Get the Party Started

With a lit­tle plan­ning and a whole lot of love, the day be­fore your wed­ding can be the (sec­ond) hap­pi­est day of your life. Here’s how to cre­ate an in­spired and un­for­get­table re­hearsal cel­e­bra­tion.

Martha Stewart Weddings - - THE PLANNER - TEXT BY CAR A SUL­LI­VAN PHO­TO­GRAPHS BY MILLIE HOLL OMAN PHO­TOG­RA­PHY

First things first.

How will you kick off your wed­ding cel­e­bra­tion? Do you want to throw a re­hearsal din­ner, a wel­come party, or some com­bi­na­tion of the two? “Tra­di­tion­ally, wel­come par­ties in­di­cate that all guests are in­vited, whereas re­hearsal din­ners are re­served for the wed­ding party and close fam­ily mem­bers,” says Lyn­d­sey Hamil­ton, owner of Lyn­d­sey Hamil­ton Events in New York City. While most cou­ples opt for one or the other, some spread out the mer­ri­ment for an ex­tra day and host sep­a­rate pre-par­ties—an all-in­clu­sive wel­come fête two nights be­fore the wed­ding, and a pri­vate din­ner fol­low­ing the re­hearsal on the wed­ding’s eve. The choice is en­tirely yours, but if you’re ty­ing the knot in a far-flung lo­cale or most of your guests are out-of-town­ers, eti­quette would dic­tate that you some­how in­clude ev­ery­one. If you don’t have the de­sire or the bud­get to throw an ad­di­tional largescale event, don’t worry: There are low-key ways to in­clude lots of guests. “Share an in­ti­mate meal with at­ten­dants and fam­ily at a restau­rant with a large bar, then in­vite out-of-town guests to join you for a drink af­ter din­ner,” says Katie Jayne Spren­kle, owner of Jayne Wed­dings & Events in Chicago. Read on for more re­hearsal-day strat­egy.

Make It “So You”

You’ve in­jected bits of your­selves into ev­ery de­tail of the wed­ding, and prepar­ties should be sim­i­larly per­sonal. But you can also loosen up—a lot. “This is a great op­por­tu­nity to in­cor­po­rate less for­mal in­ter­ests,” says Sheena Kalso, owner of the In­vis­i­ble Host­ess in Seat­tle. To get cre­ative, con­sider these themes.

Your hon­ey­moon. “Plan din­ner around the lo­ca­tion of your up­com­ing trip,” sug­gests Kalso. Jet­ting off to Hawaii? Go wild with a luau theme, com­plete with an is­land-ca­sual dress code, a hula per­for­mance, and a pig roast.

Your pas­sions. “I planned one re­hearsal din­ner where we took the guests fly­fish­ing, and an­other where we cel­e­brated the bride’s love for Tay­lor Swift with karaoke,” says Kathy Good­man, owner of Well Re­hearsed in San Francisco. “This is the ideal time to high­light the lit­tle quirky things that don’t make it into the wed­ding plan.”

Food. There’s no short­age of culi­nary themes, but plan­ners re­port that bar­be­cues and clam­bakes are among the most re­quested. “Bar­be­cue is big in many re­gions of the coun­try, so it’s al­ways a hit,” says Hamil­ton. And while ev­ery­one loves a beach­side clam­bake, land­locked ver­sions can be a blast, too. “Ask your caterer to serve lob­sters, mus­sels, steamed clams, corn, and pota­toes in in­di­vid­ual mesh bags,” says Bethany Scalise, coowner of Shindig Events & Cater­ing in New­bury­port, Mas­sachusetts.

Booze. “If you have an affin­ity for whiskey cul­ture, in­vite ev­ery­one to join you at a dis­tillery,” says Kalso. Beer fans can head to a you-brew es­tab­lish­ment to craft beer to­gether. Wine lovers might treat loved ones to a pair­ing menu, or hold a blind tast­ing: Of­fer a prize—such as your fa­vorite bot­tle of vino—for the win­ner.

Break the Ice

Try these tips to ramp up the fun while putting friends and fam­ily who may not know one an­other at ease.

