Your rehearsal dinner menu is an opportunity to really have some fun, particularly if your wedding reception leans more formal with a seated, multi-course dinner and traditional entree options. Most couples want their rehearsal dinner to feel completely different and more casual than their actual wedding day. Use yours to inject your personality and preferences as a couple with a meal that will set the tone for the rest of your wedding weekend.
We consulted destination event producer Stefanie Cove of Stefanie Cove and Company (the mastermind behind countless stunning celebrity weddings, including those of Karlie Kloss and Molly Sims) for her expert tips to plan the ultimate rehearsal dinner menu.
Meet the Expert
Stefanie Cove is the founder of Stefanie Cove and Co., a full-service event-planning business serving clients across the globe. Based in Los Angeles, Cove has over 15 years of experience in the industry.
Rehearsal Dinner Menu Planning Tips
When it comes to planning a rehearsal dinner menu, there are plenty of things to consider. Everything from the location of the party to the number of people invited to the time of year can factor into what's being served.
Think About Timing
“Consider what your guests will enjoy, but in the end, serve what you want to eat. It is your wedding weekend," says Cove. With that in mind, there are plenty of elements to think about while executing your vision. For example, think about logistics and timing—don’t eat dinner too late. “Guests are traveling from other time zones earlier that day, and you don’t want to go to bed late, either."
Pick Food That's Easy to Eat
When you’re thinking about your rehearsal dinner menu items, make sure the food is easy to eat. “Maybe guests are meeting each other for the first time at their table that night. ... They don’t want to be embarrassed trying to eat a complicated or messy menu item,” warns Cove. She suggests choosing more risky items as appetizers or passed hors d’oeuvres and going a little safer with the entree selection.
Consider the Visual Presentation of the Meal
Also, when it comes to the food, Cove suggests asking your chef or caterer what they love to cook and what they do best. “If they aren’t a trained sushi chef, don’t make them do sushi,” she says. And, of course, consider the whole meal from a visual perspective. “Incorporate menu items that spark conversation at the table by using beautiful presentation and color or unique items,” says Cove.
“Make sure you have enough staff and great staff to execute your vision for the menu,” says Cove. “In my opinion, it doesn’t matter how good the food is if the service isn’t there.”
Who says it has to be a rehearsal dinner? Flip tradition on its head entirely and do lunch instead. “Something I see trending in 2021 is ditching the traditional rehearsal dinner and doing a daytime event instead,” says Cove. “Beach barbecues and margaritas and ceviche come to mind.”
Give a Nod to Your Roots
“Include special menu items (or a complete menu theme) to reflect the groom’s family roots, whether it’s a beer from his favorite brewery back home or asking the caterer to use his grandma’s famous apple pie recipe for dessert,” says Cove. “For a Spanish client recently, we designed the entire menu based on authentic Spanish cuisine.”
Go for Locally Sourced and Seasonal
Let the season and your surroundings inspire the menu. For example, if you are getting married in the middle of winter, don’t push for a tomato, basil, and burrata crostini just because that’s your absolute favorite appetizer. “Well-sourced and in-season ingredients are always the best, says Cove. “Always request that your caterer use food and produce from local farms.”
It's OK to Mix and Match
“I often mix up the traditional plated dinner with family-style sides or appetizers to make the format a little less predictable,” says Cove. “French fries are always a great crowd-pleaser for the sides and a bit unexpected at a more formal event.” Serve the french fries with more unique dips, like truffle ketchup or sriracha aioli, in addition to your traditional ketchup.
Don't Forget a Sweet Treat
“A rehearsal dinner is a nice format to get up and move around for the dessert course,” says Cove. “Whether you do an-old school ice cream bar (my favorite) or dessert stations full of different pies or cakes—it is nice to eat this at your own pace while mingling.”
If it’s an ice cream bar station, work in both of your favorite toppings. If it’s a pie station, you could each pick your favorite pie flavor or maybe share a family-favorite recipe with the chef to recreate.
Rehearsal Dinner Menu Themes
Whether it's a backyard barbecue, a seafood feast near the beach, or old-school Italian served family-style, themes are a fun way to tie a rehearsal dinner together. Here are a few ways to make yours memorable.
“Another menu I have loved doing for a rehearsal dinner is a family-style Greek/Mediterranean dinner,” says Cove. “It is perfect, light, and can feel very different from the elegant wedding dinner the following night. I love starting with traditional chickpea tahini spread, tzatziki, warm pita, grilled octopus. ... I could go on and on.”
“Mexican vibes really work well, depending on the location,” says Cove. “I am a fan of stations (not buffets), which are separated by item and manned by a chef, where guests can make their own taco plates." Have plenty of margaritas and Coronas on hand, and perhaps a mariachi band, too!
Another crowd-pleaser option: barbecue stations with all the works, including pulled pork sliders, fried chicken, cornbread, mac and cheese, and collard greens. Just make sure you have plenty of wet naps and napkins on hand for guests to keep their hands clean.
Catch of the Day
Let the location inspire your rehearsal dinner menu. “If your event is by the beach, I love a casual rehearsal dinner featuring oysters, caviar, french fries, and Champagne,” says Cove. What could be more celebratory (and delicious) than that?
“Crab boils are another great way to incorporate fresh seafood,” says Cove. “Plus, everyone loves to eat with their hands. We love a classic Cape Cod-style rehearsal dinner with fresh crab and crawfish, mixed with corn and potatoes all poured out in the center of the table with cute gingham tablecloths.”
“An all-time favorite is always an Italian theme,” says Cove. There’s one catch: “You have to have a chef who can make the pasta perfectly for large groups—this is key.” Doing a pizza station is also a fairly safe bet, but mix things up beyond simple pizza and add great seasonal vegetables for a unique twist. For fall, think sweet potato and kale or, if you’re getting married in spring/early summer, do a white cheese and ramp pizza.
“We sometimes do stations made up of all Spanish tapas,” says Cove. Think garlic grilled prawns, chorizo, mini paella pans, patatas bravas, etc. And although this might seem obvious, just make sure you have plenty for your guests—it takes a lot of small plates to fill people up, and you don’t want guests hungover for the big wedding day.
If your go-to date-night food is sushi or you both always order it on Seamless, then turn your rehearsal dinner into a sushi extravaganza. But, if your venue or caterer doesn’t specialize in sushi, Cove suggests closing down the best sushi joint in town for the night as a great alternative.