Guests bring good luck with them. ~ Kurdish Proverb
Greeting one’s guests is mandatory for the bride and groom; it cannot be left to anyone else.
A warm greeting complete with a dazzling smile, eyes that are lit up and a friendly handshake — and where appropriate a hug or quick squeeze — can lift peoples’ spirits and make them feel welcome, wanted and deeply appreciated. No less a greeting — along with a heartfelt “thank you for attending” — should be extended to each and every wedding guest by the bride and groom, the parents and other family members of the wedding couple. No guest who has spent time, effort and funds to get to the wedding should be overlooked or ignored by the bride and groom and their families.
I love Maya Angelou’s wonderful quote, which I cannot repeat enough: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Guests might not recall every detail of your wedding, but they will recall whether they enjoyed themselves or not, and part of the enjoyment of attending a wedding is being recognized and appreciated by the wedding couple.
A Receiving Line or Table Hopping?
According to Emily Post’s Wedding Etiquette, “It is helpful to have a receiving line for a larger wedding, say seventy-five or more guests, or when you are not serving a seated meal during your reception. It’s an effective way to greet and thank your guests since you may not have the chance to speak personally with everyone during the course of a stand-up cocktail reception, for example.” The size of your wedding and whether you are having a seated meal are key to this decision. It is easy to miss some people during a cocktail hour or if your reception is buffet style, with guests going back and forth to the buffet table and missing from their table when you come around. In such cases, a receiving line is usually a more efficient way to ensure no guest is missed.
Tess Ayers and Paul Brown have this to say about the receiving line in their book, The Essential Guide To Lesbian & Gay Weddings: “The receiving line ties the ceremony to the reception and is a formal way for the wedding hosts to welcome guests — and for the guests to meet you for the first time as a married couple. The custom guarantees that the couple get to be kissed, hugged, and congratulated by everyone and alleviates you of the responsibility of ‘making the rounds.’ This is also an organized way of meeting any guests you might not know yet. Plus — who’re we kidding!–the receiving line is glamorous as hell, with everyone kissing you and shaking your hand and treating you as if you were the Queen Mum.”
A drawback to the receiving line is that it requires guests to stand in line when they could be enjoying the cocktail hour or mingling with other guests. And if you will be taking photographs between the ceremony and the reception it might be more of an imposition to have your guests hanging around for all of that instead of partying. If your reception includes a sit-down plated luncheon or dinner in which your guests will generally be staying put, it might be better to forego the receiving line and instead table hop during the reception.
The Receiving Line
Who stands in the receiving line?
At the very least, these four people should be in the basic receiving line, in this order: the mother of the bride, the mother of the groom, the bride and groom. This is the best approach to move the line along quickly. Whether your receiving line proceeds from right to left or left to right, the wedding hosts typically are first in the line-up. Even if the bride and groom are paying for their wedding exclusively, in addition to observing tradition it is considered respectful to give the honor of being first in the receiving line to the mother-of-the-bride.
Traditionally, the only man who absolutely must be in the receiving line is the groom. While the fathers of the bride and groom may start out in the receiving line, they may leave it after greeting several guests. Fathers typically spend their time mingling with guests; but it is proper etiquette that if one father stands in line then both fathers should, both out of respect for their respective spouses, the wedding couple and the symmetry of the line. The bride’s attendants typically may be included in the receiving line, as well as close family members such as grandparents, godparents and favorite aunts and uncles.
To add to the warmth and festivity, in addition to the fathers, grandfathers, godfathers and uncles may also act as hosts and mingle with the guests.
If you are inclined toward a more robust receiving line, you can start with this full-blown traditional line-up, in this order, and adjust accordingly:
Maids/Matrons of Honor
If divorced parents and step-parents are involved, consideration should be given to the relationships — are they friendly or reserved — and who is hosting (read: paying for) the wedding? Fathers do not have to be in the receiving line, so that could be one problem solved (but in any case, divorced parents should not stand next to each other in line). If the bride and her natural mother are close it would be the kind and decent gesture to ask the natural mother to stand first and the step-mother second if the two women are on good terms; if not, the step-mother could stand on the other side of the bride and groom. Simply switch the positions if the bride wishes to give the honor of being first in line to her step-mother.
If matters become too complicated, the bride and groom can certainly stand alone together to receive guests. To manage the line, the best man, maid/matron of honor and the bridesmaids can chat with the guests as they wait; and the various parents can circulate among the guests who are not or no longer standing in line.
