Rehearsal Dinner Ideas on a Budget

Looking to plan a simple wedding rehearsal dinner?  You’re in the right place!  Read on for rehearsal dinner planning tips that are simple, affordable, and will make for an unforgettable evening.

You’ll find a complete post below of everything we reviewed in today’s episode of the Wedding Planning Podcast on simple wedding rehearsal dinners – simply scroll down to review.

On-the-go, and prefer to listen instead?  Grab your earbuds, and enjoy the audio version here:

Planning Your Wedding Rehearsal Dinner | episode dated 2.28.24

Some General Rehearsal Dinner Ideas

Start making plans early. 

Naturally when you’re planning your wedding, most of the energy & attention is focused on the wedding day itself.

For today, we’re going to completely forget about the wedding day.  Carve out this time to start formulating a wedding rehearsal dinner that is simple, affordable, and full of meaning.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or at full-capacity?  The rehearsal dinner is a perfect item to delegate to parents, close family, or your wedding party members who are excited to help with the wedding plans.

Not to worry – I’ll get to the rehearsal dinner itself.  But first, let’s review some really important points about the actual ceremony rehearsal that takes place before “dinner” (more on that later!).

The Rehearsal Dinner Agenda | Ceremony Walk-Through

Depending on the complexity of your wedding ceremony, the rehearsal itself can be very elaborate, or it can be a VERY quick run through the motions.

Rehearsal day is your last (and maybe only?) chance to have everyone together, on the same page about all the wedding ceremony logistics.  This makes it even more important to take the time to think through the particulars. 

The rehearsal will ideally take place inside your ceremony venue, but if it’s not available the night before the wedding, don’t panic.  You can still run through everything even if it’s not inside the actual church or the exact site of the ceremony.


  • Your wedding party,
  • Anyone with a special role in the wedding ceremony (readings, ceremonies, etc.)
  • Closest family – (your call how far that extends)
  • Wedding coordinator (if using one) – they will be your quarterback in keeping everyone organized, so it’s very important that they are present.  If you’re not using a coordinator, anyone who you delegate to help out on the wedding day with timing and organization should be present.  That could be an aunt, a close friend, etc.
  • And lastly, your wedding officiant.


The same folks who attend the ceremony walkthrough should also be invited to the rehearsal dinner.

casual rehearsal dinner ideas
Read on for casual rehearsal dinner ideas …  Photo courtesy of Tammy Horton Photography.

Now that we’ve reviewed the basics of the ceremony rehearsal, let’s move on to some …


If you’re in the thick of planning, I can totally appreciate how even thinking about your rehearsal dinner may feel overwhelming.  You’re swamped, frantically adding things up, having nightmares about dollar signs, and on top of it all, you have to plan and host, and pay for a separate party on top of everything else.  #nothanks!

Not to worry – planning your rehearsal dinner doesn’t have to be overwhelming, or expensive!

The good news is that you definitely don’t have to take 50 of your closest friends and family out to an expensive restaurant, and then pick up the tab.  Whew!

In my experience, simple wedding rehearsal dinners are the best kind.

Let’s look at some ways to keep your wedding rehearsal dinner super simple, and really affordable.


Essentially, as with most things in wedding planning, you can spend as little, or as MUCH as you’d like on the rehearsal dinner.  There are a million ways to go in either direction.  I’m guessing you’re not here trying to make things as expensive as possible, so let’s turn the other way shall we?  😀

Keep reading for THREE casual rehearsal dinner ideas:

  • Relaxed backyard rehearsal dinner,

  • Casual restaurant rehearsal dinner,

  • Simple wedding rehearsal dinner at the park.


Reasons why to love it:

  • The venue is free,
  • You have full control over the cost of food & drinks,
  • There’s no rush to be in or out at a certain time.

Backyard Rehearsal Dinner Menu | Planning Action Items:

  • Keep the food and drinks really simple.  For example, BBQ, beer and wine. 
  • Assign a handful of people to grilling duty. 
  • Sample menu items – gourmet hot dog & burger bar.  Ribs & sides.  Seafood kebabs.  All of this is really easy to prep ahead of time, cook outside, and serve very casually. 
  • For drinks, keep things simple with bottled water & sodas, maybe a keg of your favorite beer, and of course, don’t forget the wine!  Shop your local warehouse store or grocery store and take advantage of sales and multi-bottle discounts.
budget wedding ideas
Shop amazing deals at your local warehouse store!  My fave?  Toasted Head Chardonnay for $5.99 at Costco.


Let’s be real – things can add up really quickly when you’ve got 30, 40, 50 people each ordering their own food and drinks at a restaurant.  An alternative is to arrange a set menu with your favorite, causal restaurant, and serve things family-style or buffet-style.

The idea here is that rather than giving your guests each a menu and having them order a $25 entree and 5 drinks, you’re controlling the menu and the cost from the start.

