Wedding Rehearsal Dinners: 5 Ideas We Love

Wedding rehearsal dinners are the final celebration before the big day. Here are five ideas we love as you plan yours.

By The Zola Team

Wedding Rehearsal Dinner Ideas
Photo by Unsplash

It’s no secret that one of the highlights of a wedding celebration is the food. Before the wedding day comes the rehearsal dinner. It’s a time for the happy couple, their wedding party, and respective families to come together to eat, drink, and be merry. This “practice event” is a formality followed by a festive meal to get everyone mingling and prepared for the big day ahead.

Many choose menus for their wedding rehearsal dinners to closely reflect their favorite foods and drinks. The guest list is smaller, because it typically only includes members of the wedding party and close friends and family. Plus, there’s less concern over pleasing everyone’s palette like with the wedding day meal.

Have fun when planning your wedding rehearsal dinner and think about how special it’ll be to have all your loved ones in one place celebrating with you. Pick a place that’s not too far from where your ceremony is being held to make it easy to get to, particularly for out-of-town guests. That way, transportation won’t be a problem and there’s a better chance for everyone to show up on time.

While there are plenty of ideas for how to host your rehearsal dinner, we’re sharing five ideas we simply love that will hopefully spark delicious inspiration for you.

Wedding Rehearsal Dinner Ideas Photo Credit // Unsplash

Backyard BBQ Wedding Rehearsal Dinners

Nothing says easygoing better than a backyard BBQ. Now that the wedding day is upon you, all of the stress of planning and preparation can melt away. It’s time to relax and keep things lighthearted and simple. A casual meal such as this also helps to keep costs lower and the atmosphere informal so that people can let loose a little bit before the wedding ceremony the following day.

The easiest way to go is to order BBQ catering from your go-to place, complete with your chosen meats, side dishes, drinks, and cutlery. Another idea is to designate someone to command the grill and cook up hamburgers and hot dogs with plenty of sides and desserts to complete the meal. Everyone in your wedding party can be responsible for bringing a dish and an extra lawn chair for a laid-back setup.

If you’re not a fan of BBQ, but like the low-key approach, have a backyard taco spread, spaghetti dinner, or any other easy-to-prepare food that can feed (and please) a crowd. Add in a fire pit or tiki torches, coolers full of drinks, and an upbeat playlist and you have the makings for a perfect evening with your friends and family prior to your wedding day. Other alternatives to a backyard bash are to set up food at a local park or spread it out on folding tables on the beach or lakeside, depending on location.

For drinks, craft beer, a spiked punch, lemonade, and liters of soda are all good ideas. The goal is to pick an uncrowded, open spot with enough seating for everyone that allows you and your guests to focus on spending time with each other without a lot of fuss.

Wedding Rehearsal Dinner Ideas Photo Credit // Unsplash

Formal Wedding Rehearsal Dinners

On the other end of the wedding rehearsal dinner spectrum is the formal, sitdown meal. It makes the feeling intimate and special, and it doesn’t have to feel stuffy, especially when you’re fully in charge of the menu. Host it at your special occasion restaurant and keep the headcount low. It’s a great option if you’re keeping your wedding day meal more casual and still want an upscale offering, too.

However, even when planning a fancier event, choose foods that you enjoy, and won’t be served at the wedding. For example, steak and scallops are delicious options, but they may not be suitable for your entire wedding guest list cost-wise or preference-wise. This is a time to indulge and share a celebratory meal with those intimately involved in your wedding.

A formal dining experience allows you to sit back and be served with drinks topped off and toasts galore, without worrying about who’s in charge of cleaning up. Let the wine and champagne flow, and ask the restaurant to make a specialty, non-alcoholic drink, too. Make sure to reserve ahead of time since certain places can fill up as quickly as wedding venues. Think of it as a preview to all of the joy and love you’ll feel once your wedding day arrives.

Appetizer and Dessert Rehearsal Dinners

In the same vein as the backyard BBQ, keep things simple, yet elegant with an appetizer and dessert “dinner.” Head to a local winery, rooftop space, or another venue to set up a meal that invites mingling. Cheese and charcuterie platters and finger sandwiches are optimal, while fresh fruit, mini pizzas, and other snackable, finger foods also meet the criteria. If you want a fancier spread, consider tuna tartare, shrimp scampi, and goat cheese tartlets as possible options.

Dessert-wise, save the cake for the wedding day and, instead, offer up a make-your-own-sundae station with trays of cookies or individual pies and cupcakes. To make it extra personal, you and your soon-to-be spouse should each pick your favorite dessert for the rehearsal dinner. Make it feel like a party as you celebrate one last time before you become a married couple and gear up for the day ahead. Stick with wine spritzers, hard seltzers, and Shirley Temples as your drinks of choice.

This type of wedding rehearsal dinner can be set up at your home, a clubhouse, or other communal space where cleanup is a breeze and the rental costs are low (or free). It keeps the atmosphere relaxed, while making sure that everyone has enough to eat.

Brunch Wedding Rehearsals

Not all wedding rehearsals are followed by a dinner, especially if you’re planning an afternoon ceremony. Brunch foods are popular across the board, and there are several ways to serve up a rehearsal brunch for your friends and family. Set up different food stations for waffles, eggs, breakfast meats, and fruits. Let the mimosas and bloody marys flow freely, and follow it up with an afternoon of activity, such as mini-golf, croquet, or another low-key outing for you, your wedding party, and your family to enjoy.

It’s yet another chance to spend quality time together before the wedding day, which will go by in a blur. Having a brunch wedding rehearsal in lieu of a rehearsal dinner ensures that everyone has a good time during the day and gets enough rest before the wedding activities to follow. This is an optimal idea for destination weddings, especially if you want a chance to hang out with everyone pre-wedding, to take in the local scene, and enjoy your location.

A brunch option may also be less expensive than a full dinner, which may leave room for you to invite more of your guests. Although the focus is on the food and atmosphere of what you choose, you’ll also want to make sure that your planning fits into your wedding budget, too.

Favorite Foods Rehearsal Dinners

While fast-food cheeseburgers and milkshakes may be your favorite food, they may not be the wedding meal you have envisioned as your first shared meal as a married couple. That doesn’t mean that you can’t have it as part of your rehearsal dinner. People are getting clever with how they celebrate their practice run by calling in their favorite food trucks for catering or ordering in a bunch of their guilty pleasure foods to be enjoyed the night before the ceremony.

If there’s a special restaurant or distinctive food that means something to you as a couple, but isn’t as good for a larger group, order it for your rehearsal dinner. This may mean platters of sushi from where you had your first date or a fair food extravaganza, if attending has been a tradition for you as a couple. Or, you may pick a food that’s popular for your region.

Think Chicago deep-dish pizza, fish tacos for San Diego, and shrimp and grits for New Orleans, just to name a few choices. Food serves up plenty of fond memories, so share yours by having a smorgasbord of some of your food and drink favorites before the big day.

Wedding Rehearsal Dinners Are a Preview of What’s to Come

The wedding rehearsal dinner is the official kick-off to your wedding celebration. It’s when all the planning and preparation come to a close and the big day is only hours away. The rehearsal dinner is a chance for you to walk through the ceremony, button up any last-minute details, and spend quality time with those closest to you. Take the time to slow down and soak it all in while you are surrounded by your friends, family, and good food.

It’s a chance for you to pass out any wedding party gifts, make special toasts to those who have helped you plan, and enjoy your time before you officially become a married couple. Make sure to think about your wedding rehearsal as you plan, and consider both the places that are special to you as a couple and the food that makes you feel happiest.