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Let’s Table This // Wedding Receiving Lines & Other Options

long tables at an outdoor reception

On the day of your wedding, you’ll definitely be spending most of your post-ceremony time celebrating and dancing the night away. But as you know, every newly married couple has certain responsibilities to fulfill during the wedding event as well.  And although wedding customs and etiquette change over time, there are a few standards of polite behavior that aren't going anywhere anytime soon. The one we're looking at today is your duty to greet and thank all of your guests for attending your wedding.  

We know you do sincerely want to thank everyone for being there and for supporting you, both on your wedding day and throughout your life. But with often more than a hundred (or three hundred!) guests in attendance, personally thanking each one may seem like an impossible task.  Luckily, there are several ways to accomplish this without the worries of forgetting anyone or having it consume the majority of your event.

reception ballroom of the ashford estate

The three most common methods to be sure you've greeted everyone is to have a receiving line at the end of the ceremony or the beginning of the reception, to visit briefly at each table at the reception or to greet guests individually during the cocktail hour.

Have A Wedding Receiving Line

If you haven't experienced one, a traditional receiving line is exactly as it sounds: a line formed to receive, i.e., acknowledge, each guest.  Usually, the line is set up at the conclusion of the ceremony at the ceremony location, before formal photos are taken.  Another receiving line variation is to place the formal line at the reception site.  Here, the receiving line is often formed at the conclusion of the cocktail hour as guests are making their way into the reception space.

Guests are encouraged to create a separate queue themselves, starting opposite the person at the end of the receiving line, to greet the wedding party and to congratulate the couple on this very special day. And in turn, the couple has the opportunity to acknowledge and thank each guest for attending their wedding and for joining in on the celebration.

In a completely traditional, formal receiving line, the composition includes the couple, their parents, the maid or matron of honor and perhaps one or two bridesmaids.  Groomsmen would not be in the receiving line. But most receiving lines today also include these very important members of the wedding party.

The line would start with the host of the wedding, traditionally the bride’s parents, with the bride and groom next.  And families that include divorced parents would most often include both sets (absolutely if both sets contributed to the wedding), however not usually standing together in line.

bride and groom with their parents

Couples that have a very large wedding often choose to condense the receiving line to simply themselves and perhaps their parents as well.  This helps to speed up the greeting process when there are so many guests to acknowledge. It also puts guests more at ease since they won’t be forced into small talk with people they may not know.

bride talking with a guest at the wedding reception

Visit Reception Tables

Another common option is for the both of you to spend time walking around visiting the tables during the dinner portion of your reception. There’s less chance of missing someone when going table by table while most guests are together and seated in one room.  Keep in mind however, that although it works out perfectly for most small to mid-size weddings, if you have a large wedding, it does mean that you could miss most of your own meal.  For a bigger wedding event, visit most guests during dinner and find time to chat briefly with the remainder throughout the rest of your reception, like on the dance floor!

bride in wedding jumpsuit at her reception

Mingle During The Cocktail Hour

Finally, couples that chose to have formal photos earlier in the day and are present for the full cocktail hour find it easiest to greet and thank guests there.  This is yet another reason why we love first looks… take most of your photos right afterwards and enjoy your whole cocktail hour with your friends and family!  

Mingling to visit with guests either at their dinner tables or during cocktails is really terrific for smaller weddings and often feels more casual, friendly and spontaneous.  The key is to be sure to visit each table or guest to greet each one personally, together as a couple.

Which To Choose?

While receiving lines are the traditional and more formal way to go, in the court of public opinion, both options have been deemed appropriate and perfectly acceptable.  Here at Cord 3 Films, we estimate that approximately 20% of the weddings we film have traditional receiving lines incorporated, while the majority see the newlyweds greeting guests during cocktails or dinner. 

But for your own wedding, simply choose the method that appeals to you, fits logistically into your wedding day schedule and accommodates the size and tone of your wedding event.  As long as you thank everyone for sharing in your wedding day, you won’t go wrong!


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