Who to Invite to a Rehearsal Dinner: Planning & Etiquette

Craft the perfect wedding rehearsal dinner guest list. Our guide helps you select the perfect guests for a memorable pre-wedding celebration.

By Laura Hensley

Who to Invite to a Rehearsal Dinner
Photo by Zola

You want your wedding to go off without a hitch, which is why it’s important to get your closest family and friends together before the big day. A wedding rehearsal dinner is a chance for the couple and loved ones to celebrate before the wedding— pre-wedding party, if you will.

But who should you invite to a rehearsal dinner? And what do rehearsal dinners entail? Don’t worry, we’re covering it all here at Zola.

This article includes:

Do I Really Need a Rehearsal Dinner?

Rehearsal dinners are not a must, but they are tradition. The style and formality of them vary depending on the couple, so there’s no need to go all-out if that’s not your style. Not only do rehearsal dinners give the families of the couple an opportunity to spend quality time together, but they’re also a really nice way to celebrate the upcoming nuptials. Plus, rehearsal dinners are another excuse to eat good food—who doesn’t love that?!

Part 1: Wedding Rehearsal Dinner: Everything You Need to Know

Before you start planning your amazing rehearsal dinner, you need to know the etiquette around the pre-wedding activity. There are lots of things to consider, and we aim to make wedding planning as easy as possible, so let’s dig in.

What is a Wedding Rehearsal Dinner?

If you’ve ever been part of a wedding party or attended a close family member’s wedding, chances are you’ve also gone to a rehearsal dinner. It’s considered the last of the “pre-wedding” activities and an opportunity for the couple and their close loved ones to go over wedding details and have some fun.

As the name suggests, a rehearsal dinner is an evening meal. Typically guests enjoy nice food, a few drinks, and people give toasts. Gifts are often part of the celebrations, too. Think of rehearsal dinners as a more intimate version of a wedding reception. Rehearsal dinners can be as formal or casual as you like—just like a wedding. Some couples are also big fans of rehearsal dinner alternatives. (We’ll get to that later.)

When Do You Have Rehearsal Dinners?

Like all things weddings, there are traditions—but you don’t need to stick to them. Traditionally, the groom’s parents hold the rehearsal dinner the night before the wedding. For Saturday weddings, this means the rehearsal dinner is typically on a Friday. (If you’re having a weekday wedding, you can always throw the rehearsal dinner the weekend prior.)

However, nowadays, some people find it too stressful to have an event before their wedding with all the last-minute to-dos. As a result, some couples throw rehearsal dinners a few nights before the wedding.

Who Pays for Rehearsal Dinners?

The groom’s parents traditionally host the rehearsal dinner and foot the bill. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for couples to pay for the dinner themselves, or have both sides of the family split costs. (Just be sure you take into account the cost of the rehearsal dinner in your wedding budget if you’re paying for it.)

Who Plans Rehearsal Dinners?

Again, it’s up to each individual couple, but if we’re talking tradition, the groom’s family. Now, many couples like to have a say in where and when the dinner happens. For couples who have a wedding planner or wedding coordinator, the planner can take the details into their own hands and execute your vision, too. Where you end up hosting the rehearsal dinner will largely dictate the planning process.

Do You Send Out Invites for Rehearsal Dinners?

Some couples choose to send out formal rehearsal dinner invites in the mail, whereas others send out details via email, wedding website, or a phone call. Whatever method you choose, it’s a good idea to send out the wedding rehearsal dinner invitation at least four to six weeks before the wedding festivities. If travel is a consideration for guests, it never hurts to tell them the details earlier, so they can book a hotel in time for the pre-wedding celebration fun.

Do Rehearsal Dinner Guests Get a Plus-One?

If a family member or friend in the wedding party is traveling out of town with a guest for your wedding, it’s good form to let them bring their plus-one to the rehearsal dinner. For guests that live in town or don’t have a significant other, there’s no pressure to extend an offer for a plus-one.

It’s important to note that if you’re not allowing plus-ones to the wedding—period—then there’s no need to offer up plus-ones for the dinner either.

What Happens at a Rehearsal Dinner?

