Along with determining your site, engaged couples should determine the guest list. There are two options: either invite everyone should you have alot of out of town guests or just the bridal party and immediate family on both sides. Aunts, uncles and cousins are not automatically included. If you opt for a smaller dinner, you can always host an after dinner party with dessert and cocktails for those not invited to the rehearsal dinner itself.
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If your wedding invitations are mailed 8 weeks out, the rehearsal dinner invitations should follow approximately 2-3 weeks after the wedding invitations hit the mail. Always include an RSVP date so that your guest count is exact.
Typically the dinner begins approximately 30 minutes to an hour after the rehearsal at the church has concluded and lasts for approximately 2.5 to 3 hours. It’s important that it concludes early enough for the bridal party and families to get a good night’s sleep since the next day is a busy one!
Even though this is a relaxed atmosphere, it is nice to have some sort of agenda so that a welcome from the host/hostess can be given, as well as toasts by those who will not be toasting on the wedding day (those other than the bestman and maid/matron of honor). If the groom's family is hosting the dinner, the father of the groom can begin with a welcome and toast to the couple. Then the bride's father may toast the couple followed by the attendants and guests.
This is also a good time when the groom can give his gifts to his groomsman (the bride gives her gifts to bridesmaids at the bridal luncheon held earlier that day).
Many rehearsal dinners have guests wear fun nametags with a description of their relationship to the bride and groom, i.e., “John Smith, Groom’s College Roomate”. Using placecards so that you seat guests with those that they don’t know to encourage meeting one another is also a good idea. Asking the bridal party to support the “mixing and mingling” of one another could be helpful too.
A very popular trend lately is to serve the grooms cake as dessert at this event vs. the wedding day. After all, it is the grooms’ family hosting the event and this cake tends to be overshadowed the next day by the much larger wedding cake. Also, entertainment is becoming more and more popular such as karaoke, celebrity look-alikes, caricature artists, etc. It's all about encouraging guests to get to know one another before the big day.
Many venues can dictate the theme. You might consider a southern plantation or historical home for a southern theme, Hard Rock Café for a groom who loves rock and roll, an outdoor lodge or park for the couple who loves the great outdoors, or a fun BBQ or clambake in the host’s back yard. These are all ideas which can provide a fun and entertaining event.
Rather than hosting an open bar, just offer beer and wine, or a specialty drink which carries your theme with non-alcoholic beverages. You can jazz up your nonalcoholic beverages by being creative with sparkling waters and juices. If you are limited with how many guests can be invited, you can let friends know that you and your bride will be at a local hotspot after the dinner if they would like to join them.
Steel drum bands are fun with a beach/Caribbean/Luau theme, bluegrass with BBQ’s, a latin salsa band if this is the grooms family’s heritage. You could hire a caricature artist so that guests receive a fun, humourous keepsake or a docent to give tours if you are in a historical venue or museum.