Setting the Stage the Night BeforeBy Juliet Pennington
Traditionally, brides- and grooms-to-be have placed nearly all of their focus on their impending wedding day, while treating the rehearsal dinner as an afterthought. Although the wedding remains the focal point, more and more couples are now investing time in—and spending money on—the rehearsal dinner.Traditionally, brides- and grooms-to-be have placed nearly all of their focus on their impending wedding day, while treating the rehearsal dinner as an afterthought. Although the wedding remains the focal point, more and more couples are now investing time in—and spending money on—the rehearsal dinner.
Since weddings are usually more formal affairs, brides and grooms are using the rehearsal dinner to incorporate slideshows, toasts, games, family traditions and other fun (and often thematic) options into the pre-wedding gathering.
Wedding specialists at venues across the region say that since guests are traveling to attend nuptials, now more than ever, couples are including these guests in the pre-wedding festivities. Some are inviting them to the rehearsal dinner—an event traditionally reserved for the bride and groom’s immediate family, wedding party, officiant and close friends—and others to a welcome reception after the rehearsal dinner.
“Since we offer destination weddings, with the rehearsal dinner and wedding reception right here, we’re seeing more rehearsal dinners that turn into large welcome parties where everyone is invited,” says Khele Sparks, general manager of The Mountain Top Inn & Resort in central Vermont. “They’ll have a bonfire, a dessert buffet…there are so many options, but at the end of the day, it’s an opportunity for people to get to know each other. It really sets the tone for the entire weekend and is a kickoff to a wonderful event.”
Many couples are opting for passed hors d’oeuvres and food stations rather than sit-down dinners so guests can mingle and the soon-to-be-newlyweds can hopefully relax and enjoy visiting with their guests.
Luckily, for brides and grooms in New England, there are many locations in which to hold their ideal rehearsal dinner, from an informal barbecue with lawn games to a waterside clambake to a formal, tented sit-down affair under the stars.
Known for its fine Northern Italian cuisine and fresh homemade pasta, this Cape Cod restaurant is a standout setting for a rehearsal dinner. “We have different size rooms, depending on the size of the party, but they’re all very cozy and people feel welcome here,” says owner Felis Barreiro. “We have three fireplaces, and can have seated meals or high-top tables and passed hors d’oeuvres. That’s what a lot of people want now, so they can mingle.”
Belfry Inn & Bistro
Whether you’re dining inside the spectacular Abbey with its large, intricate stained glass windows, or under a tent on the vast lawn of the neighboring Victorian house (which once served as the church rectory), this unique architectural setting in
Sandwich, Massachusetts, is a distinctive location for a rehearsal dinner. “This place has a feel like no other,” says owner Christopher Wilson. “We’re very well known for our food, but when you combine it with our service as well as the architecture of the place and the romantic feeling…it doesn’t get better than this.”
Boston Harbor Hotel
For couples seeking sweeping city views and/or breathtaking water panoramas for their rehearsal dinner space, this five-star waterfront hotel fits the bill. “All of our rooms have different looks and feels,” says Rachel Stiglets, the hotel’s director of catering. The North Atlantic Room, for example, has a “Beacon Hill feel” for a more traditional setting, she says, and the two-floor rotunda can be as versatile as the bride and groom want, offering cocktails on the ninth floor and dinner on the tenth overlooking the city and the harbor.
This former Rhode Island cathedral has four options for rehearsal dinners, the most popular of which are the Choir Loft (which is part of the original structure and overlooks the cathedral
bar below) and the lower-level Wine Salon, which includes a private bar and a row of French doors that open to a private garden terrace. “The backdrops to all of our spaces are just beautiful,” says Cara Gale, the venue’s private event coordinator. “Our food is delicious and our menus are customizable.”
The Inn on Peak’s Island
Brides and grooms seeking an “elegant cottage feel” with fresh ocean breezes and wildflowers galore need look no further than this island getaway—a 15-minute ferry ride from Portland—for their rehearsal dinner. “Most of our clients are from out of state, so they want a Maine experience,” says Jayson Mathieu, the inn’s wedding director. “Lobster bakes are probably our most popular request.” The inn is also known for its whoopie pies (Maine’s official state treat) and blueberry cheesecake. With an indoor/outdoor space including a fireplace and spacious two-peak tent, The Inn on Peak’s Island can accommodate up to 200 guests for a rehearsal dinner.
Midtown Oyster Bar
Located in the heart of downtown Newport, this facility offers several dining options, the coolest of which is the Midtown Loft on the building’s top floor. The dining room, with its post-and-beam ceiling and large windows overlooking bustling Thames Street, can
accommodate up to 50 guests for a sit-down dinner and up to 75 for a cocktail-style reception. “We’re seeing more rehearsal dinners that are open to more people and are called ‘welcome receptions,’” says Devon Walsh, events coordinator. “We have great spaces for any type of gathering, and a menu to match.”
The Mountain Top Inn & Resort
Located on 350 acres, with sweeping views of the Green Mountain National Forest and a sparkling reservoir, The Mountain Top Inn & Resort is an ideal location for a Vermont destination wedding during any season. The resort’s rustic barn provides a warm, unique setting for a rehearsal dinner, or the pre-wedding soirée may be held lakeside, overlooking a picturesque meadow, or inside the inn’s dining room or tavern. General Manager Khele Sparks says that menus may be customized to suit a couple’s every wish.
The Naked Oyster Bistro & Raw Bar
Often referred to as a French bistro on Cape Cod, this Main Street restaurant has an intimate, private dining room called the “Wine Cellar,” as well as two larger dining rooms upstairs that are often used for private events such as rehearsal dinners. While many of the menu’s offerings come from the restaurant’s oyster farm in Barnstable Harbor, Stephanie Swanson, the bistro and raw bar’s general manager, says the staff is “happy to design a special menu that may include the bride and groom’s favorite dishes.”
With three distinct rooms—the Bellagio, the Venetian and the Mediterranean—this lakeside function space in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, can accommodate anywhere from 25 to 280 guests. “The Mediterranean room is the most intimate room, so you don’t get lost if you have a smaller group,” says Sherri Rego, the venue’s sales manager. “And even though we have a contemporary feel, our rooms can be decorated to get the atmosphere our guests want. For example, lately we’ve been seeing more rustic/vintage decorations.” Event coordinators are on hand to work with couples on everything from decorations to choosing the perfect menu.
Image of The Mountain Top Inn & Resort by Bethany & Dan Photography; remaining images provided by respective venues.