Aside from eating good food and enjoying a drink, rehearsal dinners typically include speeches. It’s custom for the host of the event to give a welcome speech to guests, and it’s also common for the couple to say thanks to everyone for coming and sharing a few words. The parents of the couple may be inclined to give a toast too, as may the maid of honor or best man.

It’s also nice for the couple to give out little thank-you gifts to bridal party members at the rehearsal dinner. While not mandatory, it’s an opportunity to thank everyone for helping make your day so special.

What Happens if Guests Drink Too Much at the Rehearsal Dinner?

Before the big day, you want to make sure guests don’t overdo it the night before your wedding. Make sure water is widely available and offer non-alcoholic beverages, too. You can also put a limit on how much wine is on the table or choose not to host an open bar. Also, be sure guests don’t stay out too late, so they’re fresh for your wedding day.

Part 2: Who to Invite to a Rehearsal Dinner

A good place to start is to look at who will be at your actual ceremony rehearsal. Oftentimes, this is the group of people that many will pick to have their rehearsal dinner with.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t veer away from tradition and plan your dinner the way you want it and invite who you want. The best way to approach planning a rehearsal dinner is to ask yourself: What do you want the dinner to be? Small and intimate or an excuse to throw another lavish bash ahead of your wedding?

Of course, cost may limit who you invite, but we’ll look at some people you should consider to get you started.

Immediate Family

Many rehearsal dinners involve your immediate family from both sides. This group usually forms the core of who’s invited to the dinner, and sticking to some immediate family and a few extras can make for an intimate and cozy evening.

The Wedding Party

If you’re incorporating a wedding party into your big day, definitely consider bringing them to the rehearsal dinner. And it’s good form to allow them to bring their plus-ones, as well. Your wedding party—especially maid of honor and best man—will likely play a role in helping organize the rehearsal dinner, and they may even give a speech.

The Officiant

This is a nice (and customary) gesture. Depending on your relationship with the officiant (for instance, a religious leader), they may not attend, but will surely appreciate the invitation. If they do come, it can be nice for them to get a sense of the couple’s family and closest friends before they help you say “I do.”

Other Wedding Party Members

Are you planning to have a flower girl? A ring bearer? Send them a rehearsal dinner invite (along with their parents), so that you can have your full party in attendance. Of course, this will depend on the rehearsal dinner venue. If you’re having an event at a bar or casino, kids should not be included.

Everyone Else

The above mentioned attendees are usually the must-haves when you’re considering a rehearsal dinner. However, these days, there’s a lot more variety in the way people choose to have their rehearsals. You might want to throw a lavish bash and invite everyone who you’re planning to have at the wedding. You could also combine the best of both worlds and have an intimate dinner, but invite all your guests to post-dinner drinks at a nearby bar.

However you organize your rehearsal dinner, know that there is no one way to do it. Choose whatever feels right for you, since you know your family and friends best.

Part 3: Rehearsal Dinner Location Ideas

There is no shortage of rehearsal dinner location options. You can stick with a simple dinner and then call it a night, or plan to eat some food and have some fun afterward.

The most important thing when choosing your location, however, is finding a venue that’s easy for guests to get to—ideally close to your wedding venue, especially for out-of-town guests.

Be sure to think about accessibility, too. Even if your rehearsal dinner is a few miles from your wedding venue, is there public transit that can go there for guests who might not have a car? Does the facility have full accessibility options for anyone that might need it?

With that in mind, we’ve compiled some dinner location ideas to help you plan.

Some Traditional Options:

Hotel Restaurant or Bar

This one is especially great if you have out-of-town guests. It can be really easy to coordinate discounted room rates and at the same time book a hotel restaurant or bar for your rehearsal dinner. This is also a great option if you want to plan a smaller, more intimate dinner first, then have a larger bash at a bar.

Your Favorite Restaurant

What better way to spend a night with your friends and family than at the place that makes your favorite food. If you’re there often and the owner or waitstaff knows you, they might even go that extra mile to help make your special night that much better.

Family Member’s House

There’s no need to overcomplicate a rehearsal dinner. Sometimes the best option is a close family member’s house, where you can have food catered or perhaps ask family to make the meal. Nothing says intimacy like having dinner at the familiar home of someone you love.

Wedding Venue

Having the rehearsal dinner at the venue can simplify planning and give everyone a sneak peek into your big day. What’s more, guests will get a taste of the delicious food you’ll be serving at your wedding.

