One Rehearsal, Five Ways

THE COCKTAIL PARTY

Dinner, dancing, champagne, and eveningwear: No, this isn’t your wedding reception—and you want to make sure your guests know that. Hosting a black-tie rehearsal dinner can be tricky, says O’Mara, who warns that the reception itself may seem like a letdown if it’s too similar to the previous evening. That means aiming for elegance without extravagance. For a classy yet lower-key gathering, host a black-tie cocktail party where family members can meet and mingle, and serve a variety of passed hors d’oeuvres instead of a seated meal.

Who Should Do It
Couples who want to host a truly over-the-top experience and whose wedding reception plans and venue won’t be outshined by a formal rehearsal dinner.

The Invitations
Choose sleek, sophisticated invites, like "Engraved Black and White" from Crane & Co. ($299 for 50). Remember to indicate the dinner will be black-tie.

How to Pull it Off
Reserve space in a nearby hotel that offers smaller private function rooms, like the Liberty Hotel, a national landmark that once housed the Charles Street Jail (617-224-4000, libertyhotel.com). Order floral centerpieces that complement your reception arrangements without competing with them; try Winston Flowers (617-541-1100, winstonflowers.com). O’Mara suggests brides may want to have their hair and makeup done professionally for their rehearsal dinner and even arrange for their wedding photographer to document the evening.

THE CLASSIC

For many couples, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. The traditional sit-down rehearsal dinner remains popular—and for good reason. It’s generally no-fuss, especially when you host it at, or near, the hotel where many of your guests are already staying (this eliminates concerns about transportation and other logistics). The traditional dinner also allows you infinite possibilities for putting your own personal twist on the event: Consider having it at you and your fiancé’s favorite boîte.

Who Should Do It
This classic style is a great choice for couples—or their parents—who appreciate tradition and prefer to focus more on the details of their wedding than on the rehearsal dinner the night before.

The Invitations
Stick to the classic theme by using simple ecru invites that reflect the general theme of your event, like "Brilliant Border" notes from Papyrus ($142 for 50, 617-523-5355, papyrusonline.com). Or add your own flair with invitations that incorporate your wedding colors in an unexpected way and order printed menus and place cards to match.

How to Pull it Off

Reserve a private room at your guests’ hotel (choose a full-service venue that includes food, not just accommodations). If you go the restaurant route, plan for the dinner to take place within walking distance or a short cab ride from where guests are staying. Good local choices include No. 9 Park (617-742-9991, no9park.com), Mistral (617-867-9300, mistralbistro.com), a
nd UpStairs on the Square (617-864-1933, upstairsonthesquare.com).

THE FIELD TRIP

What was once a day away from the elementary school classroom can be just as fun for adults. The difference? Instead of holding hands en route to a farm or museum, you’ll be bonding with your wedding party and visiting with friends and extended family as you float down a river in inner tubes, tour a local brewery, or compete on a go-cart track. You’ll want to feed your guests later, of course. But taking a field trip to a nearby location lets you spend more time with your guests, and gives everyone a break from all the stress and anticipation of the next day.

Who Should Do It
Adventurous couples and those who wish to spend extra time with out-of-town wedding guests.

The Invitations

Whatever invites you choose, be sure to tell your guests of your plans in advance, so that they expect a longer evening and wear proper attire. It’s also a good idea to provide maps and directions, if not transportation.

How to Pull it Off
A mini-excursion needs advance planning, just like any other rehearsal dinner. Determine where you want to take guests and which activities work best for them: Athletic endeavors like hikes or go-cart racing (F1 Boston, 781-848-2300, f1boston.com) are great for younger guests, but older family members may prefer less-active pursuits, such as a tour (Samuel Adams Brewery, 617-368-5080, samueladams.com) or theater event. Or choose an excursion that works for everyone. "I worked with a client who took her rehearsal dinner guests to a local Greek church for after-dinner Greek dancing lessons," says O’Mara. "The guests loved it!"

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