Planning a wedding isn’t actually planning a single event; it’s planning multiple smaller parties leading up to a big finale. The last stop on that train of festivities is the rehearsal dinner.

“A rehearsal dinner is an opportunity to get together with your closest friends and family the night before the wedding day, which will involve a much larger group,” explains Tessa Brand, owner of Tessa Lyn Events. “This intimate celebration gives you quality time with your nearest and dearest and often takes place right after the run-though of the actual ceremony.”

While rehearsal dinners aren’t a requirement, they’re a tradition that Brand recommends sticking with, especially since many couples struggle with speaking to every guest during the actual wedding.

If you decide to have a rehearsal dinner, here are some important questions you’ll need to answer during the planning process:

Who will host (and pay) for the event?

“Traditionally, the groom's parents host the rehearsal dinner if the bride's family is paying for the wedding,” says Brand.

Of course, like many other wedding customs, this isn’t a hard and fast rule today. If both sets of parents are helping to pay for the wedding, for instance, the couples may want to cover the cost of the rehearsal dinner. Just be sure to discuss these plans before you make any assumptions about who is paying for what.

Who is invited to the rehearsal dinner?

The guest list for rehearsal dinner is usually much more limited than the wedding itself.

“Immediate family and the wedding party and their dates are always invited to the rehearsal dinner, but in recent years it has become commonplace to invite anyone who is flying in for the wedding,” says Brand.

However, if you want to expand the guest list, Brand suggests throwing a “welcome party” for your guests rather than a rehearsal dinner.

What typically happens at a rehearsal dinner?

As the name suggests, the rehearsal dinner typically occurs after the wedding party does a run-through of the ceremony. However, more than just eating happens.

The rehearsal dinner is an excellent time for you to show your gratitude by presenting gifts to your wedding party. It’s also a perfect opportunity for speeches from your nearest and dearest.

“Open toasting is perfectly acceptable and gives people a chance to speak that may not have a time allotted on the wedding day. Designate one person to break the ice, and usually, the other toasters will follow,” advises Brand.

How formal should the rehearsal dinner be?

The formality of the event is entirely up to you, but most couples today are opting to keep things more relaxed and low-key. Not only will this help relieve some of the stress of your impending nuptials, but it will ensure the dinner doesn’t outshine the wedding itself.

What kind of food and entertainment is provided?

Since the rehearsal dinner is often more casual than the wedding or reception, feel free to have fun with it! Maybe that means having a theme or setting up lawn games or hiring live entertainment – your imagination is the limit.

“If you have a live dance band at the wedding, consider a Spanish guitarist or jazz trio at the dinner. If you are doing a tropical theme, you could hire a calypso band or mariachi for a Mexican theme,” says Brand. “You always want to strive to be different than the wedding day.”

Brand also recommends incorporating personal details into the dinner, like hosting it at the restaurant where you had your first date or utilizing photos from your courtship in the décor.

“Tell the story of the bride and groom with a displayed map of their benchmarks like where they met, their first date, and the proposal. Print fun facts about their relationship on paper cocktail napkins or create a slideshow from their childhood until present day,” adds Brand.

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