Some Options off the Beaten Path:

A Casino

Host a feast and then hit the slots. If there’s a casino in your city or in close proximity to your wedding venue, this can be a memorable way to eat some great food and have a lot of fun. A casino is an even better choice if it goes with your wedding theme, or if you’re getting hitched in Las Vegas.

Dinner at the Park

Have a favorite or scenic park nearby? Why not scope out a picnic table and invite your guests to dinner outdoors. This is also a very budget-friendly option and requires less formality. You can have a nice little set-up with drinks and dessert, too.

Dinner on the Beach

If you have access to a beach, this is another great, low-cost way to have your rehearsal dinner. Another plus to doing it at the beach: It’s easy to play around with fun themes (like nautical, for example) for your rehearsal. Beach dinners also evoke an elegant, but laid-back vibe.

The Bowling Alley

Sure, you might not exactly find the fanciest food at your local bowling alley, but eating with your family and friends and then knocking down some pins can make for a memorable night. What’s more, bowling is fun for the entire family, and doing an activity together can help break the ice and calm pre-wedding awkwardness between guests.

Consider Location

There’s one last thing to note when picking the location of your dinner. If you’re hosting a destination wedding, you’ll likely want to stay on the property, since these venues tend to offer packages that include rehearsal dinners. Even for couples who are getting married at vineyards or at a countryside villa, there's a good chance the venue does pre-wedding events, too. So before you go planning an off-site rehearsal, be sure to check in with your venue and find out if there are options—you might get a great rate by just staying put.

Part 4: Rehearsal Dinner Alternatives

Rehearsal dinners aren’t for everyone, and sometimes they just don’t work with your pre-wedding schedule, either. It can be particularly challenging to have a rehearsal dinner if you’re getting married during a weekday or are having an early morning wedding. Here are some rehearsal dinner alternatives for couples who like to make their own rules.

Rehearsal Brunch

Brunch is one of the best meals out there, so it only makes sense to feed guests with some delicious breakfast foods. In fact, brunches are one of the rehearsal dinner ideas we love. This option is great for couples who want to have a pre-wedding activity, while also making sure that everyone gets enough rest the night before the wedding. If you’re planning an activity after brunch, you can set up a group activity for guests like mini-golf or croquet to get folks in the party mood.

Post-Wedding Dinner

For couples who eloped or had a super intimate wedding, a dinner after the big day may be the best option. You can even have a post-wedding reception after your honeymoon if you want to keep the good times rolling.

Rehearsal Dinner Potluck

If you’re looking to save and have more of a laid-back event, a potluck-style dinner may be the best bet for your rehearsal dinner. Family members can bring their favorite dish and everyone can get a nibble of tasty bites. A potluck can be held at a family member’s home or at the home of someone in the wedding party—or even the couple’s place.

Backyard Takeout

Takeout is one of the easiest options for feeding many guests. Order from your favorite restaurant and have a meal at home—it doesn’t have to be fancy. To make the rehearsal more informal and laid-back, consider a backyard event. There’s plenty of ways to spruce up a yard with fairy lights and long, decorative tables if you want to evoke a special feel.

Rehearsal Breakfast

Just like brunch, breakfast is another fantastic option for early risers or people who want to wake up on the wedding day feeling refreshed. If guests are all staying at the same hotel or resort, plan a get-together in the morning on the eve of the wedding.

Rehearsal Cocktail Party

Skip the sit-down meal, and opt for a cocktail event instead. Offer guests apps and drinks, but put a time cap on the party. Think 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., so guests can grab dinner afterward or go back home and get ready for the next day. Rehearsal cocktail parties still have a celebratory vibe—without the full commitment of a sit-down meal.

Zola: The Destination for All Your Wedding Needs

When it comes to your rehearsal dinner, remember: It’s common to invite your immediate family, members of your wedding party, and close friends. Anyone else? Up to you! The formality and location of a rehearsal dinner depends on your personal preference, too.

Because rehearsal dinners are only one of many pre-wedding activities, we have the down-low on all the other events, too. No matter what stage of the wedding planning process you’re in or how much support you need, we are here every step of the way. Zola is the place for all your wedding needs.

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