Wedding Rehearsal Dinner On A Budget
Planning a wedding can be a stressful experience, emotionally and financially. I don’t think anyone is arguing with that, right? Tons of emails, phone calls, negotiations, invoices, contracts…the list continues on and on. Just when you feel like you’re bleeding dollar signs, but you can see the light at the end of the planning tunnel, you remember – Holy Shit, we have to throw a smaller party, the actual night before our larger party. What kind of nonsense is that?!
First of all, don’t panic. Rehearsal dinners don’t have to be a full course, sit down meal with an open bar. You don’t have to rent a venue and create a place setting for every person. If you’re looking to keep it simple and reduce those costs…you’ve come to the right place. Let’s get a little creative, shall we?
Do you have a family member or a close friend with a roomy backyard? This can be the perfect place to hold your rehearsal dinner, without breaking the bank. One of the best perks of a backyard dinner? Free venue! Boom…. savings already. You also avoid any sort of rush to be in or out at a certain time, although we definitely recommend winding down pretty early on the night before your big day. Even more, you have full control over food and beverage, with no service fees or minimums (like you may find at a restaurant or venue who caters food). Beyond this, it’s possible that you have some family members or close friends who truly want to contribute to your wedding and have inquired about ways that they can pitch in (if not, I’m sure you can turn up the charm and recruit a few). This is the perfect opportunity to delegate some tasks and take a little bit of the stress off of you and your fiancé.
Let’s go over some tips & tricks for backyard rehearsals.
BBQ – A super simple and cost-effective way to feed your crew, without bringing in an outside vendor to cater or drop off catered food, is to BBQ. Hit up your local Costco (or another store with great deals) and load up on ribs and/or supplies to make burgers, some veggies to grill up (corn, zucchini, bell peppers, or anything that can go on a skewer), ask your mom to make her special mashed potatoes, maybe your sister-in-law makes a big salad…you get the point.
Tacos – Another simple solution to feeding a lot of people. Create a build your own taco station (which can satisfy both meat-eaters and vegetarians). Chips and Guac is obviously a must-have in this scenario and always a crowd-pleaser. Alternatively, if you want to spend a little bit more and take out all of the work – a taco cart vendor is a very affordable and convenient option for catering a small or large event.
Restaurant food delivery – Don’t want to have a team come in to cater but also don’t want to bug your family to be on cooking duty? Ordering large salads and platters of food from a nearby restaurant is a nice way to meet in the middle. Salads can be delivered with the dressing on the side and tossed into large bowls upon arrival. You can order large sides of meats, pasta dishes, grains, and anything else that catches your eye. Lay it all out in a buffet style and let the people eat.
Pizza – Need I say more? Super affordable, super convenient and definitely a people pleaser. This option won’t be for everyone and that’s okay. For some of you though…this could be a real hit. Remember, you can always pair with some large salads, so guests feel like they have a more well-rounded meal.
Food truck – A newish trend on the scene is the food truck option. If you choose a food truck that hasn’t blown up in popularity, it’s likely that they will accommodate your smaller party and may be willing to pull right up to your backyard rehearsal. You can work with them beforehand on a custom menu or just let them serve right from their everyday menu. It is likely that you will have to pay a minimum.
Rentals - Depending on what your family member or close friend has in stock, in terms of furniture, it may be necessary for you to rent a few items. Remember that for a casual event like this, it is not vital that every person sits at a table. You can rent a few low tables with chairs (try 48” round tables with 8 chairs each) and a few high cocktail tables, where people can stand and chat but still have a place to set their drink and plate. Feel free to mix these in with the (possible) preexisting outdoor furniture. You will also need some linens for your tables (keep it simple with a poly linen AKA the most cost-effective option. Neutrals are usually a safe bet.) Don’t forget about the food station! If the backyard includes an outdoor bar or other areas where you can set up the food, use the space that already exists. If not, rent a few 6ft or 8ft tables for your food set up.
Plates – Don’t forget that people need something to eat off of! The easiest way to deal with this is to go with a disposable route. You can get a bunch of plastic plates, cups, cutlery, and napkins. For a more sustainable route, choose bamboo or compostable plastics. If you are truly environmentally conscious and want to take on the task or price tag of real plates, glassware, and cutlery…go ahead and add this onto your rental order (you won’t have to wash them fully before returning, just scrape the food off and stack them back into their crates).
Trash – Either rent a few trash cans, set up trash cans that already exist within the space or buy some disposable pop-up trash cans from the internet. Depending on the size of your party, put one family member in charge of making sure the trash cans don’t get too full (typically rehearsals aren’t large enough for this to be an issue, but it’s a good thing to have on your radar regardless). If you are environmentally conscious, it’s a great idea to have a separate trash can for recycling.
Music – Do you have a Bluetooth speaker? Do you have a music platform, such as Spotify? If not, recruit someone who does. Pre-charge the speaker and create a playlist ahead of time. Go ahead and run that playlist, so no one has to be in charge of selecting songs throughout the party! Music is also a helpful indicator for the end of the party. If people are tempted to linger, turning off the music and beginning to clean up will clue them to move their way towards the exit door.
Cocktail Hour Rehearsal
Can’t find a family member with a backyard large enough to accommodate your rehearsal? Or maybe you just don’t want to deal with the labor involved in hosting at a home? Perhaps the cocktail hour rehearsal is right for you! Some restaurants and bars allow you to reserve a portion of their space (think an outside patio or back room). There may be a minimum required but often times that’s fairly easy to hit. There are a few ways to go about this scenario, each of which has you paying varying amounts. Let’s go over your options.
Your first option involves covering the food and drink for everyone, for the entirety of the “cocktail hour”. This is obviously the most expensive option. Being at a restaurant saves you from having to rent tables or supply plates and cups but paying for everyone to have unlimited food and drink, within a designated time frame, can definitely get pricey.
Your second option is to cover a portion of the food and drink. Look over the menu and work with the restaurant to select a number of dishes that can be created in larger quantities, in order to create a type of buffet-style setup. If the restaurant is not willing to do this, just order multiple dishes, approaching the minimum. Don’t forget to factor in drinks! An option for covering a portion of drinks for everyone is to cover the first round. You can purchase some drink tickets ahead of time and pay the restaurant a designated amount for the drink tickets. You can hand out one ticket to everyone and once they have used their designated ticket, they will pay for the remainder of their own drinks. Similarly, once the food runs out, you can choose to order more, or guests can buy themselves more food.
Free Venue Rehearsal
An additional budget-friendly option for your rehearsal dinner is to locate a free venue in your area. This can be anything from a local park or recreation area to a community center or possibly a church (if you or any of your closest peeps are members). This option comes with similar logistical challenges as the backyard rehearsal, depending on where you land. Community centers will often include tables, chairs and possibly linens. If you end up at a park, you can use some pre-existing picnic tables but may want to rent a few additional tables for seating or get creative and bring some blankets, to create seating areas on the ground. Refer back to the food options of a backyard rehearsal, as they also translate about the same with a free venue option.