The wedding rehearsal dinner is traditionally held the night before the wedding, just after the ceremony rehearsal. The dinner is a wonderful opportunity for people to get to know one another before the big day. The evening is generally hosted by the parents of the groom, but this is one of those rules that can be broken. Nowadays, many couples host their own dinner and wedding, especially if they are older or if it's a second marriage.
Invitees. Those invited include all members of the wedding party, including the officiant, the parents and family of the bride and groom, close friends, and guests from out of town if not cost-prohibitive. Guests should not bring a date unless the invitation specifically says "and guest." Responses to the invitation should be made as soon as possible as a courtesy to the hosts.
Invites. Invitations may be issued in any number of ways: by mail, verbally, over the telephone, or even via e-mail for the modern, tech-savvy bride. Either the hosts or the bride and groom should send the invitation.
Location. The location depends on the hosts and may be just about anywhere: a home, on church grounds, a private club or restaurant.
Dress. The dress should be mentioned in the invitation. However, if it does not specify, ask your hosts. But generally if the ceremony rehearsal is in a church, a coat and tie will be in order.
Toasts. Toasts and speeches are a big part of the night. The host usually thanks the guests for coming, in what is known as the "welcome toast." Then, other toasts are proposed on behalf of the bridal couple during the course of the meal. The bride and groom should graciously respond to the toasts to the host and bridal party. Remember the three B's of toasting: Begin, Be Brief, and Be Seated. And be polite -- It's a toast, not a roast!
Gifts for the Wedding Party. This is the time to present gifts to the wedding party in appreciation of their work and expense on the couple's behalf. The ring bearer and flower girl should receive something age-appropriate such as a game or a small pearl necklace. Gift suggestions for bridesmaids include engraved silver picture frames or jewelry that can be worn during the ceremony. Gift suggestions for groomsmen include engraved silver cufflinks or money clips.
Wedding Ceremony and Reception
R.S.V.P. The happy couple will be making many decisions based on the number of people who will be in attendance, so you should respond to the invitation as soon as possible rather than waiting until the last minute. And if you must cancel after you have accepted, do so right away.
Don't bring a date unless the invitation says "and guest." The cost for each person attending a wedding is generally high, so bringing unexpected guests is very impolite.
Children. If you're not sure whether children are invited, and if no mention was made on the invitation, assume they're not and book your sitter early on.
Gifts. Check the bridal registry for suggested gifts. If you don't see a gift to your liking, at least you'll have an idea of the couple's taste.
Dress. What to wear depends on the type of wedding, so check the invitation for details. At a black-tie wedding, a tuxedo and formal dress are in order. But for most informal weddings, men should wear a suit and tie, and women cocktail attire.
Don't be late! If a wedding invitation says that the ceremony will begin at 5:00 P.M., be sure to arrive by 4:45 P.M. to give yourself enough time to find a seat and get settled. You shouldn't take a chance on interrupting the processional.
Don't take photographs during the ceremony. Respect the sanctity of the ritual and leave photography to the professionals.
If possible, send your gift ahead of time, or mail it after the honeymoon. Otherwise, someone in the wedding party will have to worry about transporting it.
Drink in moderation. While a wedding is a time to enjoy yourself, no one appreciates a drunken guest.
Toasts. Toasts and speeches are almost always a part of a wedding reception. Never make a speech when you've had too much to drink, and always keep it short and to the point.
Lisa Mirza Grotts is a recognized etiquette expert and the author of A Traveler's Passport to Etiquette. She is a former director of protocol for the City & County of San Francisco and the founder of The AML Group (www.AMLGroup.com), certified etiquette and protocol consultants. Her clients range from Cornell University and Microsoft to Nordstrom, KPMG and Stanford Hospital. She has been quoted by The Sunday Times, InStyle Magazine, the San Francisco Chronicle, USA Today and the Los Angeles Times. She has appeared on various radio and television stations, such as ABC, CBS, and Fox News. To learn more about Lisa, follow her on www.Twitter.com/LisaGrotts and www.Facebook.com/LisaGrotts.