Rehearsal Dinner Catering Menus & Notes / Planning Action Items:

  • Many restaurants will offer a private party or banquet room with a minimum tab requirement. 
  • Call around for quotes on casual family-style / buffet catering at your fave local restaurants.
  • Sample rehearsal dinner catering menu #1:  At your favorite Chinese restaurant, arrange for 5 large portions of your favorites, along with noodles & rice sides. 
  • Sample rehearsal dinner catering menu #2: Casual Mexican food  – arrange for a fajita buffet, or a few large dishes of enchiladas, rice, and beans. 
  • Stipulate beer and wine only, or one drink per person.
  • Limit drinks to non-alcoholic bev’s for even bigger savings.
rehearsal dinner
Keep it casual for max affordability & fun! Photo courtesy of Tammy Horton Photography


And finally, consider a mix of these two ideas – forget the restaurant, take a very casual backyard or park setting, AND bring in very simple, very affordable catering for everyone. 

Park Rehearsal Dinner Planning Tips

  • If you don’t have access to a backyard, think about local parks, lakes, beaches, community centers where you could set up.
  • You may need to apply for an event permit which is typically very easy and very cheap, just check with your local parks & rec folks, or make a few phone calls.

Park Rehearsal Dinner Menu Ideas:

  • The catering menu for this rehearsal dinner set up can be as simple as sandwiches, chips and a couple salads from the grocery store. 
  • Consider a very casual catering menu of make your own street tacos,
  • Brick oven pizzas,
  • Or even bring in a really fun & unique food truck. 
  • Lastly, be sure you’re following all glass & alcohol restrictions.  The last thing on earth we need the night before your wedding is 50 people being ticketed for drinking beer out of glass bottles on the beach where there’s no glass or alcohol allowed.  (Insert monkey covering his eyes emoji here)


rehearsal dinner
A unique food truck is such a fun way to host your rehearsal dinner!  Photo courtesy of Tammy Horton Photography

rehearsal dinner invitations

LISTENER QUESTIONS & Rehearsal Dinner Ideas

Who pays for the rehearsal dinner for a wedding? 

“I heard that the groom’s family pays for the rehearsal dinner, but they haven’t offered – how should we approach this?”

Every budget situation is so very different – this can be a convo for your fiancé to have with his parents, ideally in the early stages of the wedding plans.

The parents may be thrilled to help and foot the bill.  It’s also possible that they are NOT in the financial situation to offer any help at all. 

The best way to approach any requests for money from parents is for each of you to speak directly and privately with your own parents, with the graceful and given understanding that the parents may not be able to provide any assistance at all.

Rehearsal Dinner Menu Ideas

“We don’t want to take on the work of doing the food ourselves, but the thought of paying for everyone to go to a restaurant is terrifying.  Do you have any ideas for keeping a restaurant rehearsal dinner menu affordable?”

Scroll up – we answered this very question above!

Follow up tips on this – 

  • Call ahead to your favorite casual restaurants and negotiate a set menu,
  • Consider restricting or eliminating alcohol service,
  • Keep the rehearsal guest list small!  


Rehearsal Dinner Who to Invite

Put VERY simply: the fewer the people, the smaller the tab. 

If you find yourself wanting to include all the aunts and uncles and cousins and out-of-towners, you may want to put on the brakes, and dial it back to the bare essentials.  This includes your wedding party, parents, grandparents, and siblings. 

I know every family dynamic is very different, so this is unique to each and every couple.  With that said, do your best to keep your rehearsal dinner invite list as small as possible for maximum affordability.


Rehearsal Dinner Activities

“Any ideas for making our rehearsal dinner really meaningful and memorable?  I don’t want it to be a stressful whirlwind of ceremony rehearsal, racing to the cars to get to the restaurant, 50 people in a crowded, noisy room, and bam – the night is over.”

YES!  This is a wonderful question.  Your rehearsal should be planned out and organized with specific activities & timeline well in advance to avoid the “stressful whirlwind” effect.

Rehearsal Dinner Timeline Tips:

  • Delegate someone to be a mini “MC” to keep things organized and flowing (vs. the big noisy room full of people that you described.)
  • Organize a slideshow – this is a really sweet and meaningful project to delegate to mothers, and/or aunts.  Dedicate 20-30 minutes for everyone to sit and watch together.

Present Gifts to your Family & Wedding Party

The rehearsal dinner is also the perfect time to hand out gifts to your parents and wedding party.  Take a few minutes to thoughtfully address each and every person and express your thanks and gratitude. 

Plan for the room to be quiet and paying attention for the gift-giving.  Use your designated “MC” to get people’s attention, and keep time.

Last rehearsal dinner planning tip – start early!

Don’t let the rehearsal dinner get shoved to the end of your planning list, and creep up in the weeks before the wedding.  With some thoughtful pre-planning and organization, you can pull off a rehearsal that is simple, affordable, AND meaningful. 

Questions for me about todays show? 

I would LOVE to hear from you, and you can always be in touch here.

Cheers until next time!