Relax before the wedding with a low-key, family-style meal.

This story first appeared in the Fall/Winter 2019 issue of Columbus Weddings, published June 2019.

Weddings are filled with rules and decorum, from traditions surrounding the order that parents are seated pre-ceremony to etiquette about how to properly address an invitation. Rehearsal dinners, on the other hand, can serve as a welcome reprieve from all that formality. For a few hours, friends and family can feel free to socialize without stressing over the wedding that’s right around the corner.

One way to make a rehearsal dinner even more low-key is to serve the food family-style. Molly and Rob Patridge held their December 2017 rehearsal dinner at La Scala, where ample helpings of such Italian favorites as bruschetta and meatballs were served as appetizers for a party of 23 family members.

Like what you’re reading? Sign up for our bimonthly newsletters.

The couple opted for a sit-down dinner later in the evening, but the opportunity to circulate among relatives beforehand proved to be a real plus. “For the most part, we all live in Columbus, but we’re rarely all together in the same room,” Molly says. “It was nice to visit and meet everyone, and just have that opportunity to chat or do introductions before you had to sit down.”

Whether your wedding party consists of a small group of family members or a wide swath of friends, social interaction is a major appeal of family-style dinners. “It helps people get to know each other, gives them something to talk about, break the ice a little bit,” says Ann Anderson of Brio Tuscan Grille at Polaris Fashion Place. “You’re going to spend … three days with these people, so you want to do something different. You don’t want to do the same thing every day.”

At both its Polaris and Easton locations, Brio offers a pair of family-style dinner packages with sides that include pesto crushed potatoes and creamy polenta. Entrées range from pasta alla vodka to rigatoni alfredo. “You’re not going to go hungry,” Anderson says. “It gives people the choices [so] they don’t have to pick just one thing. … If you do that formal, sit-down dinner, you order [a dish] and that’s what you get.”

Plus, there’s likely to be less socializing if every member of your party is seated at a table. “You’re not really supposed to get up until you’re served, so you’re interacting with just the people at your table,” Anderson says. “You’re not having the opportunity to talk to other people, passing food around or talking to somebody behind you.”

For their part, the Patridges don’t regret their choice to go casual on the eve of their wedding. “It was just stress-free—kind of hanging out, having some bites to eat,” Rob says. “It was just really nice.”