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Rehearsal Dinners


LaurieB
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I'm looking for everyone's help/suggestions. My son is getting married a year from now, and it is falling to me to plan the rehearsal dinner. So I've begun looking for spots to host it, and to put together a budget.

For years, I worked as an event planner for a couple of high-end catering firms, and have seen rehearsal dinners run the gamut from small, exclusive, intimate dinners to blow-outs calculated to out-do the wedding. My oldest son's suggestion that we have it at the hotel at which most of the guests would be staying "so everybody can come and not worry about how much they drink, and then have to drive" is out of the question, for a number of reasons. One, that's not really the idea of the "Rehearsal Dinner" and, two, we are not looking to put on a mini-reception prior to the actual one the next day.

If anyone out there can give me some advice, or descriptions of what worked for your kids/self/family -- I'd be most appreciative.

Thanks,

Laurie

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Geez, whenever I've been at a rehersal dindin, it's been at a restaurant. Basically whatever restaurent the groom's family wants to afford. When we got married we had our rehearsal dinner at a nice but not at all pricey place--very low key but it was great. Another family member used a chinese place. When my daughter got married we had the best pizza and Italian food on the planet at the groom's family's favorite place--not fancy at all--but great food and a very good time.

Umm, I just delivered a birthday cake for a bride's dad to an interesting rehearsal dindin. The groom's dad actually owns a restaurant but the rehearsal dinner was in a nice more upscale restaurent in town, not his own place though, interesting huh? And the next day his dad catered the wedding to perfection with some truly inspired cuisine.

But anyway, you can have it anywhere you want it to be and where you can be comfortable with all the arrangements. As nice a place as you can. I think renting somewhere & having it catered is too much fuss since weddings always are wrapped up in a bunch of fuss anyway. Restaraunts are nice because all you have to do is call in advance & reserve the room for that date and walk in. If you get it catered, you gotta sweat the details.

Above all, have fun! I've done weddings forever and one thing I was real proud of my kid for is that at a certain predetermined point she just started having fun, let all the plans go whichever way they were going and let all the chips fall wherever they may and they partied and danced and frolicked and played and had a huge and wonderful time.

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Let's see. Ours was at the same little Italian place that we went to for a lot of birthdays, my college graduation party, etc. My husband's father and step-mother had it at her condo, with takeout from Dixie Bones (bbq). Friends all had it at restaurants near the reception place, one at the restaurant attached to the catering hall. So, mostly restaurants.

Joanna G. Hurley

"Civilization means food and literature all round." -Aldous Huxley

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I've been to two really fun rehearsal dinners. One was at a friend of the bride's house, and catered by an excellent Mexican restaurant. The other was a backyard party, and I supplied a smoked brisket. Both of these allowed the guests to really mingle with each other, and because they were casual, they really made everyone go into the wedding day far more relaxed.

Ours was at a nice restaurant, and we did not have a set menu, but everyone ordered off of the regular menu.

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
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I've been to a few very fun rehearsals, and they were all at restaurants. One was in Hawaii, one was in New York. One was at a casual restaurant, with shutters open to the cactus gardens all around, and one was a little more formal, at Aquavit - both were fantastic.

I think intimate is better, but, of course, the size depends upon how many of the people who've flown in for the ceremony are expecting to be included. For instance, in Hawaii, all of the wedding guests (there were only 30 of us) attended. But in New York, it was really only the wedding party, their dates, and close relatives - the bride and groom figured folks would want to take advantage of a free Friday night in the city.

In both cases, the locale and the feel of the evening reflected the personalities and sensibilities of the bride and groom - to me, that's the most important thing.

"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

Queenie Takes Manhattan

eG Foodblogs: 2006 - 2007

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I just got married a couple of months ago and my husband's family hosted a great 'rehersal' dinner at the hotel where everyone was staying. We had about 130 at our wedding and at least half flew in to Pittsburgh from out of town. Having it at the hotel was great! It made it easy and relaxing for guests to attend after travelling and some latecomers were able to make it who wouldn't have been otherwise. It was also easy and relaxing for us to attend. I think my husband's family was initially a bit hesitant at inviting everyone, because that wasn't their image of a rehersal dinner. But in the end everyone was so happy with how things went and the ~60 guests seemed universally grateful to have an event where they could see the other guests before the wedding and catch up with old family and friends in a relaxed setting.

Our dinner was a buffet dinner with open bar. Something like a beer and wine reception with heavy hor d'oerves would have also been great for what we wanted. (fwiw, our hotel was a Marriott... I was really surprised at how good their catering is and highly recommend.) Afterwards, we were soooooo happy that we just had it at the hotel and I would 100% make the same choice again. We could barely stand by the end of dinner, and were glad to have only a few hundred feet to talk to our bed.

