by Lisa Edd
Your reception is shaping up to be the glittering, exceedingly chic event that you’ve always wanted, and there’s little doubt your guests will be talking about it for years to come. But all the cool kids know the rehearsal dinner is where the real party starts. Though the pre-wedding bash is a long-established tradition, remember that it really only has one prerequisite: it follows the wedding rehearsal. Instead of making it an extension of the wedding, consider the rehearsal dinner a chance to host an event that’s fresh and unexpected.
Think about it: rehearsal dinners include a high concentration of people you love who have gathered in your honor; there’s no posing for photographers every few moments; and your hair won’t be piled in some extremely shellacked-but-breathtaking up-do you’ve never worn before (and will likely never wear again). So why not relax and, er, let your hair down? With very little effort, you can assemble a pre-wedding event that provides some much-needed calm before the busy storm of your wedding weekend.
Weddings have a way of ballooning into family reunions, so put the focus back on you and your fiancé at the rehearsal dinner by adding a few creative, personal touches. You can start by sharing your own love story with the group. Choose a location or incident that was meaningful to your courtship—like that romantic bistro he took you on your first date—then share the memory with your guests as they dine. Or present a slideshow with your favorite snapshots and music. Another option is to ask all your guests in advance (by invitation or email) to be the evening’s entertainment. Choose an emcee to host the event (like your brother or almost-father-in-law), and have those who are comfortable performing (or who just love you enough to ignore their stage fright) “sign up” with the emcee prior to the dinner. You may be amazed at the talent in the room as friends and family read touching or outrageous poems that they’ve written about the bride and groom, play music and sing, and deliver heartfelt toasts.
Incorporating interactive entertainment into your evening breaks the ice for guests who’ve never met before. How about kicking off the wedding weekend with a more sophisticated version of “game night?” Event coordinator Tosca Clark of Tosca Productions says, “Karaoke or murder mysteries give guests a chance to interact with each other.” Wedding designer Joyce Scardina Becker of Events of Distinction and author of Countdown To Your Perfect Wedding suggests a scavenger hunt where the last stop is the pre-wedding dinner site.
As the star of the wedding weekend, you can re-direct the spotlight for one evening by dedicating the rehearsal dinner to the man in your life. Choose a more casual venue like The Pyramid Alehouse and organize a beer tasting. Or honor your sweetie’s love of outdoor eating by having a no-frills cookout at a place like Catalina Island’s Descanso Beach Club. Pay homage to him by setting the dinner at a locale that reflects his interests—like San Francisco’s Farallon for aquatic enthusiasts—you get the idea.
Another way to make the groom the center of attention is by serving a groom’s cake that reflects his personality. Susan Morgan of Elegant Cheese Cakes can create incredibly realistic-but-edible cigar boxes, tackle boxes, and even a recliner complete with video game system—all out of imported Belgian chocolate! “I had a client who was a diehard Giants fan marrying a diehard Raiders fan,” she remembers, “so we made a helmet cake with both team colors to serve at the pre-wedding dinner.”
The rehearsal dinner can double as a way to bond with your fiancé’s parents and make them feel included. It’s also a great opportunity to focus their energy on something besides your wedding invitation list! As an added bonus, putting someone else in charge will take the pressure off you to make the event great. And even if your tastes aren’t exactly meshing, there are ways to strike a compromise. Event designer Alex Alexander of Alex Events recalls a couple who just couldn’t agree with the groom’s parents on a venue for their pre-wedding dinner. “The parents had dinner at a more formal restaurant with their friends, and the bride and groom dined at a more casual place with the wedding party. Then they all met up after the meal at a local bar and had cocktails to toast the occasion. Everyone was happy!”
If you can’t manage (or afford!) to honor both you and your groom’s family customs on the big day, here’s your chance to show how two worlds really can become one. Serve food from both backgrounds, or play traditional music from both cultures. Get everyone to join in by teaching a time-honored dance or song, invite a belly dancer or hire a Mehndi artist to decorate your guests. Of course, as Tosca Clark points out, parts of the USA can be like a whole other country: if your groom’s family hails from the South, for example, an outdoor barbecue complete with checkered tablecloths and line dancing can produce a grand ol’ time!
In your fantasy wedding reception, your guests enjoy a five-star, seven-course culinary extravaganza paired with pricey wines. But, alas, given your budget reality (not to mention your picky teenage cousins!), you’ve opted for a three-star, three-course repast for the main event instead. Hence the beauty of the rehearsal dinner: with its much smaller guest list, it offers the perfect opportunity to explore a more refined, more exciting menu. So go ahead and reserve the private dining room at that always-packed restaurant where you can never seem to get a table on a Friday night. “Your rehearsal dinner is the one wedding event where you can sit back and really enjoy your guests along with a superb meal,” says Alex Alexander.
Opportunities to release your inner foodie abound: If sushi’s your passion, serve a gorgeous array of Japanese delicacies accompanied by a glittering Hollywood cityscape at Yamashiro. Or reserve the Jazz Room at Montrio Bistro in Monterey, and bask in award-winning, European-inspired California cuisine while seated beneath a fantastical mobile of a bi-plane!
Alex Alexander suggests that providing transportation from the rehearsal location or the hotel where many of your out-of-town guests are staying to the rehearsal dinner site is an effective way to start the party right. Not only does it get people instantly mingling, but, reminds Alex, “You and your guests don’t have to worry about anyone drinking and driving, and no one gets stuck in traffic or lost.” With a little foresight, you can match the transportation to the theme of your event, or honor someone special. Reserve some of your future hubby’s favorite muscle cars to chauffeur your guests around town, or escort them in style to your Art Deco venue in vintage cars from the 1920s and 30s. George Rose of Elegant Journey Limousine can give you some inspiration.