There you are, standing with your new husband, both dressed in your very best after your ceremony, in front of all of your excited family and friends … what’s next?
Your wedding day requires so much planning that when it finally arrives, it will be over before you even realise. All the excitement will put you into a daze and when you finally have a moment to calm down, the day will pretty much be over. So, if you have invited more than 50 guests at your wedding, the one way to make sure you greet each and every one of your guests and thank them personally for coming, is by having a receiving line.
Sure, it’s a bit formal and very old school – but we, of course, love old traditions! Whether you decide to have a receiving line or not is completely up to you of course. It’s certainly not required – modern weddings mean modern approaches to traditional rules! But, even in modern times, some traditional etiquette and values remain. So many people have put in hours of time and money into being a part of or helping with your day, and they all deserve a little recognition. It’s a sincere bit of gratitude for the time they have all taken time to travel for the wedding.
Alternatively, you can rely on the more casual approach of greeting-people-as-you-bump-into-them method. But this also means that you’re going to spend most of your reception entering in and out of awkward conversations to make sure you get to the next person. In the end you’re bound to miss someone. At a small wedding though, it’s fine for the bride and groom to visit with each table – usually during the meal – to greet, thank, and chat with their guests.
Generally the receiving line is formed immediately following the ceremony, or right before the start of the reception followed by formal photos. This way you get a little bit of face time with everyone to hug, kiss and congratulate the both of you. It’s also a great way to ensure all the guests meet the bride and groom’s parents.
You should expect that it will take about 30-40 minutes for every 100 guests (that’s only about 20 seconds with each guest!) Everyone is going to be so excited to see you, and will want congratulate you and your new husband or wife. They will also want to chat for as long as possible, to tell you how beautiful you look, how perfect the ceremony was and how gorgeous the venue is. Most guests know they should move through quickly but some like to linger, so you really need to be the ones to keep the line moving. A subtle way is to physically motion them onto the next person in the receiving line and slowly turn back to the next person in line to see you, saying, “I look forward to talking more with you during the reception.”
The traditional order is to have the mother of the bride, the father of the bride, the mother of the groom and the father of the groom, bride and groom, then the maid and/or matron of honour. Sometimes the best man and children of the couple participate. If someone other than your parents hosts the wedding, they should be at the front of the receiving line. Fathers aren’t required to stand in line; they can mingle with the the groomsmen, among the guests. However, if one father participates, the other should also.
The most common and sensible areas for a receiving line are the spots where you and your guests can be comfortable. This includes the hallway, the head of the aisle, outside the entry doors to the church or venue, down the front steps, on the front porch. If your ceremony is going to be outdoors, even better, have it at the back of the garden where your ceremony was held!
If you decide to plan it before your reception, consider the cocktail or seating lounge, in the lobby, just outside the doors leading into the dining area, or even on the dance floor. Ideally, you want your guests to be able to have a refreshment while they wait their turn,. A great idea is to position a waiter at the beginning of the line with a tray of beverages (like champagne or a signature cocktail) to offer your guests. Place a small table next to where you’re standing so guests can put their beverages down before greeting you – we don’t want any spills on that gorgeous dress!
We had a receiving line, and it was wonderful to be able to personally say hello to everyone. However, it was a little annoying that nobody realised that after 80 people wrapping their arms around my hair and squeezing me to congratulate me, my perfect curls and braid would probably fall out.
Our receiving line also did take up a good chunk of time that I had planned to spend mingling with guests during the cocktail hour. I had in my head plans to play croquet and lawn games and in the end, didn’t even get a chance to take a photo holding a croquet mallet!
However, looking back, I am glad that I got the chance to say thank you to every single person in our receiving line because otherwise I would have been so carried away in taking photos, and trying to remember whom I had spoken to and whom I had not.
Regardless of whether you decide to have a receiving line or not, the basic rules of etiquette still apply – you need to greet and thank every guest you have invited to your wedding.