As soon as the glow shines brightly around the engagement ring, brides, grooms, moms and dads begin the research and planning for the wedding. It’s not long before someone is wondering how much the rehearsal dinner will cost. The most likely person to ask this question first is the mother of the groom.
The average cost of a rehearsal dinner was $1,285 in 2017, according to The Knot 2017 Real Weddings Survey.
The cost has risen about $100 in the past five years, from $1,184 in 2013. This 8 percent increase seems like a bargain when we consider that the average cost of a wedding in the United States in this same period rose 12 percent, or $3,533, from $29,858 in 2013 to $33,391 in 2017. Whew!
The 2017 study also reports that, on average, the groom’s parents contribute 13 percent to the overall wedding budget. Traditionally — but not always — the groom’s parents pay for the rehearsal dinner. It only takes a few calculations, then, to see that the cost of this event promises to be among the largest line items in the mother of the groom’s budget.
For perspective, I polled about 40 of my mother of the groom friends in 2014 and found that generally, we spent around $1,500 on the rehearsal dinner.
Before those party-happy fingers find their way to Pinterest, here are four things to consider:
- Be sure you coordinate with the bride and groom. Ask them what they want. This is an important step that generates a lot of complaints from brides and grooms when overlooked.
- It is equally important to remember that the rehearsal dinner should never — ever — upstage the wedding. This guideline is closely related to the “never upstage the bride” rule. Don’t do it.
- Establish a budget. The starting line question, regardless of who is paying for the event, is “what can I afford to spend?”
- Determine the size of the guest list before you dive into the fun stuff.
An astute friend wisely says, “there is no such thing as a small event.”
This is especially true of the rehearsal dinner. Many details will be negotiated and decided before you close the memory book on this one. Here are a few factors that have the most significant impact on the budget.
Who is invited to the rehearsal dinner?
The first step in creating the rehearsal dinner guest list is to know who should be attending.
Begin with the people who will be present at the rehearsal. This includes members of the wedding party, including the officiant, flower girls, ring bearers or other young attendants, musicians and anyone who is reading or taking part in the ceremony. Basically, if they need to show up for practice, they are definitely invited. Spouses, partners, and dates (if they are also invited to the wedding) of these participants as well as parents of young attendants are also included.
Parents, step parents, grandparents and children of the bride and groom are also included, as well as siblings of the bride and groom who may not be in the wedding, along with their partners.
These are the basics. Many people also add out-of-town guests or relatives who live nearby. It’s easy to see why this has to be done first, right? It’s a longer list and almost always more people than you think. While you may not be able to know exactly who is on this list, before you do any serious planning, you do have to have a really good estimate of the size of the crowd.
Choosing A Rehearsal Dinner Theme
Now you can log into Pinterest. Who doesn’t love browsing party ideas? Like any other celebration you plan, there’s no shortage of themes. Give yourself some time to enjoy this. This is a fun decision, but also one that has a significant effect on the cost of the rehearsal dinner.
Before you get absolutely carried away by a pirates and pancakes theme, be sure you have consulted with the bride and groom. (#1 Rule: Always check with the bride.) Even if you’re hosting this event, the theme should be something they are excited about too.
Okay, back to fun.
Choosing to host the event at a restaurant or hotel is a practical option, particularly when you are traveling to the wedding. It is challenging to host an event away from the area in which you live. Being able to pick up the phone and work with a restaurant or hotel simplifies planning and work on the front end as well as when you arrive for the festivities.
Generally speaking, the more formal the experience, the more you’ll spend. A sit-down dinner at a high-end restaurant or hotel can get pricey. Choosing a more casual restaurant can save you money. A casual event is usually cheaper and can be more fun. While that’s my definition of a win-win, this is definitely one of those personal preference decisions. The cost per guest for a barbecue or picnic will be dramatically different than a more formal event. I love the planning and decor of a fun, casual theme as much as the party itself but, again, this decision is a matter of what you want and what you can afford.
Because it is hard to separate the theme from a menu, let’s segue into that topic next.
Rehearsal Dinner Menus
Most likely, your menu will be the largest expense associated with this event. Unless you’re renting the circus or something extravagant (and fun!) like that. Even though it’s largely driven by the theme, venue, or both, it still merits discussion.
