While nothing can overshadow the ceremony and reception of a long-awaited wedding weekend, the rehearsal party often comes close. Traditionally the groom’s responsibility, the rehearsal dinner is a great reason for him to throw a big party. But gone are the days of the formal seated rehearsal dinner. Today’s brides and grooms aim for more casual affairs, where close family and friends can unite for fun, fellowship and a little entertainment before the big day.
“Grooms have become much more involved in planning their rehearsal dinner parties,” says Cricket Newman, owner of Cricket Newman Designs. “A rehearsal party is more casual if it suits the personality of the groom. It can be as unique as the groom himself, and that is what makes it special.”
Connie Hancock, owner of Wedding 101, agrees. “The rehearsal dinner is often the wedding’s alter ego – allowing the bride and groom who may be having a more formal or traditional wedding the chance to show their personalities.”
Before planning a rehearsal dinner, Cricket is sure to determine the hobbies, vocation and loves of the groom and then recommends a venue based on all of these characteristics. “We have done everything from candelabras made of antlers from the groom’s hunts to lava lamps for a groom who prefers all things retro.”
Jimmilib Harrison, owner of Garden Tapestry Events, says the most memorable rehearsal dinners focus on the groom in some special way – his personality, job or favorite hobby. “We decorated for one rehearsal where the groom was an avid sailor and owned several sailboats. The party had a nautical theme using sailing flags and model sailboats, and the colors in the tablecloths and flowers were reds, yellows and blues,” says Jimmilib. “Another interesting rehearsal was for a groom who is a photographer and shoots mostly black and white photographs. The colors, of course, for this party were all black and white with each table having a different photograph of the couple, also done in black and white.”
Melanie Murphy, owner of By Invitation Only, will never forget one client’s Halloween costume rehearsal party. “That party was way too much fun for dinner. You almost didn’t recognize family members,” she says. Another party with a 1920s flapper theme was also a treat for guests. “The party was held at the Top of Carolina, which has an Art Deco feel and is unique, considering the restaurant turns during dinner,” she adds.
These distinctive events are testament to the casual, comfortable approach that has become a standard for many of today’s rehearsal parties. For couples considering more relaxed events, Connie suggests hiring a wing or barbecue truck to serve guests in an outdoor environment. Or perhaps hold an oyster roast. It’s important for couples to incorporate things they love into the parties, which gives guests a real insight into their personalities.
And just because an event is relaxed doesn’t mean it can’t be fabulous. Cricket suggests personalizing the event while making sure the guests are comfortable and well taken care of – this includes great service, transportation if needed and good food. Often, the rehearsal dinner is the first opportunity for some friends and family members to meet the bride or groom. A casual environment breeds great discussion and helps to break the ice. To that end, keeping the rehearsal party small can help the event feel more intimate.
“Don’t feel your dinner must include everyone,” advises Melanie. Regardless of the size of the rehearsal party, be sure to choose a venue that is appropriate for the number of people invited. “Rehearsal dinners can be very active,” adds Melanie. “Make sure you have the space to move and feel comfortable without disturbing others.”
Jimmilib says to make sure the event reflects the personality of the bride and groom, not the hosts. “Do they like formal or informal events? Do they dislike having to sit at a table all night? Will they be embarrassed if you present a slide show of them as children? Make sure you’re aware of their likes and dislikes,” she says.
As many have witnessed and some have tried to forget, a most memorable part of the rehearsal dinner is the toasting. Toasts are often sweet and loving, occasionally funny and quirky and, unfortunately, sometimes awkward and inappropriate. Be wary of the groomsman who, after one too many drinks, attempts to regale the crowd with stories that neither the bride nor groom want to relive the night before the wedding. “It’s important to have someone on hand to manage toasts before they get too long or embarrassing,” says Cricket. “Put together a timeline to keep the evening on track.”
Managing the often-featured slideshow is also important if you want to keep guests entertained. “Rehearsal dinner slide shows should be short and sweet,” says Cricket. “As much as parents enjoy looking at a million baby pictures, your guests will enjoy six or seven max from each stage of the couples’ lives.”
Rehearsal dinners, like weddings, can get expensive. For the couple on a budget and looking for ways to save, Cricket recommends limiting the guest list to just the wedding party and immediate family. She advises creating a budget based on priorities and then sticking to it. Adds Melanie, “Give yourself plenty of time to save, prepare and plan.”
This advice can be applied to the bridesmaids’ luncheon as well. The bridesmaids’ luncheon is a special tradition and gives the bride an opportunity to thank her friends and family for their involvement in the wedding – not to mention the expenses of being a bridesmaid. The luncheon should be intimate and memorable.
Other options to consider besides a luncheon could be a day at the spa or a fabulous dinner at a chic restaurant. But whatever the venue, having an opportunity to spend quality time with close friends before the big day is what’s most important.
For Cricket, it’s important that each pre-wedding event suits the bride and/or groom. “Our goal is that each event be unique to the honorees,” she says.
As for the rehearsal party, says Connie, “Make sure it ends early… you want everyone well rested and ready for the wedding day!”