The Rehearsal Dinner
First of all, keep the rehearsal dinner in perspective: It's not a reception! Since you'll be spending a lot of time and money on the reception, you want that occasion to stand out among all the wedding festivities. It's best to pace yourself as far as the rehearsal dinner is concerned, since the main celebration is still to come.
Hosting Your Own Rehearsal Dinner
More couples are choosing to have their rehearsal dinners at the home of their parents or a close relative. It can be a challenge to get everyone together for the rehearsal, and you avoid feeling pressured to be on time for your restaurant reservation.
There's no rule that says the rehearsal dinner has to be at dinnertime. If you're having the rehearsal earlier in the day, make it a lunch or afternoon event.
Sometimes, if the church or synagogue or other ceremony site isn't available earlier, the rehearsal will be done just before the wedding, so you could hold the rehearsal “dinner” whenever you choose, a day or two before.
If you choose to hold the rehearsal dinner more than a day before the wedding, be aware that out-of-town guests may not be there in time.
Who goes to a rehearsal dinner?
Everyone who is invited to the rehearsal, of course. That means those in the wedding party and their significant others, the parents of the bride and groom, the minister and spouse, and close friends and relatives, especially out-of-town ones.
The hosts will also be involved in the rehearsal, so you don't want them stressing over how they're going to get the food ready. They shouldn't be rushing off to put things on the table when they need to hear what to do on the wedding day — or worse yet, keeping everyone waiting when stomachs are rumbling!
Decide what type of mood you want to set. Your choice should be based on your tastes, budget, and the expected crowd. You can even host a gathering for dessert and coffee instead of a meal if you prefer.
Want something casual and inexpensive? Set out a buffet of sliced meats and cheeses from the deli with an assortment of breads and rolls, cold salads, lots of pickles and olives, and condiments. Add several types of fancy ice cream and sherbet for a refreshing finish to the meal.
A buffet is easier on the hosts than a more formal sit-down dinner, but caterers and other food professionals will tell you that people will eat more food when they serve themselves from a buffet. Be sure to plan for this if you want to have a buffet!
Want a more elegant occasion? Whip up several fancy entrées or casserole dishes, such as a chicken-asparagus gratin or beef burgundy. Prepare and freeze these in advance, then thaw them in the refrigerator the day of the rehearsal.
When you arrive home, serve your guests some simple appetizers or a tossed salad with several types of dressing while the casseroles heat. If there is a French or Italian bakery in your area, fancy bakery cookies make a tasty but budget-conscious dessert.
Catering and Restaurant Options
Having the rehearsal meal at a restaurant or having it catered are two easy alternatives if your budget permits. It's best to work out a set menu if you're having a meal in a restaurant, because it'll save on the price and lessen aggravation. No one wants to get mad at Uncle Bert because he orders lobster when everyone else is being careful of your budget.
Ask the restaurant whether it has sample set menus that have worked for other events and discuss how you want alcohol offered. If you haven't eaten at the restaurant before, be sure to stop by and sample the food in advance of choosing the venue.
The caterer you hired for your wedding-reception meal may also provide you with your rehearsal meal. The advantages are obvious: You've already checked out this person or company and feel good about their service and food, and you may be able to work out a better price if they see they can get more business from you. Just make sure that the meal served for the rehearsal is sufficiently different from the reception meal.
If you're part of a family that loves to cook, a potluck dinner can be a wonderful idea for your rehearsal dinner. Take this opportunity to connect with your culinary heritage.
One family found a free way to entertain guests at their rehearsal dinner. They set up equipment to play old home movies of the bride and groom as kids, and the two families bonded while watching their “babies” grow up.
In the weeks before the party, have one person keep a list of who's bringing what so you don't end up with too many desserts or entrées.
Ask guests to write out the recipe for their dish and make enough photocopies for sharing. The happy couple can start their married life with a notebook of treasured family recipes, and other guests can have copies of recipes they admire.
Music Makes It Special
It's good to play appropriate music in the background of your pre-wedding parties, but there is no need to go to any extra expense. Ask friends and family to loan you CDs, and if there are any performers or “hams” in your group, let them entertain you.