Bring it Back! One Editor’s Case for the Receiving Line
One millennial’s argument in favor of the old-school tradition.
A couple of years ago, I went to a beautiful wedding that was followed by an equally beautiful reception. It was a lively affair. The band was swinging; the dance floor was rocking; and the radiant newlyweds were nowhere in sight. I scanned the venue left and right—where were they? Did they sneak off for a photo opp? Steal away for a smooch? And then I spotted them: Stuck in the back corner of their twinkling reception venue graciously entertaining a small horde of well-meaning, but overly chatty guests while the rest of us bopped and boogied with the band.
I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think it's about time we brought back the receiving line: that age-old, old-fashioned custom where the bride, groom, and their parents stand by the door of the reception hall and say hello to every last one of their guests before the party begins.
I understand the appeal of skipping out on the receiving line. For one thing, it's exhausting for the newlyweds. Personally greeting every single guest takes a good bit of time, plus, there will always be the select few guests who abuse the privilege and spend far too long talking to the happy couple. And for guests, it's yet another line to stand in at the reception (the buffet lines are never-ending and visits to the bar require a little patience).
But those qualms aside, the receiving line is a pretty good system. There's a reason the tradition started and then stuck around for decades.
For starters, it's a one-stop shop for the happy couple. It's a designated time for the newlyweds to accept well-wishes and express gratitude to guests who have traveled from near and far to celebrate them. By the time the receiving line winds down and the music cranks up, the couple's obligations for the evening are complete. They're free to enjoy the food and hit the dance floor and revel in their marital bliss. A receiving line at the start of the reception means that they can skip the all-night social rounds or, if they choose not to make the rounds, the guilt that comes with not taking time to greet and thank guests.
It's also a win for the guests, who don't have to seek out the newlyweds and their parents throughout the reception to offer congratulations and gratitude for the invitation. Thanks to the receiving line, the guests, too, can skip the guilt of interrupting the couple mid-dance or hovering near the bride as she finishes up a conversation with an old friend.
Of course, there are a few things that must happen to ensure the receiving line's success. First, the receiving line should start at the very beginning of the reception or cocktail hour, so the couple can greet guests directly at the door. Second, guests should be respectful of the newlyweds' time: This is not an opportunity to catch up on little Susie's progress in kindergarten or your dear old pup's recent passing; the receiving line exchange should include a quick hug or a handshake (depending on your relationship with the bride and groom), with a concise, but thoughtful, celebratory greeting. For instance, "Oh, Grace and David! Best wishes to you. Thank you for having me. I can't wait to celebrate with you on the dance floor." If a guest should become longwinded, it's up to the wedding party to politely engage the offending guest in conversation, distract him, and move him along. Finally, there should be a set time for the receiving line to end, at which point the band or DJ invites the couple out onto the floor for their first dance, or the father of the bride announces dinner. Then, if there are any remaining guests who have not yet said hello, the onus is on them to find the newlyweds and share their well wishes.
Executed correctly, the receiving line guarantees a fine time for all. Case closed.
WATCH: The Secret of What to Wear to a Wedding Is Hidden in the Invitation
We asked Gayden Metcalfe and Charlotte Hays, authors of Being Dead Is No Excuse and Somebody Is Going To Die If Lilly Beth Doesn't Catch That Bouquet to give us their take on wedding etiquette, and the two Mississippi Delta natives delivered. It turns out, knowing what to wear to a wedding isn't so difficult when you have the invitation in hand.