You, too, might have to host a rehearsal dinner at a venue far from home that you've never seen. Or, you might get lucky and not have to do that. Here's what worked for us.
1. You're going to have to have some idea of how many people are coming. Get that number figured out as soon as possible.
2. That will help you figure out your venue. With the right size crowd and the right budget, you could just take over a restaurant--but this wouldn't ever be my first choice. Restaurants don't encourage mingling, there's often no room to stand around and visit, the noise level is often not in your control, and the food is expensive.
3. We were able to find the perfect space--a very large room with plenty of windows, with small round tables and chairs, and an attached kitchen. We were lucky. We also had a Right-Hand Man on the Ground (Molly)--a local with insider knowledge, who scouted out just the right spot for us. You should get one of these people if you can.
4. Then I went to Yelp and looked up the restaurant with the best ratings. It was a tiny, hole-in-the-wall Latin restaurant--inexpensive, and people raved over the food. Although the proprietor barely understood my Southern accent, we did arrange for them to cook taco fillings, tortillas, and condiments for fifty, and deliver everything to our spot. Then they stopped answering the phone for two weeks. I sent Molly by to reconnoiter. They stayed mysteriously closed for days, but eventually resurfaced. Disaster averted.
5. To keep costs down, and because I like cooking for people, the girls and I planned and prepared side dishes--a giant guacamole, a giant dish of cubed canteloupe with a spicy pepper relish, and a giant vat of cucumbers in vinegar. We were able to prep all those things in the little kitchen, the day of.
6. There was no room to refrigerate the four large dispensers of infused waters, so I prepped them that day by starting off with small amounts in my canisters, and continually topping them off with ice as it melted. By evening they were perfectly full and icy cold and ready to serve.
7. We drove to the wedding, so were able to pack our own tablecloths, vases, serving bowls, serving utensils, knives and cutting boards, etc. We supplemented the table decorations with flowers we cut on roadsides, and a few thrift store finds. We ordered cute paper goods ahead of time and had them delivered to Molly (she was the best).
8. It's good to keep in mind that you're just feeding good food to a crowd of people who are happy to be together before a wonderful, sacred day. As long as there's a place for them to stand around and hug, and something to eat, you've done well.