I have liked all of the rehersal dinners I've been to because I'm so happy to have been invited to an event to see friends and family. Most of them have been in hotels where I was staying, or easily accessible by foot or public transportation. I find it stressful to have to travel very far by car to a rehersal dinner when I've already had to fly/drive in that day.

Edited by baw (log)
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Will the wedding guests be mostly from out of town? When my husband and I got married in New Orleans, it was a "destination wedding" for all of our 100 guests. Our rehearsal dinner was at a bowling alley/music venue. They catered the food (which wasn't fancy, but it was good, local fare) I had especially stayed away from the Mardi Gras theme for our wedding reception (which was a very elegant, low key event) and I was hesitant when my in-laws decided on the Mardi Gras theme for the rehearsal dinner. But, I have to say that it was a blast. Most of our friends and family still talk about the weekend. It was a chance for the people who were closest to us to not only spend time with us, but to get to know each other and mingle before the wedding.

I know it isn't the traditional idea of a rehearsal dinner, and I'm sure that my guests would have found ways to keep themselves busy in the great city of New Orleans on a Friday night. We just thought that since they were flying from far and wide for us, we should make sure that we had time to spend time with everyone.. which doesn't always happen during the reception. We also made sure that we chose a venue that wouldn't break the bank or "overshadow" the actual wedding, was considered a local highlight, and was willing to work with us.

I hope that is helpful. Whatever you and your son decide will be great and memorable.

Edited to add: I'm originally from the Cleveland area, and I have been to my share of weddings in and around the city. The good news is that you have lots of options!

Edited by Sarabeth (log)

“The secret of good cooking is, first, having a love of it… If you’re convinced that cooking is drudgery, you’re never going to be good at it, and you might as well warm up something frozen.”

~ James Beard

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I've been to ones that pretty much run the gamut, as the others have written. I had the pleasure of 'working' one last week for a neighbor's son. The father of the bride had, during the couples courtship, met the groom's father at a cookout and had occasion to taste his bbq, so he specifically asked that our friend smoke meats for the rehearsal dinner, since the size of the reception made a caterer pretty much mandatory. Long story short (too late, I know :rolleyes:) it was a very informal and comfortable event and probably everyone over the age of 10 who attended made a comment about how much they had enjoyed it. The room was 'tarted up' with nice place settings, flowers, candles etc, so it wasn't inelegant as you might think. But the vibe was far more convivial and allowed for more mingling and visiting than in a nice restaurant. All of the attendants, many of whom had not met before, actually had an opportunity to get to know one another before the ceremony and it really made the whole event better I think.

Judy Jones aka "moosnsqrl"

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.

M.F.K. Fisher

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The best rehearsal dinner I ever attended was held at a sort of updated Italian restaurant--food a few steps up from the old-school red-checked-tablecloth deal, atmosphere laidback dressy-casual. The delicious homey food and relaxed vibe really meshed well with the group personalities of the two families, and encouraged lots of sharing and bonding.

After having seen lots and lots of weddings (I used to officiate weddings on a regular basis), I have to say the ones whose vibe felt best to me were those that, while suitably festive for the special occasion, found ways to not let the pomp get in the way of the just-folks-celebrating aspect of things (while also discreetly reining in any tendency for the celebrating to get excessively boozed up--that can get ugly). I feel that if one makes "the folks-celebrating part comes first" one's mantra during any wedding planning decisions, including regarding rehearsal dinners, one can't possibly go wrong.

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When I got married we had a barbeque at our house the night before the wedding for our closest family and friends and had a blast. Since my (ex)husband is European we had a lot of not only out of town guests, but folks that had travelled an awfully long way to attend our wedding. Since the wedding reception was a five course formal dinner with paired wines, we decided that low key and casual was the way to go for the rehearsal. It was a chance for his side and mine and the various and sundry friends from hither and yon to get to know each other before the big event the next day. If only his Grandmother hadn't fallen down the stairs (I should have realized it was an omen) and kept us in the ER until 2AM, the evening would have been perfect. :wacko:

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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Most of the rehearsal dinners I've been to (or catered) have been in homes. Another option that's become really popular around here is to use condo 'party rooms'. A similar thing would be to get a hospitality room at a hotel - then bring in any of the above suggestions (bbq, deli, chinese, italian, etc.)

This summer I went to an out-of-town wedding. There were over 100 out of town guests (including the bride and groom) so the parents of the bride rented a huge tent (no sides) and had everybody to the house. They got a caterer to grill steaks and salmon and everybody just hung out and had a great, relaxed evening. Save the formal stuff for the wedding.

