A Wedding Rehearsal When Your Ceremony Venue Isn’t Available

This is a conversation that I have with a majority of my clients. Typically in the beginning stages of planning the wedding, after falling in love with or after booking the venue, it becomes apparent that the space most likely will not be available for the ceremony rehearsal. It happens often at downtown venues. The wedding industry is growing in Greenville, and you see a lot of Friday (and Sunday) weddings during the busy season (and sometimes just because). Many venues are not able to guarantee you access for a rehearsal because it’s still a day where they would be able to rent out the space for another event.

I always encourage my clients to not worry because I have a lot of experience with off-site rehearsals. We do not have to be in the actual ceremony venue for the rehearsal if the space isn’t available at all the day before the wedding or the time that it would be available isn’t practical (i.e. all of your wedding party is traveling in from out of town and it’s only available at 9AM or it would include a lot of travel time to get everyone there and back).

Off-site wedding rehearsals work because a rehearsal consists of three components:
1) Figuring out the order for everyone up front and working through the processional/recessional orders
2) Learning what the ceremony will sound like and practicing any people moving parts
3) Figuring out exactly where everyone will stand – determining “their spot”

The first two take the longest and can be accomplished anywhere that we can pretend to have an aisle and stand against an empty wall or space. The final part, learning exactly where to stand, can happen very quickly on the wedding day once the bridesmaids and groomsmen arrive at the venue (and it doesn’t have to happen together as long as someone pays attention to spacing and lines up both parties the same way – my job!).

What I encourage my clients to do in this situation is to go ahead and plan for the venue to not be available (if there is any chance at all that it won’t be) and have a rehearsal dinner location that can accommodate the ceremony rehearsal itself (or select another location nearby that is available prior to the dinner). Oftentimes, we brainstorm and come up with a few restaurants downtown that they can look into that would work. Other times my client has secured a meeting room in a hotel or other open space for us to use for the wedding rehearsal. I do advise against having a plan for a rehearsal in the park or other public outdoor space so that plans do not have to change last minute if the weather is not cooperating (the last thing that anyone needs to be worried about the day before their wedding).

When planning to host your rehearsal in the same space as your rehearsal dinner, there are a few things you’ll want to do. First, you should plan to only look at spaces that have a private dining area available. You wouldn’t want your rehearsal to interfere with other customers’ dining experiences. This is not going to be a quiet task, and it would be very disruptive if not in a separate space.

Second, you should always make your restaurant or rehearsal dinner contact aware of your plans to rehearsal in advance. Discuss whether or not they will need to still be setting anything up during that time and discuss whether or not you would want drinks available to your wedding party ahead of the dinner service time.

Third, plan your time rehearsal time accordingly. I always suggest one and a half hours before the dinner time. My wedding rehearsals take a solid hour, and this way everything is guaranteed to be wrapped up before any additional dinner guests show up and before the kitchen is ready to start sending out any food.

Finally, be ready to explain what you would need, regarding setup, from the dinner venue so that everyone knows what to expect. I have always advised that we really don’t need anything special, just a bit more room to move between the tables where our “aisle” will be and a clear space to line the entire wedding party up against one wall. It doesn’t have to be completely squared off or similar to the shape of the ceremony venue. We’ll all use our imaginations! (And, it’s sometimes helpful to have a few pictures of the actual ceremony space on a phone in case there are any questions.) Sometimes it will be the first time a restaurant has accommodated this sort of thing, and they usually just want to make sure they know how to prepare.

Speaking of using your imagination, one challenge when doing an off-site rehearsal is explaining this to a small flower girl or ring bearer who may not understand that this isn’t the actual location of the ceremony. When this is the case, I always focus on talking about what they will be doing (tossing petals or holding a sign, etc.) and who they will be walking to meet (sitting down with a particular person – which I highly advise for really little ones – or the wedding party buddy that they will stand near). Then, I make sure that they will be on site at the ceremony venue with plenty of time for them to review what they will be doing in that space.

Venue availability for a rehearsal is definitely not something that I would take into consideration when selecting a wedding venue since it’s so easy to work around. Of course, it’s ideal to rehearsal in the actual space but not absolutely necessary. With a little planning and efficient coordination, an off-site wedding ceremony rehearsal will be just a perfect as an on-site one!

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