehearsal dinner at home is a great option.
Food Preferences: Technical details aside, it’s also important to consider the food you want at your rehearsal dinner. Using a restaurant as a venue will limit you to their menu, and some places may opt for a pre-fixed menu for larger parties. Private spaces will require catering or home-cooked meals, although this option can be pricey and time-consuming for the person planning the dinner.
Theme: Your rehearsal dinner is an extension of your wedding, and many couples have specific ideas for how they want this event to look. Questions you may want to ask when selecting your venue are:
Can this venue accommodate your theme?
For couples who want free reign over the decor, hosting your rehearsal dinner at home or on private property may be your best bet.
Once you’ve decided on a venue, the work isn’t over just yet. Now it’s time to book the space. Below are some key guidelines couples will need to follow when reserving a venue for their rehearsal dinner:
Start Looking Six Months in Advance: Couples need to follow certain etiquette when booking a rehearsal venue. You’ll want to begin this search at least six months in advance. This will give you plenty of time to check out different venues and find your favorite.
Finalize Your Booking Three Months in Advance: Once you’ve settled on a place, you’ll want to finalize your booking no later than three months beforehand. This timeline is particularly important for public spaces, like restaurants, which tend to be busy. Banquet halls may require notice even further in advance, depending on their availability.
Request a Private Room: If you’re interested in using a restaurant venue, it may be a good idea to request a private room. This will make it easier for guests to talk to one another, give speeches, and rehearse any other elements of the wedding.
Ask Your Wedding Coordinator: If you have one, your wedding coordinator can help you find and book a rehearsal dinner venue more efficiently. Oftentimes, wedding coordinators are familiar with local places that are rehearsal-dinner friendly. Having a professional in your corner never hurts when booking event venues.
Send Invitations Four Weeks Ahead of Time: You’ll want to send out invitations for your rehearsal dinner at least four weeks before the date. This gives guests plenty of time to prepare for the event, especially those coming from out of town. Couples can personalize their invitations using one of Zola’s stylish custom card designs. With this feature, you can add engagement photos or wedding portraits for an added touch of romance.
Specify Dress Code: When you create your wedding invitations, it never hurts to specify what the dress code is. While most people assume a wedding requires formal attire, rehearsal dinners can be a bit more varied. Some venues may require guests to come in black tie, while others can be pretty laid-back. Adding this to your invitations will help get everyone on the same page and avoid any fashion faux pas.
For our final lesson in rehearsal dinners 101, we’ll be going over some common dos and don’ts related to this event. These tips can help organize your wedding planning process and leave you with a successful pre-wedding celebration.
Be Proactive About Scheduling: Typically, your rehearsal dinner will take place the night before your wedding day. Many modern couples, however, prefer to leave a day in between these two events. Not only will a weekday booking be cheaper at most venues, but it also gives you a bit of recovery time before the big day. This is particularly proactive if you plan on staying out late (or having a few cocktails) at the rehearsal dinner.
Prioritize Introductions: If any family members or friends have not met one another yet, now is the time to facilitate these introductions. This is especially important for the parents of the couple, members of the wedding party, and anyone else involved in the ceremony. Couples should take time to make sure everyone knows each other before the dinner is complete.
Keep It Local: Since you’ll also be traveling to the ceremony venue for the initial rehearsal, it helps to keep your dinner venue close by. This way you reduce the risk of anyone getting lost or showing up late to the reservation.
Invite Out-of-Town Guests: Out-of-town guests typically arrive a few days before the wedding. If you have a family member or friend who has traveled a significant distance to attend your special day, it’s common courtesy to invite them to the rehearsal dinner, as well. This is applicable even for guests who aren’t part of the wedding party.
Overdo It: Sometimes, during pre-wedding excitement, couples can overdo it with their rehearsal dinner. While a big celebration can be fun, you don’t want to exhaust yourself in the days before your wedding. Otherwise, you run the risk of burnout when the big day arrives.
Forget to Take Pictures: Your rehearsal dinner is the perfect opportunity for photos, especially since it’s more intimate than the actual wedding reception. This is the time to grab pictures with your parents, your in-laws, and members of your wedding party. These photos will help diversify your wedding album, as well. If you have a professional photographer lined up, see if they’re available to come to the rehearsal dinner.
Skimp on the Food: If you’re inviting people to dinner, make sure it’s a dinner. Your rehearsal dinner is an opportunity to thank everyone involved in the wedding, and the best way to do this is by feeding them properly. Avoid the tiny appetizers and give your loved ones a full course meal.
Make Your Guest List Too Long: This is obviously up to the couple, but inviting too many people to your rehearsal dinner can sometimes lead to problems. Not only will accommodations be trickier with a lot of guests, but the people who aren’t invited may feel offended when so many others are. In general, it’s best to keep this gathering on the more intimate side.
Getting your rehearsal dinner just right can be tricky, but the process is easier when you use Zola’s online seating chart. This handy tool is perfect for planning all your events, from the smallest rehearsal dinner to the largest wedding reception. Zola’s guest features don’t stop there. Automatically track RSVPs, meal orders, food sensitivities, and more, all from one convenient page.
The biggest thing to remember when planning your rehearsal dinner? All the tools Zola has to offer. Here at Zola, couples can easily keep track of all their nuptial necessities. From custom invitation designs to online seating charts, it’s never been easier to put together your dream wedding. Our list of pre-screened wedding vendors is also available, giving couples plenty of venue options for their rehearsal dinner, ceremony, or reception.
Spend less time researching and planning, and more time enjoying the perfect rehearsal dinner, with Zola.