The rehearsal dinner is the official kick off for your wedding weekend. Your closest friends and family have arrived and everyone is ready to get this party started. The rehearsal dinner sets the tone for the main event and this pre-party comes with its own unique set of planning considerations. No one knows the ins and outs of creating rehearsal dinner magic better than Kerri Sitrin, Senior Special Events Coordinator at Starr Restaurants, so we went straight to the expert to get her top tips for planning the perfect rehearsal dinner in Philadelphia.
1. The Date
This may sound obvious, but make sure you tell your rehearsal dinner coordinator the right date! Couples have their wedding date on their mind and often give this date when inquiring. Most of the time people recognize their mistake quickly, but this could lead to a huge issue down the line if not noticed right away.
It’s helpful to have a rough budget in mind before you call the restaurant. Sharing your budget right up front will ensure you get the best options to match your vision while staying respectful of how much you want to spend. For example, Starr Restaurants has 19 locations in Philadelphia so that’s 19 unique rehearsal dinner experiences you can have on 19 different budgets.
The best way to have a memorable wedding weekend is to ensure every event feels unique. This starts with making sure you don’t offer the same menu options for your rehearsal dinner as your wedding menu. If you’re serving filet and sea bass at your wedding, you don’t want to serve filet and sea bass the night before.
Taking this a step further, if your wedding is upscale and formal, maybe switch things up and plan a low key and casual rehearsal dinner gathering - perhaps a pizza party at Pizzeria Stella or BBQ at Fette Sau.
Guests have a long and exciting day to look forward to, so you don’t want people going too crazy the night before with adult beverages. We’ve all heard stories of guests doing a bit too much celebrating at the rehearsal dinner and feeling it on the wedding day. If that’s a concern, you can limit the bar to no shots or beer and wine only. If you feel beer and wine aren't enough but you don’t want your guests going overboard with liquor, you can always add one or two featured specialty cocktails that are low in alcohol.
5. Event Format
Guests often meet at the rehearsal dinner for the first time so a reception-style event is a great alternative to a traditional seated dinner. This way guests have the opportunity to interact with everyone instead of just the two people seated on either side of them.
6. Point Person
You’ve done enough planning in advance, it’s time to relax and celebrate the start of your wedding weekend! You shouldn’t be bothered with the little details like if the place card should be on or next to the setting. Assign a point person to be the restaurant’s go to contact that night and then all that worry is off your plate. If possible, I would suggest someone not attending the rehearsal itself so they can arrive at the restaurant a little bit early. Let this person know the details of your event that you arranged, the name of the contact at the restaurant, and any special décor they need to set up before everyone else walks through the door.
In a perfect world your rehearsal dinner would be right next to the rehearsal itself, but in my experience, this rarely happens. Don’t worry, Philadelphia is a small enough city that you can get your group around quickly. Don’t be afraid to choose a location a bit further away if you love the venue. For example, if your rehearsal is in Old City but your first date was at The Dandelion and it’s a perfect fit, go for it! If your budget allows a bus or limo service that’s great, but in today’s world of Uber and Lyft this isn’t necessary. Just don’t forget to take travel time into consideration for your rehearsal dinner start time.
8. Mark Your Calendar
Once your rehearsal dinner is booked there are likely a few dates you will have to keep in mind for details like deposit, final guest count, and menu selection. Mark your calendar right away with these dates while they’re fresh in your mind so you don’t have to worry. Starr Restaurants sends out final count reminders but not all venues do this. The last thing you want is to get stuck paying for extra people.
There are so many ways to personalize your night and make it memorable to your guests that don’t require a ton of work or money. Adding a custom headline on your guest’s menu is an easy way to personalize. Ask your venue if this is something they can do for you; if not, you can get menus made through your stationery company that match your invitations. Starr Restaurants gives the option of a complimentary menu headline at most of the restaurants. Some couples request more traditional menu headlines while others include hashtags or inside jokes. Other cute ideas I have seen to personalize the event are photos of the couple as the table number at that age (e.g. photos of the bride and groom at age 7 for table #7), featured specialty cocktails to match the couple, and personalized napkins or coasters with the couple’s names.
10. Event Size
Rehearsal dinners are larger than ever these days, and sometimes this gets stressful (and expensive!). One great way to make sure everyone feels included but still keep your rehearsal dinner more intimate is to host just the bridal party and immediate family for dinner. Then, plan a more casual welcome gathering afterward so that out-of-towners and friends don't feel left out.
Kerri Sitrin is a food-loving, on point, and always-in-the-know Senior Special Events Coordinator at Starr Restaurants.
Have an event planning question or looking for a location for your rehearsal dinner? Private Message @ksitrin on Flutter Social or send her an email at email@example.com. Follow Kerri on Instagram at @ksitrin and follow Starr Restaurants at @starrrestaurant.
Featured photo by @carlyfullerphoto