3 simple steps to form (and fine-tune) the rehearsal dinner guest list

3 simple steps to form (and fine-tune) the rehearsal dinner guest list

Who is invited to the rehearsal dinner? This may be one of the first questions of the mother of the groom who often, but not always, plans this event. If you and your son’s father are hosting the rehearsal dinner, working closely with the bride to develop the rehearsal dinner guest list is almost certainly one of the first tasks you’ll sort out in the journey to your son’s wedding day.

And it’s something we want to do well, right?

I see in hindsight that the rehearsal dinner was a kind of final “send off” for my son as well as an opportunity to give affection and support to my future daughter-in-law. Now I understand why the pleasure and emotional reward from this experience was so profound.

So, let’s get you started with a few steps and things to remember when you’re preparing the invitation list.

Remember you’re on your way to a once-in-a-lifetime moment, a memory you’ll cherish long after your son’s wedding.

Prepare the starter list

Polling the experts, including EmilyPost.com, Sharon Naylor, author of “Mother of the Groom, Everything You Need to Know to Enjoy the Best Wedding Ever,” and Sydell Rabin, author of “The Complete Mother of the Groom,”  we find that these people should definitely be included in the rehearsal dinner guest list:

• Members of the wedding party and their spouses, intendeds, live-in partners or their dates if the date is also invited to the wedding

• Parents of flower girls, ring bearers or other young attendants

• The officiant and his or her spouse or partner

• Musicians and their significant others

• Anyone who is reading or taking some other part in the ceremony, along with their spouse or partner

• Parents, stepparents and grandparents of the bride and groom

• Children of the bride and groom

• Siblings of the bride and groom who may not be in the wedding, and their partners, of course, too

Begin your rehearsal dinner guest list with these people.

Quick estimate

A handy statistic from The Knot revealed that in 2011 brides and grooms had an average of four to five attendants each. So when you put the pencil to an average wedding, you see that the rehearsal dinner invitation list will include a minimum of about 24 guests. If there are other participants in the ceremony, stepparents or young attendants and several grandparents attending, the number will quickly approach 40. So, before you add anyone other than the “must invites,” you know you are looking at a party for between 20 and 40 people. This can be helpful for planning purposes before you finalize the guest list.

Add extras

Who else to invite depends on what the bride and groom want, your budget, and the size or capacity of your venue. Many people include out-of-town guests on the rehearsal dinner guest list. If the bride and groom want to invite them and the budget and venue allow, you can have a wonderful pre-wedding party.

You’ll need to coordinate closely with the bride or her mother to know which of the out-of-town guests have sent their “yes we’re coming” rsvps. Together, you’ll need to decide whether to include just family members or friends too.

Something to think about is whether to include in-town wedding guests who are also close to out-of-town guests. For instance, if you are inviting a cousin whose parents or siblings live nearby, you’ll probably need to invite them too.

See how quickly the size of this event grows? Unless you want nearly everyone who is coming to the wedding to also attend the rehearsal dinner, be careful.

Then add a few more

“Flexibility” is great advice from Sydell Rabin, who suggests in “The Complete Mother of the Groom” that you should add a dozen people to the number you tally after compiling the rehearsal dinner guest list. Whether after you begin planning or at the last minute, you’ll no doubt think of other people to add. Also, it is a good idea to plan for unexpected guests brought along by people you invite.

Make sure your venue is large enough

Because your final count is almost never your final count, be sure you have carefully considered the invitation list before you choose a venue. If, for instance, a restaurant party room holds up to 50 people and you know there will be at least 40 guests, you’ll probably overrun its capacity. I recommend looking for another option.

Bonus Tip

One way to take a burden off the rehearsal dinner, and add even more fun for the weekend is for a family member or friend to host a separate pre-wedding gathering for other relatives and friends who are visiting and who are not on the rehearsal dinner guest list.

The rehearsal dinner for my son’s wedding included the basics plus out-of-town family members. The bride and groom had six attendants each. The officiant came alone. Musicians were also attendants. Two sets of grandparents were there plus two siblings who were not in the wedding, a stepmother and step-grandmother. We added aunts, uncles, step-siblings, cousins and a cousin’s neighbor. I planned for 80 and we served about 70. A few more would have joined us but they did not arrive in town in time for dinner.

My son’s wedding was wonderful, but the wedding-eve was also a highlight of the weekend, especially for me. Managing the rehearsal dinner guest list was challenging but worth the effort. My advice is to remember you’re on your way to a once-in-a-lifetime moment, a memory you’ll cherish long after your son’s wedding. The rehearsal dinner is a small but momentous step toward a new and exciting phase of your family’s history.