Thursday, Feb. 22, 2007

Bridal rehearsal dinner traditions continue to evolve

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Just as a wedding rehearsal is practice for the ceremony that is soon to come, a rehearsal dinner can be viewed as a preview of what a couple’s future entertaining may look like.

Tradition holds that the groom’s parents plan and pay for the rehearsal dinner. However, like many traditions, such as the one where the bride’s parents foot the bill for the wedding, this one has evolved over the years. The bride and groom may decide to host their own rehearsal dinner or both sets of parents may agree to take on the rehearsal dinner together.

‘‘The biggest thing is not to put too much pressure on yourself,” says Christal Woodson of Soiree Event Management. ‘‘The wedding is the main event.”

A peek at the question and answer section for rehearsal dinners on the popular wedding planning Web site theknot.com shows that engaged couples are just as anxious about the dinner as they are about the actual wedding.

The answers given on the Web site match Woodson’s notion that the rehearsal dinner should not be a source of strain. Woodson adds that some people think that if their wedding is formal, then they can’t have an informal rehearsal dinner and this is simply not true.

She says there are not hard and fast rules and that what you really want is a comfortable atmosphere, so people can relax and get to know each other.

Some wedding books that outline the tradition of the groom’s parents taking care of the rehearsal dinner also state that this is a dinner given in honor of the bride and groom. Putting the focus on the bride and groom works as long as they are not giving the rehearsal dinner themselves, but the focus shifts when the engaged couple plans the dinner.

Jamila Ormond of Passion for Parties, LLC says that first and foremost the rehearsal dinner is a time for the bride and groom to thank those who contributed to their special day. She recommends setting aside fifteen minutes to thank parents and the bridal party. Advisers from theknot.com also say that the rehearsal dinner is a good time for the couple to give gifts for the bridal party.

It is typical to have the rehearsal dinner the night before the wedding, following the wedding rehearsal.

Ormond says, ‘‘If it is possible, I recommend [having the rehearsal dinner] two days before the wedding.” She says this gives the bridal party a little breathing room and you don’t have to worry about staying up late the night before the wedding.

‘‘I definitely suggest that you hold the dinner somewhere that is no more than 20 minutes from the rehearsal site,” Ormond said.

If your home or that of a close friend of family member isn’t too far away, you can hold it there and have the event catered. Both Woodson and Ormond advise keeping it simple.

‘‘You could serve an entrée and fries. If there are kids in the bridal party, that will go over well,” Ormond said.

If your wedding takes place when the weather is warm, a cookout is another option.

Like the actual wedding, the rehearsal dinner should be a reflection of you. Ormond says you can serve food that reflects your heritage. Woodson offers an idea for one non-traditional settings: a boat cruise.

For her own rehearsal dinner, Woodson and her husband had a cocktail reception at a venue with a lounge area. There were food stations with finger food and space for attendees to walk around. They chose this setting instead of a sit-down dinner because this way her friends and family were really able to walk around, interact and mingle.

You can make this occasion as formal or as informal as you want. You can limit invites to only the bridal party or you can include family and friends who are not in the wedding, so they have a chance to bond with your future extended family.

If you do choose a sit-down restaurant, selecting one with the option of eating family style is a great way to help break the ice and keep an eye on the cost, Ormond said.

When planning the rehearsal dinner, keep in mind the size of the group, your personal style, and the purpose for the gathering. While there is no doubt that planning will ensure that your rehearsal dinner is a success, both Woodson and Ormond advocate that you don’t forget to have fun.