A rehearsal dinner is an intimate meal for the immediate family members of the bride and groom, and for members of the wedding party. A destination wedding, however, can add a layer of etiquette complexity. While the rehearsal dinner is usually small and relaxing, you may have to settle for a bigger-than-normal dining experience for a destination wedding—to make guests who fly in, possibly from very long distances, feel welcome. Applying etiquette rules to a rehearsal dinner for a destination wedding requires thoughtful consideration of everyone involved.
Traditional wedding etiquette makes the groom’s family responsible for planning and paying for the rehearsal dinner. Additionally, traditional wedding etiquette includes only the immediate family and the members of the wedding party. This means that the bride and her family should not add people outside of this group to this special dinner without first consulting the groom’s family. At the same time, the groom’s family should remember that a distant great-aunt of the bride who took the time to come to the wedding probably deserves a seat at the rehearsal dinner.
Geography plays an important part in rehearsal dinner etiquette for a destination wedding. If the destination is outside of the United States or in Hawaii, the bride and groom should go the extra mile for the guests. So, the groom’s family should consider including extra guests at the rehearsal dinner to make them feel welcome.
Destination weddings tend to be smaller, for the simple reason that fewer people can travel to the location. If the wedding does not have more than 40 or 50 people attending, it might be possible to include everyone in the rehearsal dinner. In fact, for destination weddings, the rehearsal dinner can easily be a relaxing experience, a “night before” party, so that everyone is ready for the wedding the next day. No, the rehearsal dinner may not be traditional, but as the wedding itself is not necessarily traditional, there is no reason not to bend the rules a little.
Because destination weddings are more challenging for everyone—from the bride and the groom to the guests that attend—the rules for the rehearsal dinner sometimes change. For instance, the bride and the groom might offer to host the dinner instead of the groom’s parents, as a way to thank everyone for coming to the wedding. At the same time, the bride and the groom should not assume this responsibility without first discussing it with the groom’s family to avoid unintentionally insulting anyone.
Whatever the decision is about the rehearsal dinner, the primary focus should be on relaxation and on making everyone feel welcome. Traveling to a distant location for the wedding is already difficult; add to this challenge that guests might feel awkward not knowing what to do while they wait for the wedding (particularly if the wedding is outside the U.S.), and hospitality is the key. The best decision might be for the groom’s family to arrange a small pre-wedding party or invite every guest to the rehearsal dinner.