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The best one I've been to was a backyard bbq with just family and the wedding party, but I've also been to restaurant rehearsal dinners (with the same size party) that were nice. I only recently learned that now couples are doing big blowouts for the rehearsal dinner with all the out of town guests, wedding party, family...in your words, a mini-reception. I liked the small size of the ones I've been to, which gave me a chance to get to know the new in-laws in a relaxed setting, and I certainly never expected anything fancy since I knew I would be attending a nice reception the next day.

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We had our rehearsal dinner at the hotel where all the out-of-town guests were staying, for similar reasons as baw mentioned above. We wanted to encourage people from both sides of the family to meet one another, so it was set up more like a cocktail party (but with only beer and wine). We had a number of food stations around the room (pastas, salads, carving station, dessert), and a bunch of tables of various sizes, armchairs, tall bar tables, etc. so people could mingle, but sit if they wanted. The food was way better, and had a lot more choices than a standard buffet. The set-up really helped to stimulate conversation between the different groups of guests, since they couldn't really segregate themselves at a large table for the whole evening.

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I'll tell you what not to do... don't have a salad dinner (my uncle asked "where's the beef?"). Also, a pianist who is performing rather than providing background music is really awkward. Guests were expected to sit quietly and listen to the music, when they were all seeing relatives and friends for the first time in a long time, and just wanted to talk.

(I didn't have any say in the planning of this event, despite the fact that it was in celebration of my wedding).

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We had our wedding in my home town in Ireland. We probably had about 65 guests who travelled from Miami (husband's family & friends) and Puerto Rico (our friends). Rehersal dinners are not an Irish tradition and the Grooms family had already hosted a big engagement party in Miami. We felt we had to and wanted to do something for all the guests and family that had travelled. What we did was speak to the owners of a small restaurant that we love. They set up a 3 course menu (2 choices for each course) and just charged per head. Of course, the owners are family friends and really gave us a great price, for great food. They also threw in a 1/2 bottle of wine per person for free. It just meant there was no complications when it came to paying. An itinerary was put in each guests hotel room before along with planned menu & price, so there were no surprises.

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I'm getting married soon--our idea of the rehearsal dinner is that it be different from the tone of the wedding and that it still be a reflection of who we are. We're currently planning to have our dinner for our out-of-town guests at a local dive bar/restaurant where we like to have burgers every Sunday or so with a group of our friends. (Our wedding will be slightly more formal)

On the other hand, my friend is also getting married and she and her husband wanted to do a Chinese banquet for the rehearsal (neither is Chinese, both just love the food)--but his parents nixed it because it wasn't "classy" enough (I'm just reporting this, not agreeing!). They are disappointed by this, since they would really like the dinner to not just be what his parents want, but a little of what they would like for their guests as well.

I'm sure whatever you plan will be lovely. Good luck!

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As many have said, be sure that the rehearsal dinner doesn't overshadow the reception. My parents are from a part of the country where receptions are generally low-key and often at home. They gave my husband and me a very nice upscale cocktail reception with lots of different hors d'oeuvres but not a sit down reception.

My MIL hosted a sit-down rehearsal dinner for everyone who was invited. At a fancy restaurant.

The hard feelings (on both sides) persist to this day, and it is nearly 15 years later. There were obviously lots of other issues involved (control over the event as a whole, for example, along with cultural differences galore), but this specific issue was really galvanizing.

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i like the idea of having an awesome rehersal dinner and a mellow wedding dinner. of course i think that this depends on how many folks are gonna be at the actual wedding. if it is a lot, than, this i how i would go.

ive catered for a lot of weddings, and i like the idea fo having a really nice 6-7 course rehersal dinner for the folks in the wedding and the family of both parties. then for the wedding dinner, i like to emphasize the idea of having app stations set up throughout the wedding. this way lots of people can mingle and eat. they don't have to be basic app stations, you can make it so, there are substantial food proportions at some stations. this way you can focus on having a really nice rehersal dinner and just have a fun time at the wedding. IMO, the idea of the plated dinner for 200 never works out as good as it did in the planning, the salmon gets overdone, the rissotto gets cold and gluey, etc, etc.

however different people like different things, the last few weddings, ive been to, there has just been a mellow rehersal dinner at a bar or soemthing. both ways work...my $.02

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My family has a tradition at rehearsal dinners of roasting the couple by telling funny stories or performing skits or songs about the couple. It tends to break the ice of the two families.

In some cases we had friends or family from both sides performing or telling stories together.

This is why we always preferred having a seated dinner because it is easier to give a roast.

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Thanks for all the replies!

I've spent many years in an upscale catering industry, where I've seen lots of rehearsal dinners that were attempts to out-do the wedding.

My own rehearsal dinner (22 years ago) was for the parents, bridal party and their guest/spouse, and the cleryman.

