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The Fine Line About Receiving Lines

I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about receiving lines. I have my opinions (you know I do!) but how to handle the receiving line issue is a personal decision. I will say that taking time to individually thank all your guests at some point after your ceremony is just plain good manners. You can choose to skip the traditional receiving line, but I am not letting you off the hook altogether!  Like everything else these days, there are no hard and fast rules about receiving lines so let’s explore your options.


#1.  After The Ceremony

This is the traditional receiving line format. After the groom has kissed the bride, guests are released one row at a time where they form a line to congratulate the new couple. Parents, wedding party members and even grandparents can be included in the receiving line. The idea is to quickly say thank you, make introductions, give hugs and move things along.

Pros: This is a great way to connect one-on-one with each guest before people scatter. It works really well with small weddings, especially if there is a nice, open gathering space at the ceremony site.

Cons: The line can get really long and some guests may be stuck waiting inside the ceremony venue forever waiting their turn. This is a problem if the wedding party plans to take photos after the ceremony—a really long receiving line can throw off your whole schedule…and there is nothing an OCD wedding planner likes more than following a schedule.


#2. After The Ceremony with a Twist

Instead of having the bride and groom wait to greet guests outside the ceremony, the bride and groom actually dismiss guests from their pews one row at a time, saying their thanks and giving their hugs along the way.

Pros: Allows the bride and groom to have control of hugs and handshakes and how much time they spend with each person, as they can just move the line along themselves. And instead of standing in line, guests are allowed to remain seated.

Cons: There can still be a long wait, especially for the people seated at the back of the ceremony.


#3. At The Reception

Some brides and grooms choose to move receiving line duties to the reception. Typically, the line forms at the entrance of the reception area and guests are thanked on the way inside. Again, parents, wedding party members and grandparents can be part of this receiving line. Totally up to you.

Pros: Because people don’t usually arrive at the reception all at once, there is less chance they will have to wait in a really long line. This option also works better if the wedding party wants pictures right after the ceremony.

Cons: The line can become long and there isn’t always a good gathering space at the entrance of the reception area. Some guests may attend the wedding and skip the reception so the bride and groom may miss them altogether. Also, people are usually excited to “get the party started” and standing in line first isn’t always a crowd pleaser.


#4. At The Reception Tables

This option is becoming more popular because it is more convenient for the guests. There is no receiving line at the ceremony or the reception. Instead, the bride and groom make a point to visit each table during the reception meal to talk with each guest. Another fun option is to take a photo with each table.

Pros: No one is ever standing in line. Yay!

Cons: The bride and groom may not get a chance to eat. The time it takes to make the rounds at all the tables may hold up the rest of the reception—including dessert, toasts, speeches and the dance. The “lull” here can be a problem, so be sure to keep things moving.


#5: In the Dessert Line

Some couples choose to say a personal thank you at the beginning of the dessert line. Another fun way to handle this is to have the bride, groom  and any other members of the wedding party actually serve the dessert—a good option for the non-huggers of the world! This is a recent trend that’s designed to cut down on receiving line time but still takes care of good etiquette. You may want to announce the dessert receiving line during dinner.

Pros: This receiving line becomes somewhat optional for guests and just seems more casual. It also helps keep the rest of the reception on schedule.

Cons: Not everyone eats dessert, so you’ll miss those people. Also, the line can still get long and people may start to go around it and just grab the dessert off the table. The question is: how much do you care?


#6: Using the Dollar Dance as a Receiving Line

Some couples have wondered if they can just use a dollar dance to say a few words to each guest. Here is where my opinion can’t help itself. The answer is NO. The dollar dance is not the same as a receiving line. People should not have to pay to get a few moments of your time. End of discussion.


Knowing when and how you’re going to organize your receiving line is something you’ll want to work out ahead of time. You may even consider putting the details in your wedding program or making an announcement after the ceremony. This is the one part of your day that really isn’t about you—it’s about making sure your guests know you appreciate them.


After that, it’s ALL you. Enjoy!


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