Serve the meal fam­ily-style. “This is the best way to get peo­ple talk­ing,” says Spren­kle. “Pass­ing items around and chat­ting will have ev­ery­one feel­ing as re­laxed as they would at Sun­day din­ner.”

Keep them busy. No one wants to sit qui­etly next to a stranger for three hours. In­stead, get ev­ery­one up and mov­ing (and, pre­sum­ably, talk­ing) with un­ex­pected ac­tiv­i­ties. “Try corn­hole toss games, cro­quet, or even tarot-card read­ings,” sug­gests Hamil­ton. If you have a com­pet­i­tive crowd,

look no fur­ther than wed­ding bingo: “As guests ar­rive, hand out cus­tom cards with spe­cific de­scrip­tions on ev­ery square, such as ‘The cou­ple who just hiked Machu Pic­chu’ or ‘The wo­man who has never had cof­fee.’ Track­ing them down is a great way for ev­ery­one to get ac­quainted while hav­ing fun,” says Good­man.

Play match­maker. Not ro­man­ti­cally— though many cou­ples meet at wed­dings! “If your din­ner has as­signed seat­ing, cre­ate place-set­ting cards that say things like, ‘Dave, on your right, has a fas­ci­nat­ing job,’ or ‘Kathryn, on your left, just moved here from Aus­tralia,’” says Scalise.

Toast With the Most

The re­hearsal din­ner tends to be the place for less for­mal, and some­times more bois­ter­ous, speech­mak­ing. And while there’s a fine line be­tween a great speech and a cringe­wor­thy one, the party shouldn’t turn into a roast.

Start early. There’s a sim­ple rea­son for this: The later the toasts, the more tipsy the toast­ers. Enough said.

Map out a plan. Some re­hearsal din­ners fea­ture tons of speeches, oth­ers just one or two. Ei­ther way, “it’s a good idea to choose speak­ers in ad­vance so they will sound more pre­pared,” says Spren­kle. Start with the hosts and add whomever you are com­fort­able with. Des­ig­nate a rel­a­tive or friend as em­cee to keep things mov­ing.

Skip the open mic. “Not only does it make your guests feel ob­li­gated to say some­thing (that you might not want them to say!), but it can eas­ily spin out of con­trol and last all night long,” says Spren­kle.

Wrap It Up

All good things must end—hope­fully early enough that ev­ery­one can still en­joy the wed­ding day. To make sure they do:

Be spe­cific. “It’s a good idea to des­ig­nate a hard end time,” says Kristin Newman, owner of Kristin Newman De­signs in Charleston, South Carolina. And stick to it. If the in­vi­ta­tion reads “9 ..–11 ..,” start wind­ing down at 10:30 so you’re not short on beauty sleep.

Limit booze. “We sug­gest serv­ing only beer, wine, and a sig­na­ture cock­tail or two at the re­hearsal din­ner,” says Scalise.

Help them re­cover. “If a sen­si­bly early evening isn’t in the cards, con­sider send­ing the night owls back to their rooms with ‘rest and re­hy­drate’ kits filled with wa­ter, an eye mask, travel ibupro­fen, and a Star­bucks card,” says Kalso.

For this ca­sual re­hearsal din­ner on the is­land of Nan­tucket, about six dozen of the bride and groom’s near­est and dear­est gath­ered for an evening of games, con­ver­sa­tion, and a lob­ster feast.

All Your Fa­vorites (from left): The hosts pro­vided their guests with lo­cal treats and even cus­tom­ized Fris­bees to en­cour­age friendly com­pe­ti­tion.The light­house made the party lo­ca­tion easy to find. Tie on the bibs—messy foods like lob­ster and bar­be­cue are a safer pick when the dress code is ca­sual.

Bring It All To­gether (from left): Drinks were served as par­ty­go­ers chat­ted and the sun started to set. Fam­ily-style ser­vice and rus­tic touches like Ma­son jars helped set a re­laxed tone. T-shirts printed with a cus­tom logo—fea­tur­ing crossed cro­quet mal­lets—cel­e­brated the cou­ple’s love of games.

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