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Rehearsal Dinners

BY KRISTEN CARR

"The deep, dark secret of rehearsal dinners," admits Town & Country Associate Editor Anthony Barzilay Freund, "is that most people enjoy them more than their weddings." And why not? They're no longer the starched-tablecloth affairs of years past, as brides and grooms are starting to take matters into their own hands - and out of the etiquette books.

"I know I shouldn't be saying this," laughs Clare Bradshaw, a publicist whose rehearsal dinner took the form of a clambake on a Bridgehampton beach, "but do what you want to do. We acted against parental wishes and kept it casual, because the next day was organized down to the last minute." Another guiding principle of the post-Emily Post era? The more, the merrier - as in -

More Guests: In a by-the-rules rehearsal dinner, the groom's parents host the rehearsal dinner the evening before the Big Day, inviting the bridal party (including the attendants' spouses, fiancé, and live-in companions) and a sprinkling of close friends. Usually, out-of-town guests aren't invited, unless they've traveled very far to attend the wedding. Yet more and more out-of-towners are finding themselves invited to the rehearsal dinner, or failing that, an evening's entertainment is arranged especially for them. Danielle Moreton, a publicist who got married in New Orleans, kept her mostly East Coast guests from feeling excluded from her rehearsal repas by inviting them to an after-dinner dessert party that served up bananas Foster, crêpes suzette, and a jazz band. Another alternative: The bride's family (or thoughtful friends) might invite out-of-towners to a send-off brunch or breakfast the day after the wedding.

More Toasts: Traditionally, toasts begin as the first dish is being served, with the host, usually the groom's father, welcoming the guests and thanking the bride's parents for hosting the wedding. The bride's father responds with his own good wishes, followed by the groom, the groomsmen, and a bridesmaid or two. Nowadays, however, more and more guests are getting into the act. The result? Less formality, and more memorable moments.

"My mother-in-law's theory was that having a smaller crowd at the rehearsal dinner meant that more people would feel comfortable giving toasts, and she was right - almost everybody had gotten up by the end of the evening," says Alexandra Rhodie, who was so moved by the many tributes that she was inspired to raise a glass herself by dinner's end. Hearing from the bride, and even the bride's mother, is another new twist on toasting rituals; one proud mother of the groom even screened a "this-is-your-life" slide show starring the near-newlyweds.

More Entertainment: Although tradition dictates that guests don't stay long past dessert, many couples are making a night out of their rehearsal dinners by bringing in a band for dancing. At designer Alix Noel's dinner, guests boogied to a calypso band at Basil's Bar, Mustique's famous hangout. And in October 1995, when Alexandra Miller and Alexandre Von Furstenberg were married, their elaborate rehearsal dinner was held beneath two giant Robert Isabell-designed tents in Manhattan's Battery Park. After the seated dinner for 400, a magical ball, complete with a selection of bands, assorted acrobats, and a fireworks display, kept guests entertained till the early morning hours.

But Sometimes Less Is More: Believe it or not, having a full-blown rehearsal dinner isn't mandatory. If in-laws or stepparents don't get along, it doesn't make sense to subject them to another round of forced smiles and stiff exchanges. Instead, consider a quiet meal with the best man and maid of honor.

A few other matters to keep in mind:


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