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Guests cheer with glasses at rehearsal dinner

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11 Fun Rehearsal Dinner Themes

You don’t have to have stuffy sit-down rehearsal dinner. Rethink the typical setting and go for something a little more inventive. From a backyard to the bowling alley or on the beach – just about anyplace will work. Steal one of these ideas and your rehearsal dinner might be just as memorable as the wedding itself.

Photo: Mike Larson Photography

A BBQ Rehearsal Dinner

Host a relaxed outdoor dinner with all of your cookout favorites on the menu, like burgers, dogs, and mac and cheese. Upgrade traditional BBQ dishes and serve a gourmet version. Think: pulled-pork sliders and caprese salad kabobs. Have it in a backyard, at a local BBQ joint or even a nearby public park. Decorate the tables with wildflowers in galvanized tin pails and tie in classic details, like a checkered-print tablecloth and homemade citronella candles.
What to Watch for: Like any outdoor event, you’ll need to prepare for the elements with anti-mosquito spray, fans (or heat lamps if it’s chilly) and an indoor plan in case of rain.

A Fondue Rehearsal Dinner

Instead of a traditional sit-down meal, guests can mingle over a buffet-style feast from fondue pots or even fountains. Start with toast points and various cheese pots: Blue cheese and Gruyere are good starters. Move on to meats, potatoes and veggies, which can each be dipped in sauces, like teriyaki and red wine, and cooked right on the table. For dessert, have fresh fruit, squares of pound cake or brownies, bananas and marshmallows, and pots of melted chocolate, caramel, marshmallow, honey and yogurt.
What to Watch for: Fondue can be messy. You’ll want to have plenty of napkins on hand, as well as tables and chairs for guests to sit down and eat. If you’re hosting at home, you may want to hire a cleaning crew to wipe up tables and chairs to keep the fondue neat and tidy.

A Bowling Rehearsal Dinner

There’s no rule that says a rehearsal dinner has to be, well, just dinner. Bowling and arcade games are just the kinds of activities that will help break the ice between your families and friends. You could even make it a competition and give awards at the end of the night (don’t for-get to honor “Most Gutter Balls!”). Serve up beer and pizza right there at the alley or move to a nearby restaurant after the games are over.
What to Watch for: Aim to rent out private lanes or even a separate room for dining. And steer away from any decor that’s too whimsical, like pennants and balloons, and decorate with a few fresh flowers to add a touch of elegance.

A Casino Night Rehearsal Dinner

Host a Monte Carlo–inspired affair, complete with classic casino games, like blackjack and rou-lette. Send out wedding rehearsal dinner invitations on customized playing cards for your casino night, and decorate surfaces with chocolate poker chips. Let your bridal party take turns dealing blackjack, poker and other card games (or hire a real dealer), and consider having bingo and raffle prizes. No casino is complete without lots of chic sips, so keep the champagne flowing as gambling guests spend the evening toasting the bride and groom.
What to Watch for: Because guests will be moving around the room and having fun with the games, it may feel less intimate than if everyone is sitting at tables. You can solve this by having a seated dinner or cocktail hour first, so guests don’t miss out on mingling.

A Clam or Lobster Bake Rehearsal Dinner

If you’re near a beach, go the most traditional route and hire a crew to dig a two- or three-foot-deep pit lined with rocks and build a wood-fire top (there are catering companies that can take care of this for you). The alternative landlocked version works too: Order steamed clams and provisions and then set them up on big picnic tables for everyone to nosh on. Top your tables with checkered tablecloths and a few fresh flower arrangements. If you have the means and the space, end the night with a bonfire and s’mores.
What to Watch for: It’s messy, so make sure your guests who aren’t as familiar with this style of party know they should wear super-casual attire.

A Sports Game Rehearsal Dinner

Get the wedding festivities underway with a rehearsal dinner excursion to a local football or baseball stadium for some tailgating followed by a game. Look into group packages —many ballparks have them, and some even offer options like a congratulatory message on the score-board. Have all the guests sign a “game ball” for you to keep.
What to Watch for: You’re a superfan, but all of your guests probably aren’t. So instead, con-sider having the game-going portion of the night follow a more formal dinner. If you actually want to host evening at the ballpark, choose a game or team that’s fun to watch, but that you won’t be glued to, like a minor league game.

A Wine or Beer Pairing Rehearsal Dinner

It’s your typical dinner, but with a twist. Bring in a wine, beer or even whiskey specialist to help craft the menu to teach your guests how to pair the perfect sip for every course (even dessert!). So you might choose six to eight different wines of the same grape varietal (do all Shiraz or all chardonnay), so guests can really taste the difference. And make sure to pair each course with a great cheese. Décor-wise, let your theme be the guide. Use grapes and cheese boards as your centerpieces. If it’s a beer tasting, fill cute vintage beer bottles with a few fresh flowers.
What to Watch for: You’ll want to get in on the fun, but don’t drink so much that you start off your wedding day with a hangover. Plan for plenty of food, so no one’s staggering into the cer-emony the next day -- and drink lots of water in between courses!

A Tee Time Rehearsal Dinner

Go one step further than the traditional country club or golf course rehearsal dinner and let eve-ryone spend cocktail hour perfecting their swing at the driving range. At dinnertime, name the tables after scores (birdy, par, bogie and eagle) and decorate with miniature hole flags anchored with colorful tees.
What to Watch for: Golf courses and country club venues can be pricey, but don’t let that stop you. This idea also works in your backyard with a homemade, obstacle-laden, mini-golf course.

A Picnic Rehearsal Dinner

Spread out in a park with your guests for a low-key, fun outdoor affair during the day or early evening. Set up an old-fashioned spread (think: salads, sandwiches and lots of fresh-squeezed lemonade). You’ll want a mix of tables and blankets for seating, but use picnic baskets with a pretty decorated handle filled with food instead of traditional centerpieces.
What to Watch for: Even though it’s picnic style, you still need enough food for your guests to make a meal, or you should let everyone know it will not be a full meal with some careful word-ing on the invitations. If you don’t want to be responsible for an entire meal, move the time to sometime in between lunch and dinner.

A Dessert Buffet Rehearsal Dinner

Here’s a sweet alternative to the traditional sit-down dinner hosted at a later hour (around 9 or 10 in the evening). It’s great if a lot of guests will be traveling in and won’t be able to attend until later in the day anyway. Host the dessert buffet at a local coffee shop, dessert bar or even at your home with a variety of pastries, chocolates, tarts and candy. Offer a few non-sweets too, like fruit or even bite-size sandwiches.
What to Watch for: If your ceremony rehearsal has to happen early, but the party doesn’t start until late, you may have some time to kill in between. That’s okay -- just spread the news. Guests will most likely end up finding dinner on their own before the dessert party. You can do your part by suggesting a few restaurants in the area.

A Beach-Inspired Rehearsal Dinner

Going somewhere tropical for your honeymoon? Give guests a little sneak peek and transform your rehearsal dinner into your honeymoon destination. Hang hammocks from trees in your backyard, serve dinner buffet-style on long surfboards, and blend up some pina coladas and daiquiris. For fun favor ideas, try personalized messages in glass bottles or flip-flops. As an ac-tivity, have guests write in ideas for things to do on your honeymoon.
What To Watch For: Transforming a ballroom or restaurant into a tropical paradise might re-quire quite a bit of decor, so it’s best suited for a spot that’s outdoors (when it’s warm of course!) or that already comes with a built-in beachy vibe.

-- Simone Hill

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