Traditionally the rehearsal dinner was just that, a dinner following the wedding rehearsal. So only those involved in the wedding ceremony were invited. Today though most couples have wedding guests coming from out of town and feel the need to entertain them. With larger rehearsal dinners, the format has changed as well.
Rehearsal dinners are still more intimate than the wedding, making them a great time to showcase the personality and special interests of the bride and groom or their parents. Tribute artists and impersonators are a great way to bring in a little personality. Why not thank the bride's parents or the groom's parents or both with a special performance from their favorite artists?
Rehearsal dinners can also be a great way to solve wedding planning conflicts. For example, if one ethnicity seems to be dominating the wedding entertainment or ceremony, why not bring in the other party's ethnicity with a special performance at the rehearsal dinner?
The more intimate atmosphere of the rehearsal dinner makes them a great fit for small musical performances such as string quartets and acoustic guitars. But, they can also be a great showcase for something exciting and unusual like a belly dancer, acrobat or stilt walker.
It may be helpful to think of the wedding and the rehearsal dinner as one large, long event. Doing so will help you make thematic choices and keep the rehearsal dinner from feeling like a hodgepodge of leftover wedding entertainment ideas. Thinking of the two events (and any other events, like a morning after brunch) together will also help keep your budget in place.
Traditionally, the bride's family paid for the wedding and the groom's family hosted the rehearsal dinner. Today though, any combination of people may be paying for either the wedding or the rehearsal dinner. Make sure to include your rehearsal dinner costs in your wedding budget.
If the idea of a big rehearsal dinner with all your out of town guests and your wedding party scares you either financially or from a planning perspective, there's no reason you can't stick with the traditional model. Host a small dinner for those directly involved with the wedding and arrange for other out of town guests to meet at a bar later in the evening.
Have you thought about your rehearsal dinner? Will you be hosting a large event? Share your thoughts in the comments below.