How to Greet Wedding Guests in a Receiving Line

A young bride and groom greeting guests at their receiving line.

Whether you have 50 wedding guests or 300, there never seems to be enough time to catch up or have meaningful conversations with them during the reception. This can be especially frustrating if your guests live far away and you haven’t seen them in a handful of years. Although your reception will always be a whirlwind, one way to guarantee you’ll get to see and visit with all of your guests is to have the tried and true receiving line. Interested in incorporating the receiving line into your wedding reception? Here’s more on what it is and how to pull it off flawlessly during your reception.

What Is a Receiving Line?

A receiving line is a traditional, formal way to greet your guests at either the end of the ceremony or at the beginning of the reception. Guests will line up to greet you as well as a select few family members and members of the wedding party before they head to the reception venue or take their seats at their assigned table.

Who Stands in the Receiving Line?

A bridal party standing in a receiving line at a wedding reception.

Traditionally, the receiving line consists of the couple and then whomever is “hosting” the wedding, plus the maid of honor. The “hosts” are typically the bride’s parents, but because many couples are either paying for the wedding themselves these days or both sets of parents are equally contributing, the receiving line can consist of whomever you would like to include. If you have the room, many couples choose to include their entire wedding party, both sets of parents, and even grandparents. If your parents are divorced or re-married, you’ll have to assess whether or not you want to include step-parents and if your parents can stand next to one another without it being an issue. No matter who you choose to include, be sure to consider the amount of space you have for your receiving line and how long it will take all of your guests to greet everyone.

When and Where Should You Have the Receiving Line?

When and where you have the receiving line depends on your venue size. Many couples opt to have their receiving line right after the ceremony in a large hallway or room that’s right off the ceremony space (typically near a doorway so that guests can make a quick exit right after they chat with you). If you don’t have your receiving line at the end of the ceremony, couples sometimes choose to have the receiving line at the beginning of the reception right after they’ve escaped to take some pictures. Should you choose this option, offer your guests a cocktail hour with hors d’oeuvres so that no one gets hungry or cranky waiting for you to arrive to greet them.

How Long Should You Speak to Each Guest (And What Should You Say?)

Having a line of 100+ people getting ready to greet you can be pretty intimidating, so you may be wondering just how long you’ll need to speak with each guest and what you should say in each interaction.The simplest way to approach talking to each guest is to accept their congratulations, give a quick hug, and have them move on down the line. Your guests will recognize they are not the only ones anxious to greet the happy couple, so they will likely keep the interaction short and sweet. It’s important to stand next to your spouse so that you can introduce them to any guests they may not know (and vice versa).

Make the Receiving Line Simple for Your Guests

A bride and groom standing in a receiving line greeting guests at their wedding.

Waiting in line for 30-40 minutes (or longer) to speak to the happy couple can be a real drag for your guests, but it doesn’t have to be. You can do simple little things like having a bartender at the start of the line so that your guests can grab a drink while they wait. You could also set out cocktail tables near the receiving line so guests can hop in line when it slows down, making them feel less like herded cattle.

Alternatives to a Receiving Line

Greeting all of your guests is important to you, but if you’re not crazy about the idea of a traditional receiving line (or if you simply don’t have enough room in your venue), there are alternatives to try. You can use cocktail hour as a less formal receiving line or make a commitment to go to each table and visit with all your guests during the reception. If your guest list really is overwhelming and the thought of greeting each guest seems impossible, you and your new spouse could address everyone at the reception with a thank you speech.

Whatever you do, avoid the temptation to have guests greet you at the sweetheart table—you have to eat, after all! No matter how you choose to greet your guests, as long as a good effort is made, your guests will be appreciative.

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