Traditional rehearsal dinner etiquette dictates that the groom's parents foot the bill because it's the way for the groom's mother to show that she knows how to entertain, too. But as more and more couples choose to pay for their own wedding or share the expenses between both families, the bottom line is you get to decide who shoulders the awesome pre-wedding party responsibility. Remember, though, that whoever pays gets the last word on the details!
Who to invite?
Bridesmaids, groomsmen, ushers, flower girls and ring bearers (with their adult supervision, of course!), your officiant and other close family and friends form the traditional group, but cultural or religious factors may have an influence. In Jewish tradition, for example, it's customary for anyone invited to the wedding to be invited to the rehearsal dinner. The feeling is that they've flown out, they've given a gift, and they need to eat. End of story.
That said, you do have the right to invite who you want—or even to hold two kinds of events. While some etiquette purists say two events makes some guests feel excluded and awkward, more and more couples are now opting to have their dinner at a swanky restaurant with the usual close-knit crew, then meet up with more friends and out-of-towners later at the restaurant's bar for the pre-wedding toasts. If your budget precludes including every single wedding guest at the posh rehearsal dinner, send out a different invitation to those you can't host. It's all in how you word the invite: Simply ask this group of guests to arrive at a later time for the rehearsal "party." They'll probably never guess that the actual dinner has already happened, because they'll be too busy noshing on delicious tray-passed appetizers, cocktails and desserts!
When should I start planning my rehearsal dinner?
As soon as you can make the reservation, do it, but the general consensus is at least three to six months in advance of the date. By three months out, couples have a good idea how many guests will be attending and they can plan a menu that doesn't conflict with their wedding day. Consider scheduling your rehearsal dinner on a Thursday night if you're having a Saturday wedding. There's an excellent chance you'll reduce the cost of your rehearsal dinner, plus everyone can party as much as they want, sleep it off on Friday, and wake up for a wonderful wedding on Saturday.
What's a good rehearsal dinner venue?
There are so many great rehearsal dinner venues it's hard to pick one! Coordinators can help steer you in the right direction, but a favorite restaurant is always a good choice. Select a place that's close to your rehearsal site so that it's convenient for your guests, and make sure you've reserved a private room if you're going to break out the naked baby picture slides or karaoke machine. See our Search Tips for pointers on how to effectively search for rehearsal dinner restaurants and other venues on HereComesTheGuide.com.
I'm having cake at my reception. Should I have cake at the rehearsal dinner, too?
Not necessarily. The rehearsal dinner gives you a chance to sample other delightful alternatives. Love chocolate? Joyce Scardina Becker suggests an "All Things Chocolate" Dessert Station, with anything from spiced hot chocolate shots and warm chocolate macaroons to salt caramel ice cream pops dipped in milk chocolate. One coordinator even arranged to have a snow cone and cotton candy machine at a playful couple's pre-wedding event. Also, try to make the dessert complement the meal. For example, if you're serving a steak dinner, a lemon confection makes a light finishing touch. Chocolate works better after chicken or fish, and if the meal is very complicated go for a simple dessert of champagne sabayon, fresh berries and pound cake.
When do the rehearsal dinner invitations go out?
It's best to send them four weeks before the event and, of course, after the wedding invitation. You should never put the rehearsal dinner invite in with the wedding invite. Remember: Even though rehearsal dinners are a part of the wedding festivities, they really are two separate events. Elegant, formal invitations are perfect for the wedding, but feel free to express your creativity with color and thematic elements for the rehearsal dinner invites.