Running a Wedding Rehearsal

Running your first few wedding rehearsals can be a daunting task. Many planners have commented this is their least favorite part of the wedding planning process.  If the officiant or church coordinator will be at the ceremony rehearsal, communicate with her the week prior to determine who will be responsible for directing the rehearsal. Some church coordinators and officiants prefer to take charge which is helpful to know ahead of time. You can also inquire with the ceremony musicians to see if they would like to attend the rehearsal.

Here are six steps for directing a successful wedding ceremony rehearsal:

1.  Introductions – Confirm with the bride and groom that everyone has arrived then start by welcoming the guests to the rehearsal and introduce yourself. Explain your process for the rehearsal by talking briefly about the steps listed below.

2. Take their places – Place the bridal party in their positions on the altar area (or under the chuppah, mandap or other religious structure) so they know where to stand during the ceremony. These details should be in your wedding day time lines that you created and finalized with the bride before the wedding.

3. Processional – After everyone knows their places, line up the wedding party, parents, bride, groom and officiant in the correct order for the processional then send everyone down the aisle. If the musicians are present, you may need to cue them. As the bride comes down the aisle, she will be on her father’s left arm if he is escorting her. When it’s time for her father to be seated, the bride will typically kiss him good-bye then shake the hand (or hug) the groom. The bride’s father will then walk behind the bride to his seat. At this point, the bride normally gives her bouquet to her maid of honor and the groom will extend his left hand to the bride.

4. Ceremony – After the processional is done and everyone is in place, you or the officiant will run through the basic ceremony sections. Be sure to determine who will have the rings on the wedding day.

5. Recessional – After the kiss, the bride will get her bouquet from the maid of honor. At this time, the officiant will introduce the couple and the recessional music begins. The best man and maid of honor will wait until the bride and groom are at the back of the room, then the best man will extend his right arm to the maid of honor and they will walk out together. The rest of the bridal party will follow in the same manner. It’s helpful to choose an agreed-upon distance where each couple will exit (for example: when the couple in front gets to the fifth row of chairs, then the next couple exits). This allows for a uniform bridal party recessional and gives the photographer and videographer time for photos.  After the last couple recesses down the aisle, the parents and any people sitting in the front row should immediately follow.

6. Additional notes – Depending on the bride, groom and complexity of the ceremony, you may need to run through this process one time or up to four times until everyone feels comfortable.  For Indian weddings, Jewish weddings and other religions, the processionals and recessionals may be very different from the basics we talked through today. Your clients and the officiant can assist you with the actual logistics and details specific for each wedding.

After the rehearsal is finished, confirm that the bridesmaids and groomsmen know where to meet on the wedding day and what time they need to arrive.  You may also want to make an announcement about the rehearsal dinner if necessary.

Do you have any tips to share about running wedding rehearsals? Please share them in the comments!

photo credit: Jenna Walker Photographers

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  1. I think I tend to do it 1, 2, 4, 5, 3, 4, 5, 6…… It honestly depends on the officiant, the venue and if there is a venue coordinator. I usually take this time to cover little logistics such as bouquets being handed off, navigating steps, etc. Once the bridal party and families feel comfortable, I am happy. Of course, the larger the party, the longer it takes.

  2. Thank you for sharing this article, Debbie. It’s nice to see it in print once in awhile!

  3. Love the refresher. One question I get over and over is where the flower girl and ring bearer go. I tend to send them to the end and walk out with the last couple. This allows them to sit down when they get bored without causing much disruption. What are your thoughts?

    • Thanks for the comment Mark. In my experience, the flower girl(s) and ring bearer(s) seem to do different things at every single wedding. Sometimes they can stand with the bridal party, sometimes they run, sometimes they immediately sit. Even when we decide at the rehearsal, the kiddos don’t always cooperate at the wedding (as I’m sure you’ve seen too).

  4. Thanks for the info. I’m at the beginning stages of this whole crazy process and I know so little.

  5. I also do 1, 2, 4, 5, 3, 4, 5, 6. Regardless of how you do it, I think as long as you have a system, that’s all that matters.

