In this post, we’re going to talk about 2 wedding related events that typically don’t get much attention, but are the first and final wedding experience for most of your guests: The wedding rehearsal and the post wedding brunch.
Let’s get started with the rehearsal, which I’ll point out means the ceremony rehearsal, NOT just the dinner. It’s super common for couples to focus on the dinner component, and skip over the actual ceremony rehearsal details. While both are important, let’s start by discussing the ceremony rehearsal, and why that is important for even the simplest of ceremonies.
Do you need to have a ceremony rehearsal?
One thing I always point out when couples ask if they NEED to have a wedding rehearsal is that though they may have spent the last year or so planning the details of the wedding, their family and wedding party members are most likely in the dark about many of the seemingly small details. While the ceremony may seem pretty straightforward to you (for example everyone starts at the back of a church, walks to their place, and then heads back down once it’s all done), it’s likely that your wedding party may be a bit nervous about their role. Many of them have not stepped foot in the church either, so they’re having a hard time picturing what and where they’re supposed to do on the wedding day. And a BUNCH of questions always come up at the rehearsal that you have probably not thought of yet. Some common examples are
Where will either side of the wedding party be “staged” during the 30 minutes before the ceremony begins but while the guests are arriving
Where do the ring bearer and flower girl go once they’ve made it down the aisle
How many chairs do you need in the first couple of rows for immediate family
If you have ushers, where will they stand, and are they to escort the women to their seats, or simply hand out programs and let people know which rows are reserved?
Where does the wedding party need to stand to make sure they are even for photos
Where do you go once you’re down the aisle after you’re married (it might sound silly, but most couples haven’t thought about this until they get to the end of the aisle at the rehearsal and think “ok, now where do we go!”)
When and where does the rehearsal take place?
Hopefully I have you convinced that even a quick rehearsal will be beneficial, now let’s talk about when you should have your rehearsal. This really depends on your ceremony venue and how they schedule rehearsals. Most commonly, it’s the day before the wedding, but I’m a fan of having it two days before if possible, so you don’t have to stress about getting to sleep early that evening.
Your venue may give you a choice, but don’t stress if the only time they have available doesn’t work for you or the majority of your wedding party that would need to be here. There are a few venues we work with that have so many events Thursday-Sunday, they only offer rehearsal on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons. While this might work for some, if you or a majority of your wedding party are not local, it can be next to impossible to make that happen. We have ceremony rehearsal “off-site” quite often, let me walk you through how it works.
Typically if the actual venue isn’t available for the rehearsal, we’ll meet at the rehearsal dinner location about 30-45 minutes prior to the other guests arriving (or before the dinner is actually scheduled). We’ll go through the processional order, the pertinent details of the ceremony (cues for readers, rings, and any other important prompts everyone would need to know), and answer any questions that the wedding party might have. Then, prior to the ceremony on the wedding day, I would make sure that the wedding party all has a chance to see the ceremony location and ask any additional questions they might have after seeing the space. It may not be ideal, but for most couples it’s a better option than an early week rehearsal without most of the wedding party or family in attendance.
Speaking of, who should be at the rehearsal?
You should invite anyone that is walking in the processional (officiant, grandparents, parents), participating in the ceremony (readers/speakers, anyone assisting with a religious/cultural service like communion), and the entire wedding party, of course. If you’re going right from the rehearsal to dinner, it’s not uncommon for significant others to attend the rehearsal as well, though it’s not necessary.
Typically at a religious institution, the pastor, priest, rabbi, or other officiant will not attend the rehearsal. If you have a friend or family member that will be your officiant, I definitely recommend they attend the rehearsal.
Who “runs” the rehearsal?
It’s really important that you have someone outside of your family or wedding party that will help lead you through the rehearsal that will also be there for the wedding ceremony itself. If you’re at a religious institution, they will most likely have a church coordinator walk you through everything. Word of warning - don’t mess with a church coordinator, they take their role VERY seriously, haha!
If you’re not at a religious institution, I would ask the venue coordinator who will run the rehearsal. If they don’t provide that service, I HIGHLY recommend you have a Day of Coordinator that can help you with this. It can be very challenging to round everyone up and answer all the questions, you don’t want all that on your shoulders at the rehearsal! You could also ask your officiant if they have someone to help with this role, if they will also be at the rehearsal, though that’s not very common.
If you’re looking for help in how you create a processional order, check out episode 23 where we talk about different wedding related worksheets you need to go over, and I outline how you need to come up with the processional order in that episode.
How long will the rehearsal last?
This is another question that the answer depends on where your wedding ceremony will be at. Before we get into that though, let’s chat about the inevitable late start time for the rehearsal. One of my biggest pet peeves, but something I know is just inevitable. I would guess that 90% of our rehearsal don’t actually start until about 10-20 minutes after they are scheduled. The rehearsal is often the first event of the weekend, and is often on a Friday afternoon. Many of you wedding party members will be coming from work, or maybe the airport if they live out of town. As everyone is coming in, you’ll want to plan for time for everyone to say hello and not feel rushed by jumping right into it. Give yourself a bit of buffer time if you have the room to do so.
The good new is, the actual ceremony rehearsal shouldn’t take more than 20-30 minutes if you are having it outside of a church or temple. So if you plan for a full hour for the rehearsal, that gives you 15 minutes or so for everyone to arrive and chat for a bit, 30 minutes for the rehearsal, and another 15 minutes on the backend as people continue to chat and catch up. That piece on the end always happens too, unless you have a church coordinator chasing you out, haha!
