The Difference Between the Rehearsal Dinner & Reception Toasts

Groom Proposing a toast at a Wedding Reception Held in a Garden

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Though an actual wedding is usually over in less than two hours, wedding celebrations might span days and include numerous events. The most notable pre-wedding event is the rehearsal dinner, which traditionally occurs the night before the wedding. A rehearsal dinner is like an informal version of the wedding reception and includes many of the same details, such as toasts to the bride and groom. "Martha Stewart Weddings" likens the rehearsal dinner to the "open-mic night" of a wedding celebration since its tone is markedly different from the planned, formal nature of a reception.


Getting the attention of an exuberant crowd is no small feat, so all toasts hinge on timeliness. At both events, a member of the wedding party initiates toasting at some point during food service. At a reception, toasts begin after the bride and groom arrive and before the dancing begins. If guests sit at tables for food service, the toasts are likely to begin before people begin eating or during the transition from the main course to dessert. The timing of rehearsal toasts may follow this pattern, but they frequently occur throughout the meal or at its conclusion.

Toasting Beverages

The drink with which guests toast the couple varies between the events. Couples may choose to have a champagne toast during their reception, which requires that every guest receive a flute of champagne as the toasts begin. Pre-dinner toasts may involve wine, cocktails or other beverages coordinated to the menu. Conversely, rehearsal drinks run the gamut from water to soda to mixed drinks, depending on the venue in which the dinner takes place. However, they rarely involve champagne.

Speakers and Order

Members of the wedding party arrange a short list of speakers for a reception before the event takes place. The host of the wedding reception -- often the father of the bride -- is customarily the first speaker. The best man and maid of honor follow, respectively, then the host or groom ends the toasting segment. While members of the wedding party may prearrange a list of speakers for a rehearsal, the event is often open to any guest who wishes to address the party during the designated time. The rehearsal dinner host -- often the father of the groom -- begins the string of toasts. Afterwards, any number of participants may follow suit.

Length and Content

Etiquette dictates that reception speeches should last three to five minutes. The tone should have mass appeal so that the varied guests can appreciate it equally. Nevertheless, the speaker should personalize her message to fit the couple. Reception toasts are not an appropriate time for risque humor or revelations of personal information. The content should be suitable for children and grandmothers alike. Rehearsal toasts can last longer than five minutes, depending on how many other people are waiting to speak. The tone of the toast should suit the event itself. Rehearsals are best suited to performance-based toasts. Likewise, brides and grooms are more likely to appreciate long or silly stories at a relaxed rehearsal, when they are less fixated on seamless event production. Toasts in any setting should be meaningful and respectful, and should ultimately add to the love and joy of the celebration.