Everything You Need to Know About Receiving Lines

Bride and groom with wedding guests.

Photo by Jamie English

With so many guests coming from far and wide to celebrate on your wedding day, it’s easy to understand the pressure (and desire) to greet, or at least talk to, every single one of them. One of the best ways to do so? A receiving line.

What Is a Receiving Line?

Receiving lines are an incredibly useful way to make sure you have a chance to greet all of your wedding guests, especially at larger weddings. It’s pretty simple: You line up and say hello to guests as they walk past.

So when should you have a wedding receiving line, who stands in it, and how does it really all work? We have the answers.

When Should You Have One?

If you’re going to have a receiving line, there are two options for timing. The first is immediately following the ceremony. Once you’ve shared your first kiss and walked down the aisle, stand by the exit of the ceremony venue so all of your guests will see you as they leave. This is the most common option, as your guests are all in one place and can really only go one way as they head to the reception.

The other option is to have your receiving line on the way into cocktail hour. Head to the entrance as soon as the ceremony is done (to make sure you get there before your guests do) and greet them as they make their way inside. The downside to this option? A bottleneck. Whether guests are walking from the ceremony site or are arriving in shuttles, having a receiving line by the entrance means they’ll have to wait to say hello before they make their way inside, so this option is best with smaller guest counts.

Who Stands in the Receiving Line?

Aside from the bride and groom, the receiving line most often includes the parents of the couple in the following order: the mother of the bride, the father of the bride, the newlyweds, the mother of the groom, and the father of the groom. As an alternative, the fathers can instead mingle with the crowd. The fathers should either both be mingling or both be in the receiving line, following the father of the bride’s lead. Some couples also choose to include the maid of honor and the bridesmaids, who should stand after the parents of the groom.

What If My Parents Are Divorced?

If your parents are divorced, they should not stand next to one another in the receiving line. The easiest way to separate them is to have the maid of honor or best man stand between the parents, making it clear that they are no longer a couple. If either parent is remarried, including their new spouse depends on your relationship with your stepparent. If you are quite close (and you know both of your parents will be comfortable with the arrangement), by all means, invite them to stand by your parent’s side. Your stepmother should stand next to your father and your stepfather should stand next to your mother. However, if you aren’t close with your stepparent(s) or don’t think the scenario will stay civil with them involved, politely ask them to mingle with guests instead.

What Happens When Guests Go Through the Receiving Line?

The receiving line is an opportunity for the couple and their parents to say hello to each guest, as well as to thank them for attending. Guests might thank the hosts for inviting them or comment on the ceremony, but the conversations should be kept short to keep the line moving. As the newlyweds, this is when you begin your duties as hosts for the evening. It is your responsibility to make introductions as necessary, whether that means introducing your new spouse to your great aunt or your grandmother to your new in-laws.

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