CostHelper Weddings offers some interesting cost per guest estimations for rehearsal dinners:
- Casual hosted affairs, $10 – $30
- Casual restaurant dinners, $30 – $70
- Elaborate, $70 – $250
If you do take the casual, fun approach, here are a few popular ideas for affordable rehearsal dinner menus:
- Backyard Barbecue
- Low Country Boil
- Italian Buffet
- Soup Supper
- Pizza Party
- Pasta Party
- Boxed Meals
- Taco Bar
- Fajita Fiesta
Whatever you’re serving, be sure to have a process for determining and serving any special dietary needs guests may have.
Choosing a Rehearsal Dinner Venue
There are four primary factors in choosing a venue for this occasion:
- Does it suit the theme of the evening?
- Is it large enough for the the number of guests you are expecting?
- Is it within budget? This decision can dramatically affect the cost of the event.
- Is it conveniently located to the wedding venue? The closer the venue is to the rehearsal, the easier life will be for the guests and hosts.
Restaurants are popular choices for the rehearsal dinner venue. This option is usually conveniently located, easy to find, and simplifies menu planning. Merging the venue and the caterer is one less complication. Whether you’re having loads of fun or not, simple is better and it’s easy to see why this is an attractive preference.
Don’t overlook activity-based venues if this is something the bride and groom would enjoy. A bowling alley may not be the place for traditional toasts and speeches, but it could be a lot of fun.
Delight is in the details and this is where I have the most fun. Tablescapes, flowers, place settings: the possibilities are as endless as the black hole of time and money you can spend on them. Be sure to budget for these as well.
Rehearsal Dinner Invitations
I have great news about this as far as the rehearsal dinner budget is concerned. You can print and mail invitations to this event or you can send an evite or other electronic invitation. (The Knot backs me up here.)
If the occasion is more formal, then go with paper and post. You can be elaborate with printed themed invitations or purchase pre-printed cards to mail, whichever is more appropriate and within budget.
If your rehearsal dinner is going to be casual and fun, feel free to save some time and money with electronic invitations. Rounding up email addresses can be as time consuming, too, so be sure to get those early.
A Facebook event may work too but you’ll need to partner with a few key people who can invite people on the guest list whom you are not connected to. Be cautious with this approach. It’s fraught with opportunity to explode the size of the party.
Whatever solution you choose, the most important thing is to get details to the guests. Let them know when and where it will be held. Provide them with theme details, which gives them clues on how to dress. Provide directions in addition to the address. GPS and cell phone signals can be unpredictable and when people are in unfamiliar territory, it’s nice to have an abundance of information. This is also the time to survey guests about dietary restrictions.
The rehearsal dinner is something many people remember most fondly about a wedding. The planning and people have finally come together. The actual rehearsal usually has some comical moments. As the official ice-breaker for the wedding, this party is predestined for fun.
Like many mothers of the groom, I have so many fond memories of this event. Friday evenings were spent rambling around craft stores looking for the perfect details.The Sunday morning when my husband stumbled upon the perfect filler for my hurricane lamps — cracked corn — at the hardware store was a moment we both treasure.
The rehearsal dinner for my son’s wedding was held outside the barn where the reception was to be held the next day. We had gorgeous, but chilly weather on an early November evening. It wasn’t small. With 12 attendants, family and out-of-town guests, more than 70 people sat down to a casual meal of barbecued-on-the-premises brisket, green beans, sweet potato bar, mac and cheese, salad, blueberry cream pie and caramel apple cheesecake. It was a combination of everyone’s favorites and if anyone was counting carbs, I didn’t see it.
The planning, the event itself and the aftermath were all some of the best memories of my life.
Maybe you’re a DIY’er like me, or maybe you’ll hire a party planner. Either way, be sure to have some fun along the way.
As the rising cost of weddings reveals, there is always more you can do and spend. This is just a reminder that staying within the budget you establish before you begin planning is wise. There are so many ways the funds that are not spent on the rehearsal dinner can be used to help a couple in the future. It’s helpful to keep this in perspective.
Remember: Memories last longer than receipts, but credit card debt is virtually forever.