Wedding Receiving Line Etiquette
A receiving line is always seen at a truly formal wedding. The purpose behind the tradition is to allow the hostess - usually the Mother of the Bride, regardless of who is paying for the wedding - to personally welcome the guests into the reception.
Traditionally, the host - usually the Father of the Bride, regardless of who is paying for the wedding - mingles nearby, introducing guests to one an other, pointing guests in the direction of the bar and hors d’oeuvres, and so forth.
It is very similar to when a couple hosts a formal cocktail party in their home. The hostess greets and welcomes guests, then directs them toward the living room where her husband introduces them around and points them toward the bartender.
To Receive, or Not to Receive?
Sometimes, when the reception will be quite brief, or in the case of a less formal wedding, the couple might opt not to have a receiving line. Some reception sites and halls may actually encourage that in order to keep everything on schedule.
A word of caution about this, however… if you are foregoing the receiving line with the thought that you will instead visit each table of guests after dinner (an unquestionable must if there is no receiving line), you are very likely to find your own fun and enjoyment of your wedding reception to be cut down by all the required table-hopping. Instead of hitting the dance floor, you may find the night to be quickly consumed by your obligation to “make the rounds”.
Many couples who take this route later report that the night was over before it even seemed to have gotten under way, and that the entire event is a bit of a blur in their minds.
While almost every couple finds that the wedding day goes by much faster than they would like, fulfilling your duty to visit every table instead of dancing the night away and mingling more freely is almost certain to make the evening seem shorter and perhaps less satisfying.
Where to Receive
When observing traditional etiquette, the classical receiving line is never held at the church, but rather, always at the reception site.
There are some rules of traditional etiquette which, even to day, must never be modified, however, this is not one of them. Therefore, for a wedding with a more contemporary approach, you may choose to have a receiving line at the church (usually after the ceremony).
Who Stands in the Receiving Line?
According to traditional etiquette, the order of the traditional, and most formal receiving line is as follows:
Mother of the Bride
Mother of the Groom
Maid of Honor
All of the Bridesmaids
Traditionally, no men stand in the receiving line, except for the groom, of course. Child attendants also do not participate in the receiving line.
However, not everyone is concerned with maintaining the highest level of tradition or formality, and it is certainly acceptable to deviate from the historic form of the receiving line if desired. Today, couples may create any number of variations of the receiving line. For example, these days, it is not uncommon to include the fathers and groomsmen in the receiving line if you would like
Some couples prefer a contemporary, shorter version with just themselves and both sets of parents. That would take the following order: Mother of the Bride, Father of the Bride, Bride, Groom, Mother of the Groom, Father of the Groom. If any of the parents are divorced and relations are strained, then a simple switch in the order of the line would occur. The line would then look like this: Mother of the Bride, Father of the Groom, Bride, Groom, Mother of the Groom, Father of the Bride.
Children are sometimes also seen in more contemporary receiving lines. However, this is only advisable if they are old enough, and well behaved enough to stand for a long period of time without becoming restless or fidgety.
Typically, it is still good advice to limit the number of people in the receiving line as much as possible for practical reasons. This will make it quick for guests to move through the line ( guests often loathe being held up in a slow moving receiving line!) and to enable the reception festivities to get under way without too lengthy of a delay. It is also probably still favorable to avoid having the ushers, groomsmen and best man stand in the line - not only because it will speed things along, but also because it will probably be the more preferred option for these gentlemen themselves.
Short Receptions & Receiving Lines
When it comes to daytime weddings which are held in a hall or similar reception facility, often another event may be scheduled in the facility for that evening. Therefore, the facility may require that the function conclude by a certain time, such as 4:00 PM, so that it can be cleared and then set up for the evening reception.
Such a scenario where time is constrained may present a consideration in deciding whether or not to have the receiving line. When time will be considerably limited, it may necessitate eliminating the receiving line.