Who does not stand in the Receiving Line?
It is optional whether the best man stands in the line; generally, he does not but may if the line is short.
However, those who typically do not stand in the receiving line include the groomsmen, ushers, pages, flower girls and ring bearers. Siblings of the bride and groom who are not in the wedding party do not stand in the line either, but are very valuable ambassadors to mingle and greet guests who are waiting or no longer in line.
Receiving Line Etiquette for Hosts and Guests
Because one hard and fast rule for hosts and guests as they greet each other in the receiving line is no food or drink, if the wedding is on the large side the hosts should arrange for drinks and hors d’oeuvres to be passed among the guests who are waiting in line to greet the wedding couple. As guests approach the receiving line, however, they must divest themselves of food and drink and there must be waiters to help them with this. Alternatively, there should be a table with canapés and drinks and where guests can deposit their refreshments when they are ready to join the receiving line. Hosts, as well, may have a table behind them that holds water and champagne if they must stand in line for more than a half hour so they can take a discreet sip now and then between greetings. The reasons for this, of course, are so that hosts and guests have their hands free and mouths clear to greet each other (just as in any networking event) and so that no one accidentally spills something on another person, most especially the bride!
Out of consideration for the bride and groom and other members of the wedding party who will be greeting many people, etiquette for the guests in greeting the hosts should be upbeat and brief.
In welcoming and thanking their guests, the bride and groom and other hosts should be gracious, warm and enthusiastic. The way you make your guests feel will influence their entire experience at your wedding. If you greet them properly and make them feel important and valued they will have a great time and put a positive spin on everything; but if you greet them in a hurried, perfunctory or half-hearted manner they will not enjoy the rest of the wedding no matter how magnificent it is. Focus on each greeting and don’t let anything interrupt it (you have people — your attendants and family members — who can handle things for you while you greeting your guests). Remember, first and foremost your guests will remember how you made them feel. So you must get this part of your wedding celebration right.
The Bride and Groom should brief each other on their respective family and friends to make their greetings personal. Guests should introduce themselves and have something pleasant and sincere ready to say about the bride and groom and / or the parents.
Sometimes there is time to introduce a guest to the host standing next to you and other times it’s easier for a guest simply to keep moving along, presenting herself of himself to each host in the receiving line. The gist is to keep the greetings brief, warm, sincere and appropriate depending on the relationship.
While it can be fun for awhile, table hopping can be very time consuming depending on how many guests and tables are involved, as you will be spending a tad more time at each table than you would with each guest in a receiving line — about five minutes per table is the accepted norm. Be sure to schedule some time so that you and your new spouse can get a bite to eat before you start — as Ayers and Brown put it — ‘making the rounds” of all the tables.
The Wedding Weekend
The wedding weekend offers more opportunities for the bride and groom and their parents to greet and converse with their guests. For example, couples often host a welcome party or get-together for out-of-town guests who arrive the day or night before the wedding. The rehearsal dinner, of course, is the prime opportunity to show appreciation to members of the wedding party. At the reception, the couple can focus on greeting those guests who did not attend the welcome gathering or rehearsal party. If there is an after-party or morning-after breakfast or brunch, the couple can follow-up on their wedding-day greetings with additional conversations.
The Additional Collective Greeting and Thank You
In addition to thanking each guest individually, however you decide to manage that, it is also lovely to greet and thank everyone collectively via an announcement from both the bride and groom once everyone has assembled at the reception, whether it’s a formal sit-down plated dinner, an elegant buffet or a cocktail hour or a warm and lovely gathering outdoors. It can simply be a short and sweet statement, delivered by both the bride and groom; and don’t be afraid to make it personal and add a dash of humor and wit.
After the MC or DJ introduces the wedding party and the bride and groom, the couple might say something along the lines of:
Groom: We are so touched and appreciative of having all of you join us on the most important day of our lives…
Bride: …and we will be coming around to speak with those of you we missed during the cocktail hour, and
Groom: …we also want you to know that we will never forget your love, warmth…
Bride: …friendship and generosity. Bill and I can’t imagine taking this step in our lives without you and…
Groom: …how touched we are that you are the first to witness us as a married couple finishing each other’s sentences!
Bride: Please enjoy yourselves. We’ll be coming around soon!
Until next time,