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Practice Makes Perfect: Rehearsal Dinner Planning Made Easy

Don’t get your tulle in a tangle; we’ve gathered tips from local experts for a memorable, stress-free rehearsal dinner.
Natalie Hall

Let the countdown begin! You’ve written and practiced your vows, selected all your vendors and said “yes” to the dress. Now, it’s rehearsal time. You and your fiancé snap an adorable pre-dinner photo—one of your last as singles—and take a leisurely ride to your rehearsal dinner. You greet the guests and say some thank-yous. Toasts are made, joyful tears shed, stories shared, all under the romantic glow of twinkly lights with your closest friends and family beside you.

Sounds great, right? Wondering how to make your rehearsal dinner shine like the marquee on opening night, without tearing out your perfectly curled hair? We’ve got tips from top local pros to ensure your wedding-weekend kickoff goes off without a hitch.

Best-Laid Plans

“Keep it intimate. Make it memorable.” Succinct advice from Denim Koshell of COVER 3 Anderson Lane. So where to start?

The rehearsal dinner is an extension of your wedding, so it should be well-planned, thoughtful, and cohesive with the big event. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. Involve your wedding party and family in the planning process, and don’t be afraid to delegate. Getting other people involved takes the stress off the nearly-wed couple so they can focus on the big day, and makes the event more fun for those involved.

Becky Navarro, founder of Pearl Events Austin, suggests hiring your wedding photographer to document the dinner, having your florist do the flowers to complement the blooms in the ceremony, and consulting your wedding planner for many aspects of the rehearsal night. The dinner is part of the celebration, and it should feel like it.

The Invite List

Everyone invited to the rehearsal dinner must also be invited to the wedding, but the guest list can range from the wedding party to family and friends. Inviting out-of-town guests is a nice tip of the hat to them for making the journey for your nuptials. The people at your rehearsal dinner should be those closest to your heart, says Carmela Hartman, wedding planner and destination wedding specialist for InStyle Weddings and Events. Inviting them will make the dinner more fun, special and memorable.

You might also consider a more intimate rehearsal dinner itself, with a larger, casual welcome gathering to follow for all out-of-town guests.

Perfect Timing

Practice does make perfect, so all the more important not to be late to your rehearsal dinner. Back up your ceremony rehearsal to give the dinner some breathing room. “I tell all my clients to be there 30 minutes ahead of time,” Navarro says. “Give a personal thank-you to the hosts and then be at the front door to greet everyone upon arrival.”

That breathing room goes for guests, too. Hartman suggests planning your rehearsal two days before your wedding. “This will allow your guests to have more fun, and allow a day to relax prior to the actual day,” she says. That goes specially for the out-of-town guests who may have taken planes, trains and automobiles to get there. Leaving an extra day between rehearsal and reality also gives the two lovebirds time to take care of any last-minute details, fix problems that arise, and relax and enjoy the company.

Dinner Is Served

Remember, this is only the rehearsal: Keep it fun and casual. Low pressure means less stress for the couple, the wedding party and even the guests. “Most of the time, this is when both sides of the family are meeting for the first time,” says Beth Dale, wedding coordinator at The Oasis on Lake Travis. A buffet-style dinner can be a good option, encouraging guests to get out of their seats and mingle. Dale also suggests showing off your city by taking out-of-town guests to an iconic Austin establishment.

A rehearsal dinner is about the couple, and it should convey their personalities and style. Hartman suggests planning an experiential rehearsal dinner. Instead of the traditional sit-down affair, get moving with a wine tour, cooking class or salsa dancing lessons. Or eat your way through the night with a progressive happy hour, picking a few restaurants and bars within walking distance of each other. Start with a lighter dish or appetizers, have a signature drink or two, and end at a good restaurant with live music.

For a made-to-order event, Hartman recommends checking the calendar for upcoming events. Many fairs and events feature delicious food and libations, and an atmosphere filled with the scents, sights and sounds of Austin. “Food festivals are always fun to join,” says Hartman—plus it’s a lower-cost choice.

If you go the seated route, steer clear of a long slideshow viewing. Instead, have it playing on a loop throughout the rehearsal, so that guests can tune in at their leisure, says Navarro. She also suggests having a friend emcee the night to keep it fun, on track and personal.

Take It All In

No matter where you decide to host your rehearsal dinner and what you decide to do for the night, remember to savor every moment and every bite. After all, it’s all about you—enjoy it. Tayler Herrington, events coordinator for the County Line on the Hill, says, “Find somewhere you feel comfortable and happy, and don’t forget that this a time for fun and celebration.”

Hit the Spot
Top venues and views for your rehearsal dinner.

Ah Sing Den
Taking its name from a famed London opium den frequented by creative types like Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle, it’s no surprise this restaurant offers a creative take on traditional Asian fare. The décor has a retro vibe, with warm terra cotta walls, punchy aqua leather bench seating and funky ceiling lights.

Bon Temps Creuset
Stunning views of Lake Travis complement coastal décor and Cajun and Creole fare at Bon Temps Creuset. The elegant, airy space, which has only been open since last summer, extends to a spacious deck that invites relaxation.

The County Line
With breathtaking views of Texas Hill Country from one Austin location and Lake Travis from the other, the County Line has been a Texas institution for over 40 years. Roadhouse décor and legendary Texas barbecue make this an iconic symbol of culture and style.

This refined sports bar boasts casual vibes in an elegant space—think leather sofas and chairs, exposed brick walls, metal halo lights and outdoor options—while offering an elevated dining and drinking experience with a scratch-kitchen, craft cocktails and local beers. Two Austin locations.

El Alma
Bold flavors and a cozy neighborhood atmosphere meet in this local favorite. The authentic Mexican menu includes traditional favorites like ceviche, carne asada tacos and flan, but also has unexpected delights like duck enchiladas and cactus tacos.

Fresa’s South First
The Pinterest-worthy wall painting on the exterior is enough to delight guests. What’s more, Fresa’s South First offers a huge outdoor space and a bright interior with contemporary Mexican-inspired décor. They specialize in chicken, though other proteins are available, and have dishes like green apple and chipotle bacon guacamole and avocado verde salsa for foodies.

Think bar and patio with coastal ambiance. Grizzelda’s is a Tex-Mex restaurant with a super-stylish vibe, in a space filled with white paint, light wood, natural light and playful pops of color and art.

The Oasis on Lake Travis
The “Sunset Capital of Texas,” the Oasis on Lake Travis features stunning views of its namesake Lake Travis, 450 feet below. Guests are encouraged to watch the light show every evening above the lake from the outdoor space offered with each of the five different rental spaces.

Oasis Texas Brewing Co.
For a relaxed atmosphere, good brew and amazing views of Lake Travis, you’ve come to the right place. The industrial interior of this lakeside brewery beacons beer-drinkers and wedding parties alike with a laid back, yet tasteful, vibe.

The Salt Lick
Come for the iconic open-pit barbecue, stay for the authentic Texas ambiance. From rough stone, raw wooden benches and farm tables to gingham tablecloths and string lights, the private dining rooms provide a variety of indoor and outdoor options for rehearsal dinners and post-wedding brunches.

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