Wedding Do or Don’t: Rehearsal Dinner Location

With so much that goes into planning a wedding, it’s easy for the rehearsal dinner to slip through the cracks. It’s difficult enough to pull it together towards the end of the planning process, let alone deal with all of the opinions and ideas from (usually well-intentioned) family members.

We’re continuing our Wedding Do or Don’t series (Here’s Part 1 and Part 2) with this tricky topic: Where should you host your rehearsal dinner? Kelly McLeskey-Dolata of A Savvy Event and Sonia Hopkins of XOXO Bride provided their expert advice on how to choose the right rehearsal dinner location and style that will make everyone (most importantly, you!) happy.

all_white_rehearsal_dinner_2Photos from A Beautiful Nantucket Rehearsal Dinner by Katie Kaizer Photography

Choosing a rehearsal dinner location can be a surprisingly controversial topic. Why do you think that is?

Sonia: While traditionally the rehearsal dinner is considered the “Groom’s Dinner” and generally hosted by the groom or the groom’s family, this concept has evolved over the years. More and more, the rehearsal dinner and/or welcome reception is hosted by the bride and groom, the bride’s parents or a mix of all parties. That said, you now have multiple opinions on what type of dinner, where to host and who to invite — let alone defining a budget for this event. All of this can create controversy. It’s human nature to want to have an opinion on the venue, food and beverage and design if your funds are paying for it.


Kelly:  Today, many couples choose a rehearsal dinner destination outside of where they grew up — a location that requires travel for over 50% of the people invited, so they feel they should invite them to the rehearsal dinner. Instead of calling it a rehearsal dinner, more people are calling it a Welcome Dinner or Reception. It’s a nice way to invite all your guests to kick off the weekend of festivities.

Because this event has grown beyond the traditional immediate family and friends, it is more controversial because it is more expensive. Often, it’s almost like having two weddings. One of the ways you could still have a “rehearsal event” is to have a rehearsal in the morning and then invite the immediate people that are involved in the rehearsal to a nice lunch. That evening you could invite people to a “Welcome Wine and Cheese Reception” early in the evening, before dinner, or after dinner for a Dessert and Cocktail Reception.


Who traditionally pays for the rehearsal dinner? Are there exceptions?

Sonia: (see above)

Kelly: Typically it has always been the groom’s family that pays for the rehearsal dinner. I would say this is true 75% of the time, but now, because the scope of weddings has changed and they are much grander than years past, I have seen it all ways. I really feel you need to have this conversation early in your planning process so you know upfront who is paying for what and what level of involvement people are having financially in your wedding day.


How do you choose who is invited to the rehearsal dinner? Does everyone have to be in the wedding?

Sonia: We definitely see the separation between rehearsal dinner and welcome reception concepts more now. While we only require the immediate family and wedding party to attend the actual wedding rehearsal, most couples want an opportunity to greet their guests before the weekend’s activities begin. A welcome reception is a perfect platform for this to occur. While the rehearsal dinner generally hosts 30 to 40 guests, the welcome reception can be opened up to the entire guest list. (We encourage this especially when you have a destination wedding and more than 75% of the guests are traveling to your event.) We also take into consideration the budget for these events. We may opt to host a Welcome Cocktail Hour by providing a beer and wine bar and a few tray passed hors d’ oeuvres.

Kelly: It really depends on the wedding and all the factors involved. It’s a very nice gesture if you are having a destination wedding to invite all the guests to an event outside of the wedding and welcome them to your wedding weekend. It can be as simple or as elaborate as you want, but it’s nice to have things for your guest to do after they’ve traveled to be there for your special occasion.

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