Good news -- there are plenty of alternative options if you're not into the idea of a formal sit-down dinner. We talked to celebrity wedding planner and event design expert Yifat Oren, of Yifat Oren & Associates, to get the inside scoop on how to throw a personalized (and fabulous!) rehearsal dinner.
Go For a Picnic
Whether you're landlocked or live close to the beach, holding a picnic is a great idea. Check with your favorite local park or boardwalk and set up an old-fashioned spread (think: salads, sandwiches, and lots of lemonade).
Yifat's Tip: Make sure you have enough food for them to make a meal of it, or let them know full dinner will not be served. Just because it's a picnic doesn't mean you can skimp on the servings. If you don't want to be responsible for an entire meal, consider holding the dinner in the early afternoon or later in the evening, so guests know what to expect.
Looking for the perfect conversation starter for your families? Invite them to a wine or beer tasting, or go on a tour of a winery or brewery. The tasting serves as a simple icebreaker -- you’ll have plenty to talk about as you compare notes on the wine. Afterwards head to dinner, or if you’re allowed, pack a small meal to eat with everyone after the tour.
Yifat's Tip: Look into wine caves as a possible hosting spot, with one long family-style table set up for everyone. If you're holding a larger rehearsal dinner (more than 50 people) or holding it outdoors at a winery, make sure you have some type of sound system so everyone can be heard. "So many times no one can hear the toasts people make and often there are more toasts during the rehearsal dinner than at the wedding," says Yifat.
Fire Up the Grill
Throwing a casual backyard barbecue can be a great way to hang out and let everyone get to know one another -- as long as you balance your time away from the grill. If you're already working with a planner, ask about adding on the rehearsal dinner; most will help for a nominal extra fee.
Yifat's Tip: If you're worried that your bonding time with your new family will be consumed by serving potato salad and chopping watermelon, consider having the dinner catered. "It could end up being cheaper than hosting the dinner in a restaurant," says Yifat. Plus, you'll avoid the stress of cooking, which will be worth the money.
Give Them Some Sweets
We'll admit it, this one might be tough if you're on a strict prewedding diet, but otherwise, a desserts-only rehearsal dinner is a very sweet idea. Hold the dinner at a local coffee and dessert bar, or host it at your home with a variety of pastries, chocolates, tarts, and candy. Make sure to offer a few non-sweets too, like fruit or even bite-sized sandwiches.
Yifat's Tip: Hosting a dessert party in lieu of a traditional rehearsal dinner is a great idea -- just make sure you schedule it a bit later than usual so guests will get the hint that a full dinner won't be served.
Pick a Theme
Spice up your evening by giving the rehearsal dinner a theme or a cultural inspiration. Not all party themes will work for this (remember that you don't want it to be hokey), but with the right balance you can pull it off.
Yifat's Tip: "Stay away from almost anything you can find at the party supply store and stick to cultural details that have substance," says Yifat. "For instance, having a Mexican-themed rehearsal dinner is a great idea if you're having your wedding in California." Instead of pinatas, focus on the food: Serve a chicken mole or seasonal margarita. Don't go over the top -- just infuse the night with a little flavor.
Rise and Shine!
There's no real reason that you have to hold a rehearsal "dinner." If your actual rehearsal is later in the evening, consider holding a rehearsal breakfast or brunch instead. (Just make sure you keep in mind Yifat's food rule from above.)
Yifat's Tip: Talk to a local pastry shop about hosting the event, or serve coffee, tea, and a variety of breakfast foods at your home.
Root for the Home Team
Take your family and close friends out for some old-fashioned fun at a baseball or football game. Relax in the stands with some hot dogs and beer while you get to know one another. This is also a great idea if you know both of your families root for the same team.
Yifat's Tip: You'll want to take time to get to know each other and talk, so don't worry too much about having those amazing (think: loud) seats that put you in the middle of the action.
Play a Game
Sometimes, though it might sound corny, there's nothing better than an old-school game night, just like you had as a kid. Pull out Trivial Pursuit, Outburst!, Scattergories and more for a game night rehearsal dinner.
Yifat's Tip: Go casual and order in some pizza, have a nice home cooked meal, or have it catered. But do all of this first, before you start with the games. That way, you won't be bothered with serving and cleanup when you're in the middle of Monopoly.