Kick off your Northern California wedding festivities in style with a beautiful rehearsal dinner. If you have a ceremony rehearsal, then having dinner afterward makes perfect sense. But even if you don’t have a rehearsal, having a rehearsal dinner is a great way to get in the spirit of the weekend and mingle with your guests. Here’s what you need to know as you get ready for the rehearsal dinner.

The Hosts

The groom’s parents host the rehearsal dinner, which means they pay for it. While this is still common, there is more flexibility nowadays. The couple, the bride’s parents, or a friend or relative can take the lead for this particular event. Allow the hosts to take charge of planning the dinner as much as possible. You as a couple should have input on the overall feel, but let the hosts be the creative directors.

The Timing

The rehearsal dinner is held the day before your Northern California wedding. A day or two before the wedding also works well, as long as you expect no out-of-town guests to attend. Take care though; if the rehearsal dinner is scheduled for the evening before the wedding, pick an early start time so you can enjoy the night at a leisurely pace, while still finishing the festivities early. You, your fiancé, and your guests need a good night’s sleep before the wedding day. Of course, don’t start it too early; you’ll want to be considerate of work schedules too.

The Guest List

There’s a lot of room for flexibility here. Smaller rehearsal dinners often include just the wedding party with their partners and the couple’s immediate families. Inviting the officiant is also appropriate. But it’s not unusual to see larger guest lists for more casual events. Grandparents, other relatives, and friends helping with the wedding may all show up on the guest list. Be courteous if someone else is hosting; make sure the number of guests is within their expectations and fits their budget. Inviting out-of-town guests is a nice way to show extra hospitality to those who have traveled. If you have a limited budget, consider keeping the dinner small, then extending an invitation for out-of-town guests to join you for cocktails or dessert.

The Venue

Keep things simple when choosing a site. Hotels, restaurants, and clubs are great choices because everything is ready to go, including staff, food, and furnishings. A favorite place for you as a couple or the location of your first date can add a fun personal touch to the meal. For small rehearsal dinners of a dozen or less, a willing relative or friend can host the dinner at their home without having to deal with rentals or catering. A barbecue at a park or in a relative’s backyard is a fun and relaxing option. Don’t feel limited to dinner, either. A cocktail hour, hors d’oeuvres, or even breakfast the day of the wedding are all acceptable options for the event. Just make sure your guests know what to expect so they can plan.

The Invites

The timing for sending invitations varies. If your rehearsal dinner guests live close by, send the invitations about a month before your Northern California wedding. If you invite guests, who will need to travel, send invites two to three months before the wedding. This gives guests time to make the travel arrangements. Include a card with information about the rehearsal dinner with the wedding invitations when appropriate.

Keep your rehearsal dinner low stress. This is a fun opportunity to visit with family and friends and create a positive vibe for the big day. It’s also a good way to unwind a little after the months of wedding planning stress and craziness. Planning a wedding is a lot of work and stressful. Working with a wedding planner cuts the stress so you can enjoy the process from start to finish. When the big day arrives, your wedding planner gives you the opportunity to enjoy the wedding like one of your guests.