Greeting your Wedding Guests: The Receiving Line

Questions, answers, tips and advice relating to the planning, organisation and etiquette of a wedding receiving line.


A wedding receiving line taking place at the entrance to The Monks' Refectory at Notley Abbey

During your wedding planning process, your chosen wedding venue may ask whether or not you'd like to have a receiving line at your wedding reception. For some couples the answer might be an obvious 'yes', but for others, making that decision may not be so simple. If you’re undecided as to whether or not you should or shouldn’t have a receiving line at your wedding, or in fact you have no idea what a receiving line is, read on to get those burning questions answered…


What is a receiving line at a wedding? 


The receiving line is a tradition in which the newly wed couple and specific members of their families stand and greet guests. It provides the opportunity for the newlywed couple to speak to and acknowledge each individual guest and acts as a natural transition from the ceremony into the reception.


What should the order of our wedding reception receiving line be? 


Traditionally the head of the receiving line would be the bride’s mother and the groom’s father. This makes logical sense as anyone approaching the line that is not known to one side of the family can be quickly introduced by the other. This is followed by the Bride and Groom, the bride’s father, groom’s mother and finally the Best Man and Maid of Honour.

Nowadays this varies enormously and some couples just put themselves in the line-up alone or abandon the receiving line altogether and opt for casual table greetings in between the courses of their wedding breakfast.


How long should a receiving line last? 


Assuming you allow something close to 20-30 seconds per ‘exchange’, you can easily calculate the time slot required. For example, 100 wedding guests should take around 30-50 minutes. The only way to reduce this is to have the process controlled by a determined Master of Ceremonies but even then it could only take one aunt who hasn’t seen you for a while to throw the timings of your day out of sync. 

The biggest challenge of the receiving line is the amount of time this takes out of the reception drinks period; if you don’t allow enough it delays the meal – which in turn could then delay further aspects of the day. 


Where should/could a receiving line take place? 


Typically, the receiving line should take place as guests are just about to enter in to your wedding reception room. Sometimes it can take place in the hallway leading up to the reception area or, depending on the lay out of your wedding venue, the newlyweds could stand at the exit of one room to do their receiving line, before the guests head off in to a separate room before the couple are announced into the wedding breakfast. 

Three Benefits of having a Receiving Line at your Wedding

  1. Your wedding day will go by in a flash. A receiving line will ensure that you get to speak to each and every one of your wedding guests, even if it is only for a few seconds. 
  2. A receiving line will give your guests the chance to congratulate you personally. 
  3. It will also give your guests something to look forward to if they’ve had to wait for about an hour or more while you’re off having your wedding photographs taken.

Top Tips for your Wedding Receiving Line

  • Use your wedding toast master to announce the receiving line and keep all of your guests informed of the order of the day. 
  • You’ll be speaking to a lot of people in a short amount of time, so be sure to sip some water or have a glass of bubbly handy so that you can stay refreshed and hydrated throughout the receiving line process. 
  • You may seem some unfamiliar faces on your receiving line such as family members from your other half’s family, or plus ones of guests that you have invited. Stay friendly and welcoming when you meet new faces. 
  • Your wedding guests will be standing/waiting in the receiving line for quite some time if they are towards the back of the queue so try not to take too long when it comes to welcoming each guest. Perhaps thank the final guests in the line for their patience.
  • Have your wedding reception table plan situated somewhere along the line so that guests can see where they are sitting before they get to you. 
  • If you’ve got a big guest list then consider having canapés and drinks served to your wedding guests as they’re waiting in the receiving line. 

Alternative Suggestions for a Wedding Receiving Line 

If you’re not a traditional couple then there’s nothing in the rule book of weddings that says you must have a receiving line at your wedding. It is however nice to be able to speak to everyone at some point throughout your wedding day – and they’ll want to speak to you too. We’ve listed a few alternative suggestions if you’re not keen on having a typical receiving line on the big day. 

Meet and greet during your post-ceremony reception drinks:

Make a point of going round to see everyone after your ceremony and before your wedding breakfast. Your guests might like the ice breaker and it will keep your photographer busy as he takes pictures of your with all of your guests. 

Talk to the tables:

It might be a nice idea to visit every reception table during your banquet so that you can say a proper hello as a newlywed couple. An extravagant wedding idea could be to cut a small wedding cake centerpiece at each table, so that everyone gets an up close and personal experience with you both – and they get an instant dessert.