What prompted my original question was this: my older son (not the groom) can't understand why we wouldn't have the rehearsal dinner at the hotel where most of the wedding party and out-of-town guests are staying. His reasoning:

a) that, of course, any out-of-town guest is going to be invited to the rehearsal dinner; and so the rehearsal dinner will be one big pre-reception party, and so

b) that way we (the parents) can keep the bar open all night and everyone will already be at the hotel.

Other comments of his lead his father and me to believe that the past couple of weddings he has participated in have basically amounted to an all expenses paid weekend away (food and bar tabs picked up; all transportation furnished; discounted rooms & tux rentals, etc.)

Again, please let me know your thoughts/experiences, etc. on this. I also realize that customs are different in different parts of the country.

Thanks!

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My mother-in-law did not want to choose the restaurant for the rehearsal dinner. So, she told us to choose the restaurant.

My husband's family and friends pretty much eat something that would be served at a diner. Hopefully he's not reading this. ;-) My family is partly ethnic and much more used to eating and trying a variety of different foods. So, my husband and I decided that it would be cool to have the rehearsal dinner at Sangria, a Spanish tapas restaurant where we had our first date and met for the first time (We met via online dating).

My mother-in-law had a royal fit (mini shades of what was too come, but that is another story).

My husband told her to just trust us. We very carefully chose menu items that were similar to the types of foods most of these people would like.

Everyone enjoyed the experience and the meal.

My thoughts:

Rehearsal dinners are traditionally for those who will be in the wedding ceremony (hence rehearsal) and any out of town guests.

It should be someplace convenient to the church and where most everyone will be staying because you really do not want out of town guests to be wandering around lost in the dark in a strange city.

It should be something that is easy to put together or at a restaurant.

It's not an excuse for a drunken bash (Plus no one wants to look bad for the wedding and pictures).

A really good place to learn more about various rehearsal dinners is http://theknot.com (It is, after all, a website devoted to weddings that many brides use for information, planning and advice) or grab Emily Post's wedding ettiquette book and check what she says.

Edited by Maria (log)
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Also, a pianist who is performing rather than providing background music is really awkward.  Guests were expected to sit quietly and listen to the music, when they were all seeing relatives and friends for the first time in a long time, and just wanted to talk.

I'll see your pianist and raise you a Gospel Group, with guitars, microphones, matching outfits, upraised hands, and great fervor, singing LOUDLY for the four hours of a 50th Anniversary reception that I catered some fifteen years ago. They took the requisite fifteen minute bandbreak each hour, but the ringing never left my ears, not even after the guests had departed and I was lugging dishes to the wagon.

And I mostly like hymns---I'm Baptist, for Heaven's sake!!

But that music, for that occasion. . . :sad:

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What prompted my original question was this:  my older son (not the groom) can't understand why we wouldn't have the rehearsal dinner at the hotel where most of the wedding party and out-of-town guests are staying.  His reasoning:

    a) that, of course, any out-of-town guest is going to be invited to the rehearsal dinner; and so the rehearsal dinner will be one big pre-reception party, and so

      b)  that way we (the parents) can keep the bar open all night and everyone will already be at the hotel.

Other comments of his lead his father and me to believe that the past couple of weddings he has participated in have basically amounted to an all expenses paid weekend away (food and bar tabs picked up; all transportation furnished; discounted rooms & tux rentals, etc.)

I was in five (yes, five) weddings in 2005, and attended 2 more where I was just a guest, so I think I'm decently versed in what's common these days for rehearsal dinners. Plus, these weddings were held in Hawaii, Florida, New York, Connecticut, and Minnesota, so I saw lots of regions in action.

My opinion is that the rehearsal dinner (and the wedding) should be paid for by those throwing it (bride's family, groom's family, bride and groom by themselves, whomever). Cash bars are tacky - I'd rather have wine and beer than have to pay for my cocktail. Plus, it makes you feel like you're at a bar, not at a celebration, to have to remember to have cash on hand and to have tips ready for the bartender.

That said, I don't think it's appropriate for the rehearsal dinner to be an effort to outshine the wedding (most likely this happens when one is thrown by the bride's family and the other by the groom's), nor is it right to think of the rehearsal dinner as yet another opportunity to get drunk with your buddies.

I'll say it again - go with your gut on this one. You definitely do not have an obligation to have the dinner in the hotel, though I agree with the suggestions above, that having it nearby or in a central location would be ideal. Nor do you have an obligation to transport people to and from the wedding. It's a good idea for you to have the number of a local cab company on hand, just in case someone does imbibe too liberally, but you're under no obligation to rent a bus to cart people from place to place.

I say throw a party that represents your family, and something that is to your son and daughter-in-law-to-be's tastes. Those should be your only guiding factors.

Edited by Megan Blocker (log)

"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

Queenie Takes Manhattan

eG Foodblogs: 2006 - 2007

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