Should you have a receiving line?

Welcome to my first wedding planning post. I’ll be sharing a lot more of these throughout the year but if you have any burning questions you would like me to answer or topics you want covered, let me know in the comments below.

 Should we have a receiving line? All the best advice for a perfect day. Pros, cons and how to get it right.

First up I thought I’d share my thoughts on the receiving line. Just because it came up in a meeting I was having the other day with a lovely couple whose wedding I will be shooting in February. So what are they, should you have one and how to do it right.

A receiving line usually takes place as guests enter the reception room and are seated for the wedding breakfast. The bride and groom along with their parents will stand in a line by the doorway and they will greet guests individually before they make their way to the reception room. Traditionally the bride's parents as hosts would be first to welcome guests, before the bride and groom and then the groom’s parents. Often the maid of honour and best man will be either side of the bride and groom as well.

In recent years, with brides and grooms often paying for the wedding themselves the rules and etiquette have become very blurred. Often its just the couple, sometimes just the wedding party, sometimes the grandparents are included. Basically, anything goes, which is just as well because if you have parents who are no longer together or three best men things can get very complicated. My best advice is to take it all into consideration, have a chat and then do exactly what will make you both happiest.

 Documentary approach to photographing the receiving line at Crewe Hall in Cheshire. A bridesmaid is welcomed by the groom's father.

Good reasons to have a receiving line

  • You definitely get to see everyone at your wedding at least once. If you’re having a big wedding with lots of guests it is possible to miss people.
  • It’s traditional. If tradition is important to you and your parents then its worth considering. Plus brownie points with great aunt Mildred.
  • It involves your parents. Sometimes Mum’s and Dad’s can feel a bit lost especially if they haven’t been able to help out with the planning. The receiving line adds to their role on the day and gives them yet another chance to beam with pride.
  • It sets the scene and suits some venues. If you're getting married in a grand old hall it adds that sense of ceremony to the wedding breakfast.

Just as good reasons not to have a receiving line

  • It can be a long process and will take up a significant amount of time that could be better spent drinking, eating, dancing, kissing or whatever else you would rather be doing.
  • It can be boring for guests if they have to stand in a queue when they are hungry and want to sit down.
  • It may not suit your venue. If you’re having a more relaxed wedding or your guests would have to queue outside while waiting to see you it probably isn’t a great idea.
  • You will be standing, for a long time and this is right about when you will start to regret those gorgeous Jimmy Choos.
 A young guest is greeted by the bride and groom in the receiving line at a Lincolnshire wedding.

My personal experience. As a photographer, to be completely honest, receiving lines are usually pretty dull. It’s possible to get some nice documentary shots but most of the time everyone has their backs to you and often the light in the hallway outside the reception room is unflattering, to say the least. As a guest, I have been put off by a bad experience where we were left outside in some very cold weather and waited what seemed like hours to greet everyone in the line. As a bride, I didn’t have one because of the previously mentioned experience. Also, my wedding was at 4 pm and in a marquee so it just didn’t fit.

So my point really is, don’t just have a receiving line because you’re expected to but have a think about it and decide if its right for you. If you decide to go ahead here are my tips on how to do it right:

  • Make sure all your guests will be indoors while they are queuing to see you. If they’ve had a drink and a chance to nip to the loo since the ceremony they should be fine to wait for a bit.

  • Keep it brief. A hug, a thank you and ‘see you after the meal’ is all you need.

  • Decide on the lineup and make sure everyone is briefed on how to keep things moving along. (A quick ‘have you met’ or ‘you remember’ the next person in line should do it)

  • Make sure the last person in line can be trusted to point out the seating plan and move guests on to the dining room.

  • Have an usher or best man on hand to help elderly relatives or anyone having trouble to find their seat.

 The receiving line in the library at a Crewe Hall wedding in Cheshire. By Amanda Balmain Photography.

Still unsure, check out these 5 modern alternatives to the receiving line.

So, there we are. My guide to receiving lines. I hope it helps someone. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Just make sure to let your venue and photographer know what you decide. Happy planning x