There are so many fun celebrations and events that come before the big day – engagement parties, showers, bachelor/bachelorette parties, and more – but there’s one that will surely kick off the weekend for your wedding in the Washington DC area with a bang: the rehearsal dinner! Yes, the day (or two!) before you and yours say your “I do’s,” there’s a practice run and a party to celebrate. But where do you begin planning? Who pays for this shindig? Where do you host it? And who hosts it? That’s where we, your fairy blog mothers, come in! We asked some of the top wedding planners in the Washington DC area for their professional insight on how they advise their clients to plan a wedding rehearsal dinner. Here is what they had to say…

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Photo Credit: Deb Lindsey Photography from Virginia Wedding Rehearsal Dinner

Who Pays and Plans

“In the past two years we’ve seen less and less traditional wedding rehearsal dinners and more inclusive ‘welcome gatherings’. We think this may be a way to include family and friends who may not be in the wedding party, but with whom you want to spend time with over the course of your wedding weekend. In a traditional rehearsal dinner, the family who is not paying for the wedding foots the bill for the rehearsal dinner. The invitee list is limited to wedding party, their significant others, families and honored guests (like your officiant) and the dinner is held after your wedding rehearsal (leaving enough time to travel to the destination). The intent at this dinner is for the couple to celebrate with all those who have honored them by joining in their wedding (whether as a member of the wedding party, or contributing to it’s overall success). Usually the couple will provide their guest with gifts to thank them for all their help. Depending on what other events you have on your wedding weekend, you may choose to hold your rehearsal dinner on a Thursday night, a welcome gathering for out of town guests on a Friday, the wedding on Saturday, followed by a family brunch on Sunday. Whatever you decide, keep in mind that the wedding is the main event and all others should be smaller and more intimate in nature.” – Candy, of Candy + Co. Events

“Whoever pays gets to decide the size/budget for the event. This can be hard for couples to let go of, but the rehearsal dinner really is not their night. We often remind clients that their mother-in-law will be in their life long after the rehearsal dinner and to tread lightly!” — Aimee and Cindy at A. Dominick Events

“Traditionally, the family not paying for the wedding hosts the rehearsal dinner.  However, it is perfectly acceptable for others to host.” – Vicky, owner of Event Accomplished

Where and When to Host

“A local restaurant or private conference room at a designated hotel are great choices for the rehearsal dinner. Certainly, the local restaurant is the most stress-free option as all of the food and drinks are handled by the restaurant. A private conference room would require hiring a caterer and decorating the space. Your wedding planner can certainly assist with either option.” — Shawn at TreBella Events

“It’s usually easiest to have it following the ceremony rehearsal since everyone will probably be in town already for the wedding. Try to find a location close to the actual rehearsal so it’s easy for everyone to get there on time… walking distance is even better! It is a great way to thank everyone for being a part of your big day!” – Jennifer of Elegantly Chic Events

Who Gets an Invite

“Always make sure that the wedding party and immediate family members are invited. Make sure that the folks that are in your wedding party are able to invite their significant others as well. Then – if you have enough space – invite your out of town guests. Always try to have your rehearsal dinner near where the ceremony will actually take place.” — Katie at Elegance & Simplicity

“Remember to invite the officiant to your rehearsal dinner. S/he may not accept your dinner invitation, but you should definitely invite him or her.” — Kay at Howerton + Wooten Events

“For those who prefer to keep the rehearsal dinner on the smaller side, our clients opt for a smaller rehearsal dinner with the wedding party and immediate family, but then follow that with a welcome reception, to which all of the wedding guests are invited. It’s a great chance for the couple to socialize with guests and for guests to get to know each other prior to the wedding.” — Sara at Bella Notte

“One interesting trend I’m seeing more of is couples inviting their photographer and/or wedding planner to the rehearsal dinner. I don’t always have time in my schedule to accept these invitations, but I do like having that opportunity to get to know the wedding party and family members before the wedding day, especially when the wedding party is very large. If you invite your photographer, then don’t expect him or her to take photographs at your rehearsal dinner. If you want the rehearsal dinner professionally documented, then add it to the photography contract and pay your photographer accordingly.” — Stephanie at Pretty Entertaining

Be Creative

“We think the rehearsal dinner is a great way to be fun and flirty with a theme or expose your guests to a love of crabs, or BBQ that the couple has. Leaving the formality of a sit down dinner to the wedding day, allows creativity and a unique rehearsal dinner to flow freely.” — Laura of Events in the City

“More and more of our clients are having smaller rehearsal dinners, including immediate family and wedding party, and then a welcome party that includes all wedding guests.” — Elizabeth at Elizabeth Duncan Events

More Tips + Advice

“I’m a firm believer in not letting the rehearsal dinner stress you out. Talk to your in-laws. Do they just want to write a check and let you make the plans? Do they want to make all of the plans? If so, tell them what you were hoping for, then, honestly, let it go. They know what you want, and hopefully they’ll go in that direction, but if they don’t, don’t let it stress you out—you have other things to worry about! Offer your opinion when it’s asked for, have your fiancé stand up and say something if things are going off the rails, but in general, it’s their party—just let them have this one!” — Rebecca at Blue Canary Events

“If you have a lot of out-of-town guests expected at your rehearsal dinner, then it can be a fun time to showcase the DC-area for them. For example, you might choose a dinner cruise on the Potomac, or a meal at your favorite winery. Be as creative as you like.” — Stephanie at Pretty Entertaining

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Looking for more rehearsal dinner advice? Be sure to read:

Are you looking for more local wedding ideas? Be sure to look through our DC area wedding idea galleries and find wedding advice from local DC area pros. If that isn’t enough, check out our collection of local DMV weddings from the real world and the best DC area wedding vendors who make it all happen.

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