You've carefully planned for months, and now it's time for some pre-wedding fun. Relax with your nearest and dearest at a rehearsal dinner worth remembering.

The rehearsal dinner is often viewed as a fun kickoff to the wedding festivities and as a time to relax with family and friends before the bustle of the big day. And these days, this entertainment comes in a variety of forms, from traditional sit-down meals to backyard cookouts or an evening at the bowling alley.

Assigning Tasks

Many families choose to have some sort of gathering after the wedding rehearsal. Such a social event acts as a warm-up to the wedding and provides both families with an opportunity to get to know one another better if they don’t already.

Although today’s brides and grooms don’t necessarily bow to the tradition of assigning the role of planning—and paying for—the rehearsal dinner to the groom’s parents, planning is important nevertheless.

Decisions need to be made regarding the size of the dinner party, how much it will cost and where the festivities will take place.

“It can be as simple or as elaborate as a couple wants it,” says Rachel Remy, wedding sales coordinator at the Blackwell.

Choosing a Budget

Just as with a reception, the rehearsal dinner budget can determine everything from where the event will take place to what kind of food will be served to the guests.

A seated dinner at an upscale restaurant can cost anywhere from $25 to $50 a person; a backyard barbecue involving Dad manning the grill—or a restaurant or caterer dropping off food—is much less expensive. And just as with restaurants, the bar service is often where cost quickly escalates; it’s imperative couples and their families discuss how they want to handle that portion of the rehearsal dinner, says Emily Whipple, Columbus banquet coordinator for the Bravo/Brio Restaurant Group.

“[Families] may have a hosted bar before and during the dinner, and then turn it into a cash bar afterward,” Whipple says. “Then it’s not [the families’] responsibility if [the bridal party] wants to make a night out of it.”

Both families should draft an invitation list that, according to custom, would include the couple’s parents and grandparents, along with the wedding party and their significant others. Any other members of the immediate family—siblings or stepparents—are also included.

Finding a Venue

With a guest list and budget in mind, families can start the search for a location. Just as with a wedding reception, it doesn’t hurt to start planning early, or at least choosing a site early.

“Especially for those heavy June or September months,” Whipple says, adding that Bravo’s locations are popular rehearsal-dinner spots. “I’ve already had people book for next year.”

The location of the rehearsal dinner will help set the tone for the night—a formal dinner at a downtown restaurant or in an elegant private dining room versus a family-style Italian dinner served up at Buca di Beppo.

Even Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, with its grand reception spaces, has smaller spaces appropriate for rehearsal dinners. Tassone recommends the Live Fire Cooking Theater.

“It’s a bit more casual,” Tassone says of the space where families can have the chef cook up anything from pizzas to grilled steaks.

When Susan and Domenico Franano were married in May 2012, the mother of the groom—Susan Franano, the former executive director of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra—planned the rehearsal dinner at Ray’s Living Room, an art gallery and catering space owned by Kent and Tasi Rigsby.

“It was stunning, classic with black and white decorations,” bride Susan Franano says.

When Holly and Pablo Chignolli were planning their July 2012 wedding, they knew they would have many family members around, including several members of the groom’s family visiting from Peru. The couple, therefore, planned a very family-oriented rehearsal dinner.

“We had it at my parent’s house, and Buca de Beppo catered it,” Holly says. “It was more casual. We tried to make it simple and easy and fun. There also were lots of kids there.”

One word of advice from the experts: When planning the menu for the rehearsal dinner, don’t copy the reception.

“My mother-in-law had all Italian food,” says Tassone, who was recently married. “It was completely different from what the wedding was going to be.”

Remy even suggests a different meal service. “If you’re going to have dinner served for the reception, then have a buffet for the rehearsal,” she says. “Switch it up so guests aren’t seeing the same thing.”

Planning the Entertainment

While the rehearsal dinner is a time for socializing and letting people get to know one another, the couple can also shine the spotlight on their attendants and their families.

“More and more, couples are doing slideshows with pictures,” says Whipple. “They want to incorporate their friends and family.”

“What I think is a cute idea is when the bride and groom will say a little something about each member of their bridal party,” says Tassone, suggesting this can happen when couples pass out gifts. “I definitely think there’s a way to incorporate everyone … to spark conversation.

“I think it was really nice to be able to do that,” says Tassone, recalling her own wedding. “At the same time, we thanked everyone for everything they’d done to support us.”

Franano says of introductions at dinner, “We introduced the bridesmaids and groomsmen. And [my husband’s] father gave a speech about how excited he was for me to be joining their family.”