Rehearsal Dinners, Revamped
by christina pellegrini
Brides- and grooms-to-be rely on the rehearsal dinner as an intimate way to bring together their families the night before the wedding day. Guests gather to share memories, well wishes and, many times, have a laugh or two at the happy couple’s expense. But what was once viewed as a small, seated dinner party has evolved over the years into a wedding tradition with a personality all its own.
“These days a lot of guests have gone away from a formal sit-down dinner and moved toward a cocktail reception type of event,” says Tyrone Blakely, the director of events at Table 31 (1701 John F. Kennedy Blvd., 215-567-7111) in the Comcast Center. “The more trendy cocktail reception is popular with the younger generation, those in their 20s and 30s. They don’t want people sitting, they want people getting up and interacting.”
The more informal rehearsal dinner, which is also popular with guests who are entertaining many out-of-towners, is frequently requested at Positano Coast (212 Walnut St., 215-238-0499), notes Rosita Lamberti, operations manager. “Our guests want a more casual event because the next day will be the traditional sit-down reception.” The restaurant’s lounge area, outfitted with clusters of low couches, lends itself to that purpose perfectly, and the restaurant offers a buffet dinner and wine and beer package that beautifully complements this type of informal event. Lamberti suggests that the couple set the menu for the reception, and then give guests the opportunity to taste different flavors at the rehearsal dinner (common choices are braised short ribs, a fish entrée like bronzino, or the perennially popular Chicken Maximo).
A casual setup goes hand in hand with a venue that facilitates mingling, a trend noticed by Meg Torpey, director of special events at Starr Restaurants (215-923-2675). “Menu requests range from a summer-barbecue theme to tapas-style menus,” she explains. She cites Route 6, Parc, and Alma de Cuba as popular destinations to host the party. Torpey adds that family-style meals, those served on platters to be passed and shared by guests, are another popular request. However, the traditional four-course rehearsal dinner is still very much alive, as owner Evelyn Balis reports is the case at Adelphia (1750 Clements Bridge Road, Deptford, NJ, 856-845-8200). Typically hosted in the semiprivate, glass-encased library room, the dinners consist of soup, salad, an entrée, and dessert, and rarely exceed 40 guests. R2L (50 S. 16th St., 215-564-5337) also serves a more structured dinner with a cocktail reception to start and a seated meal to follow, although private-event director Vera Masi notes that the sizes of rehearsal dinner parties at her restaurant have grown from 50 to 80 guests in the last 18 months.
Masi also has noticed groom’s cakes becoming a common phenomenon at rehearsal dinners. Usually the cake will reflect the groom’s interests or hobby, which might be a sport like soccer, baseball, or golf. At R2L, the talented pastry chef, Peter Scarola, is available to create custom cakes according to whatever whim strikes the soon-to-be-married couple.
And for those couples looking to chart a course from the stationary rehearsal dinner, consider booking the fully staffed Freedom Elite (Penn’s Landing, 866-394-8439), a private yacht that cruises the Delaware from Penn’s Landing. The waterfront view and custom catering facilities will surely sail into a magical reception the following day.
photography by michael anthony photography; COURTESY OF POSITANO COAST