Mix in-laws and out-of-town guests with your own pre-wedding nerves, then add alcohol and public speaking—what’s not to love about your rehearsal dinner, the second-biggest party you’ll ever throw? Here’s our step-by-step plan to kicking the weekend off right. Cheers!
1. Work With Your Wedding.“Think of the rehearsal dinner and the reception as parts of one event—the wedding weekend,” says Richard Nix Jr., owner of Butler’s Pantry Catering & Events, in St. Louis. Having a formal wedding? Consider complementing it with a more low-key event. A huge trend is to serve up regional comfort foods, like a lobster boil or pig roast. “We threw a Vices of Virginia dinner before a Halloween wedding in The Plains,” says Maria Cooke of Ritzy Bee Events, in Washington, D.C. “There were local wines, oysters, bourbon milkshakes, and a cigar roller. It was totally sinful, and guests loved it.”
2. Do The Math. The average cost of a rehearsal dinner is $1,330—about one-twentieth of the price of the wedding. While some in-laws foot the bill, more couples are taking the bath themselves. “You can still have a fun night. You just have to be strategic,” says Leslie Lukas, an event planner in Bozeman, Montana. “Mexican and Italian are generally bargains. So is a catered picnic at a park or in a backyard. Just don’t have it at your own house—you don’t want to spend the night before your wedding cleaning.” The most direct way of shrinking your bill, of course, is to cut the guest list. Etiquette gurus will tell you that the only people you must invite are immediate family and the bridal party. But we know plenty of brides who had a simple rehearsal dinner with just their parents—and yes, their attendants still speak to them.
3. Master The Timeline. Danielle Harrity, director of events at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, New York, gave us her take on the ideal pacing for a seated dinner, plus take-home tips to keep things running smoothly.
Your event planner, your house of worship’s coordinator, or the officiant will run the show. Bring readings, your marriage license, and any props (unity candle, flower-girl basket, etc.). Invite only those involved in the ceremony to attend—more will slow things down.
TRAVEL TO THE VENUE
Unless you want to spend half the night driving, pick a location that’s within 30 minutes of the rehearsal site.
Extend it to 90 minutes for more time to mingle. Drink lots of water, less champagne.
GUESTS SIT DOWN
Avoid uncomfortable run-ins (e.g., your mom and your new 25-year-old stepmother) by assigning tables. During a short welcome speech, point out the groups in the room (California cousins, Ole Miss frat pals), and thank whoever’s hosting.
FIRST TWO TOASTS
Whether your crowd is raucous and needs to be kept to a time limit, or shy and needs to be prodded to speak, asking a friend to emcee the toasts is a good idea to keep the evening on track.
APPETIZER AND MAIN COURSE
If you’re up for it, you can see more of your friends and family by switching tables with each course.
Wait until everyone has dessert in front of them before starting a new round of speeches.
Conventional wisdom says to limit toasts to no more than five in a night. Rather have an open mic? Do it after dinner, when people are full and relaxed.
COFFEE AND MINGLING
Make a point of saying hi to everyone before you go—yes, even Cousin Bernice.
WRAP-UP AND TRAVEL TIME TO THE AFTER-PARTY
If you’re keeping the dinner small, an after-party is a great way to raise a glass with the rest of your wedding guests. On a budget? Invite everyone to an informal meet-up at your favorite bar.
You’ve got somewhere to be tomorrow, so be sure that you and the groom leave early.
__4. Get Dressed.__This is your chance to invest in a knockout piece you can actually wear again. “Even if the event is casual, err on the side of elegant,” says Cooke. “Pick a classic, flattering silhouette, and avoid crazy patterns. Otherwise in twenty years you’ll look at photos and think, Yeah, that was definitely 2012.” If you get overwhelmed by options, consider tying your look in with that of your wedding. “You’re the bride, so why not wear white?” she says. “Or pick a color in your reception palette.” And while sexy is fine, says Cooke, you don’t want to cross into Sofía Vergara territory: “His grandmother really doesn’t want to stare at your cleavage all night.”
5. Manage Your Mother-in-Law. Your future in-laws are paying. They want dinner at a French restaurant—but you don’t think it goes with your ranch-weekend theme. Who should give in? “This is one relationship you want to start off positively,” says Lukas. “If your in-laws aren’t listening to what you want, you’re better off stepping aside, rather than hearing about it every Thanksgiving dinner for the rest of your life.” If you absolutely must have after-dinner country karaoke, you can offer to pay for the machine yourselves, she says: “But you should delegate those talks to your groom. Better him than you, right?”
6. Avoid Day-After Regrets. An open bar can be a mighty temptress, but the wedding day is one time you don’t want to wake up with a Hunter Thompson-size hangover. (We’re not even going to get into what alcohol will do to your skin—dewy, glowy bride? Not so much.) If you do have a few drinks, make sure you don’t fall asleep with makeup on, and get to bed early. If you wake up with a light hangover, try these remedies: aspirin, coffee, greasy diner food, even sex! “The chemicals released during orgasm help relieve headaches—it’s amazing,” says Chad Solomon, cofounder of Cuffs & Buttons, a cocktail-catering company in New York City. Or, if you and your groom are abiding by the no-contact-before-the-wedding custom, a morning jog or yoga session will help clear your head.
–Written by Lexi Dwyer for Brides
What are your tips to create a flawless wedding weekend?
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