    One thing that I have found that helps is I always communicate with the wedding party ahead of time – that way they know my name and know I’ll be there on the day of the rehearsal and wedding. Sort of “warms them up” to expect me there.

  6. I also let the hostess and usher know their roles at the rehersal.
    I also go over everything with the couple before the rehersal. That will help prevent someone else giving their “2 cents” I can’t stand that!!

  7. ..,

  8. I like telling the bridesmaids and groomsmen to walk, ‘one step slower than uncomfortable,’ and for the bridesmaids to carry their flowers, ‘at their bellybuttons not their boobs.’ It gets a laugh, but helps them remember to slooow down and for the latter, the ladies arms look longer and more elegant.

  9. This was a great refresher. I tend to get so bogged down with the reception piece that I never really get to do the ceremony and end up having someone else do it. I too am a fan of the flowers at the belly button rule!

  10. I have my first wedding as a planner next week and found this to be EXTREMELY helpful. I’ll definitely be keeping all these tips in mind.

  11. One thing I like to do is email the itinerary to the bridal party ahead of time(Like about a week or so). This way they have the layout and have some idea before the Rehearsal what to expect. During the intros at the Rehearsal I like to go over our roles. We are to make sure Bride & Groom are in the “Bubble”. Any issues/problems can be handled without them knowing it! Mine and my assistant’s name and contact info are on the itinerary as well!

  12. The Big Day Planner says:

    Here’s a tip I found very helpful for outdoor wedding rehearsals:
    If the wedding is outdoors in a grassy area, it helps for the bridesmaids to wear the shoes they plan to don on the wedding day so that they can practice walking on the grass in heels. Also, they should walk on the tips of their toes as opposed to their heels so that they don’t sink into the ground : )

  13. A couple other things I think are important are for the guys to cross their hands (right over left), no hands in pockets. Also, the best man is responsible for the rings if at any point they are dropped. Too many grabbing for them can be a bad scene. Question for planners: Do you still have ushers escort the parents out after the recessional or do they walk out on their own. This tradition seems to have changed I’m finding.

  14. I have never heard of the counting style. 1 2 4 5 3 5 6 7…. Please give me more details of what you are counting, steps maybe?

    Thank you,

  15. This is excellent information and exactly how I run my rehearsals! I also go over the MOH adjusting the bride”s train if necessary right before the ceremony is to start. Also, if there are children involved in the ceremony, I usually have them stand at the front just before the ceremony is to start for photos, but then I make sure there is a reserved seat for them in the front row so that a parent can take the children to their seat so they are not standing during the entire ceremony – they tend to fidget and it is too much of a distraction during the wedding ceremony.

  16. All helpful reminders. thank you for sharing!

  17. Many more things to decide BEFORE the rehearsal is who will escort the women who are grandmothers, mothers and other important people worthy of the processional. Ushers are not always present these days. Order of this part of the processional goes as follows:

    Groom’s Paternal Grandparents, Groom’s Maternal Grandparents
    Bride’s Paternal Grandparents, Bride’s Maternal Grandparents
    Mother of the Groom with Usher with Father of the Groom Following, or just the Groom’s Parents
    Mother of the Bride with Usher or Mother of the Bride with Father of the Bride who then walks back down to escort Bride.

    Of course, this gets more complicated if there is divorce, step-parents, or death of a parent or grandparent.

    Rule of thumb about Recessional is to go backwards from how they came in.

    Groom and Groomsmen may come out of the front or down the aisle. All decided at the rehearsal.

    NUMBER ONE PRIORITY is to get the Processional and Recessional list ironed out before the rehearsal and use a pencil to make changes during the rehearsal.

  18. Seating placement is also important. Decide before the rehearsal who will sit where.
    This is especially important with divorced parents who do not want to sit together.
    At the beginning of the rehearsal – asking parents and grandparents (if present) to find their seats helps.
    If the ceremony is outside – chairs may not be present at the rehearsal, so you have to pretend.
    Fun, fun, fun.


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