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Rachel January Article11You said “I DO”, next comes the most magical time of your life – planning the start of the rest of your lives together! After the engagement party, bridal party, and bachelorette parties, and everything else in between, comes the rehearsal dinner. This dinner brings both families together as the final event before the big day. The rehearsal dinner is essentially the bridge that takes the couple, the family, and the wedding party from planning mode to wedding weekend party mode!

Traditionally the rehearsal dinner is given the night before the wedding by the parents of the Groom. Everyone from out of town is invited and it’s usually a formal affair. But, like everything else wedding related, the so-called standards are changing over the years. While some still keep the tradition and make it a formal occasion, other couples are putting their own unique twist on their rehearsal dinners.  Some couples opt to keep it more casual with a smaller intimate get together, a themed party, or plan a night out on the town with friends at your favorite bar.

With all of the changes over the decades, one thing remains the same – the planning process!

First, we need to create a guest list. The guest list for your rehearsal dinner is really up to you! You can keep it traditional with family, the wedding party, and their plus ones. Another option, open it up to all out-of-town guests, especially if you’re having a destination wedding or guests are traveling some distance. By opening up the list to your rehearsal dinner, it gives you more quality time with your guests than you’ll be able to get on the wedding day, and in a much more casual setting.

Looking to go the formal route? Create your list including immediate family, the wedding party and their plus ones, and any close friends you wish to invite. Design paper invitations with an RSVP so you can allow time to book your venue or restaurant and you have a head count. This creates less stress if you have booked a restaurant with 25 people and aunt Karen decides last minute to show up with her husband, you won’t be surprised or stressed out by the additions. If you are looking to go the less formal route, you can always send out an e-vite or put the rehearsal information on your wedding website (The Knot and WeddingWire are two great sites to keep track of your wedding planning!). Remember, all that matters is that everyone has the information they need – don’t stress on how it gets delivered. No matter how you wish to send your invites, 4 weeks before the rehearsal dinner is good timeline to follow, as it allows your guests enough time to plan and RSVP. This will leave you more time to plan decorations and food for the event.

Once you have your guest list complete, now it’s time to choose a venue. Kalamazoo offers so many fabulous locations for bridal parties, rehearsal dinners, and stunning wedding venues. The Henderson Castle offers a unique one-of-a-kind setting no matter what time of the year. The Castle was established in 1895, but has since been renovated offering 10 guest rooms, a guest cottage, a winery, formal dinner setting, spa services, and a hot tub on the roof over-looking downtown Kalamazoo. The Henderson Castle has a winery and would make for a fun wine tasting experience before heading to dinner, and ending with a glass of bubbly and a rooftop sunset depending on the time of year.

BraVo! Restaurant & Café offers several private rooms to host your rehearsal dinner and you can keep it as formal or informal as you wish. The best part? They have been hosting rehearsal dinners for many years and they do all of the work for you. No set up or clean up! You can also get the food catered out if you wish to host the rehearsal dinner at your home.

If you’re looking to keep it casual and have a fun night out on the town with friends, check out Loft 310. They offer over 8 different unique venues downtown in one city block in the entertainment district. Loft 310 can help you create the perfect rehearsal dinner upstairs, and have the perfect after party outside at The SkyDeck or any of the surrounding bars. (This venue is also perfect for your wedding day, too!).

Trying to stay budget friendly? Hosting your rehearsal dinner at home (yours or that of a very nice relative or friend) can be a great option! Celebrating at home gives you some level flexibility not offered by most restaurants or other event venues: You can go totally informal with a backyard BBQ, pizza and beer by the pool, or have everyone bring a dish to pass.  The relaxed setting may make it easier to accommodate kids, who have more room to run and play games or even swim. And if everyone’s having a blast and you decide to extend the party longer than originally planned, no problem (and no extra fees!).

Once you have decided on your location, you can focus on a theme if you wish, or keep with the colors and style of your wedding. The rehearsal dinner is always held after the ceremony rehearsal. If you aren’t having a ceremony rehearsal, you can have the rehearsal dinner anytime the week before the wedding. Don’t forget to browse Pinterest for some fun ideas that can be budget friendly. Grab a bottle of bubbly, your bridesmaids, and have a sleepover and browse Pinterest or start creating the perfect centerpieces you found on Pinterest together.

Regardless of the set-up of your rehearsal dinner, there are some essentials you should consider including. After the meal or during dessert, the host should make a toast to the happy couple, welcoming them into the family. Also making a toast to your wedding party, family and friends, thanking them for all they have done to help make your wedding day come together. During this time, you could also hand out the wedding party and parent gifts. Now is the perfect time to open the floor for anyone to give a toast, so those who aren’t speaking at the wedding reception have a chance to tell you how much they love you both!

Lastly, before the rehearsal dinner wraps up, now is the time make any last-minute announcements or reminders for the wedding day, such as start times, locations, or transportation details. Above anything else, just have fun and enjoy the moment. Brides tend to stress over every little detail. Remember, rain is good luck. Your ring bearer’s mis-matched socks he put on himself when no one was looking will make for a fun story later.  If that’s the worst thing to happen you’re doing pretty good. Even so, no matter if something doesn’t go as planned – no one knows except you. The day is about YOU marrying your best friend and spending the rest of your life together. Everything else just makes for memorable moments to look back on and hopefully laugh. (Speaking from experience ?).

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