Everything You Need to Know About Having a Receiving Line

Thinking of greeting your guests with a formal receiving line? Read this.
by The Knot

When it comes to your wedding day, married couples will tell you time and time again that it absolutely flies by. So how can you guarantee a meaningful moment with every one of your guests before the celebration ends? One option is to have a receiving line, which is probably the most formal, traditional and efficient way to give guests your heartfelt greetings and gratitude. Here’s what you need to know about having a receiving line.

The Pros of Having a Receiving Line

As mentioned, a receiving line is the best opportunity to visit (albeit quickly) with each guest individually, give them a big hug and thank them for coming. A receiving line might seem outdated, and it’s definitely not mandatory, but if you’re having more than a hundred guests, this is a great way to show guests how much you appreciate the effort they made to come. (It makes guests feel so good when the couple acknowledges them—no one wants to feel like the couple would’ve noticed if they hadn’t come.) Selfishly, saying your “thank-yous” and “hellos” at the beginning of the celebration—instead of relying on a more casual greet-them-as-you-see-them approach—means you won’t need to spend the entire party in a tailspin, ducking out of conversations to catch up people you haven't seen yet. And finally, a receiving line is one of the easiest ways to make sure you don’t miss anyone.

The When and Where

Generally, the receiving line is formed immediately following the ceremony or at the beginning of the reception. Take factors like spatial constraints and ventilation into consideration when choosing where to line up so your families and wedding party members don’t end up standing on top of each other, and so guests have room to move in a smooth, orderly procession (which in turn makes the line go faster so you can all get on to the party). Hoping to shoot for a postceremony receiving line? Gather in the hallway or vestibule at the head of the aisle, outside the entry doors or down the front steps. You also should have several options at your reception site, depending on the space: Consider the cocktail lounge, the lobby, just outside the doors leading into the main room or in the reception room itself (some hosts use the dance floor or form their receiving line right before the dinner buffet starts). Ultimately, pick a spot where you and your guests can stand comfortably for the duration of the meet and greet.

Who Should Stand in Line?

Traditionally, whoever’s hosting the party should head the receiving line and greet people first, followed by the newlyweds, and then the other set of parents. This might be subject to change if you’re all helping to foot the bill in some capacity or if stepparents are in the picture. Many lines also include the honor attendants, entire wedding party (if there's room) or even grandparents. But you should feel free to go your own way, as long as you clear it with your partner, parents and their parents, as they may have other expectations in mind. You two can always stand alone as the guests of honor.

How to Include Divorced and/or Remarried Parents

This may be one of the stickier situations you'll encounter when orchestrating a receiving line, and the resolution depends on the relationships between the relevant parties. But the bottom line is to use common sense and go with your instincts. If your parents are divorced and don’t get along, they shouldn’t stand next to one another in line—even if they’re sharing hosting duties. And what about stepparents—should you include them too? Again, it all depends on your relationship to them. If your parents are capable of sharing this duty with your stepparent civilly and gracefully—and you have enough room—by all means, add them to the bunch. You should strive to make everyone feel as comfortable as possible.

What’s Everyone Expected to Say?

The receiving line is where the newlyweds get to stand out as happy hosts. Warning: It’ll be a whirlwind of faces. But if it helps, don’t think of the entire crowd all at once—instead focus on the individual loved one in front of you. (And remember, everyone’s there to celebrate you—they come in peace!) And we know it’s a lot of people, but as much as you can, introduce your parents and new spouse to any guests they haven’t yet met. On the guest side, attendees should take it upon themselves to offer a little intro (first names and how they know the newlyweds) to anyone they've never met as they move down the line. All guests are expected to do is hug or shake hands, offer congratulations and keep moving. The couple only needs to smile and accept everyone's hugs, kisses and best wishes, and thank them for coming. It's that simple.

Receiving Line Alternatives

As with any well-known wedding tradition, how you interpret the receiving line—or whether you even choose to include one—are completely up to you. Depending on the size of your guest list, you may opt to greet people in other ways. If you have fewer than, say, 100 guests, you might decide to have a first look and formal portraits before the ceremony, and then use cocktail hour as the perfect meet-and-greet opportunity. You might also prefer to make the rounds, table by table, at the reception (just make sure you have a chance to eat something). Finally, we always love the idea of hosting a welcome gathering of some kind before your wedding day (think: a cocktail party or drinks after the rehearsal dinner)—the perfect way kiss everyone hello and catch up with faraway friends you’d potentially miss at the reception.

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