Let’s Do Dinner

by Gracie Williams

Pro tips to distinguish your rehearsal dinner from the big day

As the adage goes, eat, drink and be married. And while the emphasis is certainly on the married part, food and drink are undeniably important when it comes to hosting a Lowcountry wedding. In a region known for its mouthwatering, homestyle cooking, you’ll likely want to showcase coastal cuisine and hospitality at your rehearsal dinner and wedding dinner alike. But how do you create two separate yet personalized experiences that don’t leave your guests feeling déjà vu?

We’re bringing you tips and tricks from the experts to help differentiate the rehearsal dinner from the wedding day feast while charming your guests, Southern style.

An inviting, casual atmosphere complete with Lowcountry flair — and fare — sets the tone for a memorable rehearsal dinner.
Photography by LAUREN JONES

The Rehearsal Dinner

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the pressure of hosting a picturesque rehearsal dinner to kick off your wedding festivities. Luckily, you don’t need a packed guest list, dazzling venue or a four-course meal. When it comes to planning a rehearsal meal, says Danielle Voight, owner and lead designer of Design Studio South, sometimes less is more.

“I would advise couples to let it be more relaxed and let the wedding be the main event,” says Voight, noting that otherwise, “it’s easy for your rehearsal dinner to add up to the same cost as your wedding.”

Opt for casual, family-style fare to keep costs down without skimping on Southern style. “A lot of people go for the Savannah-themed Lowcountry boil [at the rehearsal dinner] because they’re not going to get that at the wedding dinner,” says Brandon Mell, owner of B Local Catering. Like Mell, Sophie Longwater of Dapper Event Co. also suggests making the most of the coastal atmosphere. “Since we’re in Georgia, I love a Lowcountry boil on the marsh, wood-fired pizza in a backyard or even renting out a rooftop bar for a rehearsal dinner,” she says. A Southern selection is crowd-pleasing, but couples can add even more of an authentic touch by leaning on the local food scene. “We suggest Leopold’s Ice Cream or River Street Sweets [for dessert], for instance,” says Kim Chambless of The DeSoto Savannah. It’s a way to indulge “and have a little fun with the menu.”

If you crave something more sophisticated, don’t fret. Katherine Hankey, co-owner of Current Catering, offers another method that marries modernity with a boozy, Southern pastime. “A cocktail party-style rehearsal with nods to places the couple has traveled through the lens of the season is fun,” Hankey says, “and you can be a little more forward-thinking with the food items.”  


The Big Day

The wedding meal says a lot about a couple, whether culturally, symbolically or simply as a matter of taste. Fortunately,  there are plenty of ways to mesh seasonally appropriate foods and regionally inspired cuisine with a bride’s and groom’s personal palates. 

“For the reception, serving an item the couple makes for dinner if you have visited them can be fun,” says Hankey. “Or, the menu can hint at entrees [eaten during] the couple’s first date.” The goal, Hankey says, is bringing people together through food.

“For the reception, serving an item the couple makes for dinner if you have visited them can be fun.”
— Katherine Hankey, CURRENT CATERING

When attempting to keep the wedding dinner fresh and fun for guests, it’s easy to stray from the theme. But Longwater believes that decor plays a crucial part in creating consistency. Got a mish-mash of a menu? A cake for every taste? Decor ties it all together. Longwater suggests incorporating your wedding colors and flowers at the wedding dinner for a cohesive look, even if the menu is diverse.

There are myriad methods to distinguish your wedding dinner from your rehearsal dinner, and vice versa, Hankey says. The shift doesn’t have to be as simple as casual to formal (though that’s often a good place to start). Consider changing the service style, the number of guests or even components of the theme. “This is where having discussions with the client about their vision and playing off things like the venue and experiences can help to make lasting menus — and memories — of both events.” 

Single-serve food items are chic — and hygienic.

Keeping it Safe & Stylish

With the world slowly opening back up and gatherings growing with the blessing of the CDC, it’s still essential to stay COVID-safe when dealing with your wedding cuisine. Trends of the past like reusable utensils, though environmentally friendly and often chic, have taken a back seat to the ease and cleanliness of throwaway cutlery. While this is only one example of change, we’ve gathered advice from local wedding planners and caterers on trends that have faded away — and new ones that have taken the top spot for the sake of safety.

Bring on the bamboo. For the most stylish single-use cutlery, Brandon Mell, owner of B Local Catering, always opts for bamboo. “It looks a little better than the clear, 6-inch hors d’oeuvre plate,” Mell says.  

Find a food truck. “Food trucks were just becoming popular pre-pandemic, and everyone had to have them at their wedding,” says Sophie Longwater of Dapper Event Co. Fortunately, the trend has transitioned seamlessly into post-pandemic life. “They’re still such a fun way to provide food for your guests.” Visit savannahfoodtruckforce.com for local food trucks.

Make it personal. Single-serve treats are safe and stylish: think cupcakes or pre-packaged heavy hors d’oeuvres. “Caterers started to offer items like charcuterie cups, which are still a hit today,” Longwater says. 

Add some elbow room. “We now find guests prefer fewer numbers at the tables with space to socialize,” says Kim Chambless of The DeSoto Savannah, who notes that more clients are requesting large estate tables for events. “Round tables seem to be a trend of yesteryear.”