Now, let’s talk a bit about timing if we’re at a religious institution. The same buffer time at the beginning and end still tends to be necessary, but you’ll most likely find the coordinator will start after a few minutes, regardless of whether or not everyone is there. This is good, because the rehearsal itself will typically take longer as there are usually more details of the service to review. Some will go through the entirety of the ceremony, and other will stick with more of the highlights. You should plan on about an hour and 15 minutes (plus any drive time) for a rehearsal in this case when planning out dinner reservations.
We’ve been talking about rehearsals for how long now, and I only just brought up dinner?!? The dinner is what most people think of when you refer to a wedding rehearsal, it should definitely be more fun than the actual rehearsal itself! Let’s go over a few main things to consider when planning the dinner portion of your rehearsal:
I always encourage couples to pick a convenient location to either the church or the hotel for the rehearsal dinner. Keeping it simple will also help your sanity stay in check as you go into the wedding weekend. Hotel restaurants are a perfect choice, or a restaurant within walking distance from the hotel or ceremony location. I encourage using restaurants for the dinner so that all you need to do is make a reservation and pick the menu.
Some couples are tempted to host a dinner at their home, or their parents house, which is a lovely thought. However, keep in mind that hosting even a small dinner party at home involves a lot of prep and moving pieces. Think hard about whether that’s something you or your family wants to take on with all the other details happening for the wedding weekend. My advice is the same for a post-wedding brunch being hosted at home, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
Who is invited to the rehearsal dinner?
If we’re trying to keep the guest list as small as possible, the rehearsal dinner should include anyone that is participating in the actual rehearsal. If space and budget allows, it’s also nice to invite the significant others of those in the wedding party and family participating in the rehearsal.
If you have any guests that are traveling to attend your wedding, it’s a nice gesture to suggest some things for them to do while they are in town. Again, if space and budget allows, inviting them to the rehearsal dinner is a great idea. However, if you’d like to keep the dinner more intimate, you can keep the guest list to those participating in the ceremony, and let everyone else know where you will be headed afterwards if they’d like to join you for a drink. That helps keep the dinner to just your wedding party and immediate family, but you can still have an opportunity to hang out with everyone else later in the evening.
Rehearsal dinner agenda
This can be kept real simple, I give you permission to not have an agenda at all for your rehearsal dinner! It can be all about hanging out with your family and friends, and getting the celebration started. That said, there are two main things that will commonly happen at a rehearsal dinner (outside of the eating and drinking and general merriment). Those are toasts or speeches, and giving family and the wedding party thank you gifts.
According to tradition, the grooms parents are the hosts of the rehearsal dinner. Knowing that we’re fully capable of tossing tradition out the window these days, this may or may not be the case for your rehearsal. Whomever would be considered the “host” of the event would typically give a toast at the event. If your roster of toast givers for the wedding day itself is getting lengthy, I recommend that you have a couple of those speakers say something at the rehearsal instead to make sure that the wedding day toasts don’t go on for too long.
The rehearsal dinner is also a perfect time if you have a slideshow of photos or anything that might be a lengthy toast or story. This group is going to be your close friends and family, so it’s an appropriate time for something that might be a little bit more personal than a toast on the wedding day.
Most couples will give thank you gifts to their wedding party and parents at the rehearsal. If there is anyone else that has been a great help or support in the wedding planning, it’s nice to give them a little thank you as well. It doesn’t have to be anything too over the top, you can get the same item for everyone, or personalize each person's gift based on their likes. The rehearsal is a great time to give them these gifts, especially if it’s something that will be used on the wedding day.
Post Wedding Brunch
This is very optional, I would say maybe 40% of our couples will host a brunch the day after the wedding. It’s a nice way to say goodbye to your guests before they head home, especially if they have a travel day ahead of them.
A few helpful tips for you while you are planning the post wedding brunch:
A convenient location is key! If you have a hotel block, see if they have any on site options for your brunch. It’s so much easier to hop in an elevator to get to the brunch than worrying about packing up, checking out, and then heading to a separate location for brunch.
Most couples choose to do a “open house” style brunch that runs for 2-3 hours. This way guests can come by as they are getting up and moving, or heading out to get home. The venue can help you pick a nice breakfast buffet option that they can keep refreshing throughout the morning.
Your guests will expect to see you and your fiancé there, so keep that in mind when choosing the start time. If your wedding goes until midnight and then you’re planning an after party until 2 or 3am, I don’t recommend the brunch starting at say 8am. The most common timeframe we set for a post wedding brunch is 10am-12pm, but you know your guests best. If you anticipate a relatively early night, starting at 8 or 9am might be ideal. If you have a partying crowd, an 11 or even 12pm start might be ideal.
One final brunch tip is to ask your florist if it’s possible to repurpose some of the centerpieces for the brunch. You’ll typically have big round tables set up for the brunch, and while centerpieces aren’t necessary, it’s a nice way to reuse the florals from the day before. You’ll most likely have to put someone in charge of getting them at the end of the wedding night, and possibly returning the container they are in to the florist after the wedding.
Those are some of my tips for putting together your rehearsal, your rehearsal dinner, and your post wedding brunch. I would love to hear all of your thoughts and questions. You can find me over at the Wedding Planning Collective Facebook group.