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The rehearsal dinner – Coming to the UK?

Published date: 18th January 2019


The rehearsal dinner, like trick-or-treating, is an American fad that will of course never happen here in the UK. Oh. Supermarkets now sell as much chocolate at Halloween as at Easter, and restaurants in the capital (and the rest of the country shortly) already cater for rehearsal dinners, and not just for Americans marrying here. You can almost hear the celebrity chefs rubbing their hands at the prospect of large parties of diners toasting one another in champagne.

Actually the rehearsal dinner has its merits, though the label is a misnomer – nobody in the USA, the home of the rehearsal dinner, actually uses it to practice saying vows and suchlike, and it is not necessarily a dinner. It’s more of a getting to know you mixed with thanks for making the effort to get here sort of event. In the US where friends and families often arrive from several thousand miles away, it’s polite to offer them something more than a ham sandwich and a ‘hi’ on the day. It used to be the case that here we were less dispersed, but not anymore. Nowadays friends from uni days, say, may come from overseas, and other guests too may fly in from work or retirement abroad, so making it worth their while matters more.

And there’s another thing in their favour. The wedding day itself can race past in a blur of nerves, activity and duties, so having another occasion that’s more relaxed beforehand is far from crazy.

So here’s a quick guide to the rehearsal dinner. They’re still rare here, but maybe not for long.

Firstly, it’s traditional for the groom’s parents to host it (and pay!), on the basis that the bride’s are shelling out for the wedding. If his parents have chipped in on the wedding, it may actually be the happy couple stumping up the cash. If bride and groom are paying for the wedding, the dinner’s clearly on them too.

Who goes? It’s meant to allow the two sets of nearests and dearests to meet, so the big day is less fraught with tension, thus parents and siblings for sure. All bridesmaids, ushers and the best man are usually present too, and the parents of any page boys and flower girls etc. If you want besties there too, that’s up to you. And as suggested above, if someone has flown in from afar, it’s polite to include them. Some couples go wild and invite all their wedding guests, but that makes the big day smaller and less special, so we’d advise against it.

The etiquette is very flexible. The night before the wedding is the norm, but earlier can be safer hangover-wise! Invites can be as informal as you like, but you obviously need to know numbers if it’s at a restaurant. Some for economy or comfort prefer to have a BBQ or informal meal at his parents’ home or the couple’s; others hire a function room and lay on a small buffet; or go the full monty and enjoy a sit-down meal at a restaurant, posh or otherwise. A breakfast gathering (with one tiny glass of fizz for toasts) may be the most relaxed option. In the USA many couples discreetly hand out the gifts bought for bridesmaids etc at the rehearsal dinner, others (not tempting fate) wait for the day itself. It’s usual, once the pudding spoons are down, for the groom’s father to toast his future daughter-in-law, and the groom his future wife, with at most the very briefest of speeches. Phew. No band, no DJ, no dancing.

Whilst most British brides and grooms will still probably pass on the rehearsal dinner, we have to say it does have its advantages, and we’re betting that a few years hence it will be a thing here too.

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