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The Wedding Encyclopedia – Receiving Lines

We kicked off the Wedding Encyclopedia series last week with the history behind the tossing of the bouquet, and this week, we’re following another wedding tradition centered around the luck and good fortune of brides.

It has long been thought that if you touch a bride on her wedding day, some of her luck and happiness will rub off. Additionally, the philosophy was (and still is, frankly) that a gracious wedding couple should greet and talk with each of their guests personally, even if only for a moment. These two ideas collided into what is known as the receiving line. Guests are happy ’cause they get to see the bride up close (and get a wee bit of her luck) and the couple is happy because they are able  greet each of their guests.

According to the Association of Bridal Consultants, my go-to source for all things wedding etiquette related, a traditional receiving line would look something like this:

Now, I don’t know about you… but I’m seeing a lot of “optional” men in this set up. So… the guys (other than the groom) have the option to just hang out or to start enjoying the reception while the ladies have to shake hands and say the obligatory “thank you for coming”? And the groomsmen aren’t even on the list at all! What gives Emily Post?!?

While there isn’t any way to tell exactly how long a receiving line will  take, a commonly used rule of thumb is to allow about 20 seconds per guest. Thus, it would take about 50 minutes to an hour to get an 160-person ceremony through a receiving line. Now, I don’t know about you, but that seems like a lot of “thank you for comings.”

I honestly can’t tell you the last time I saw a receiving line at a wedding. It’s a little old school (in my opinion), so most modern brides want nothing to do with it. But for the traditionalists out there, it certainly is a logical way to make sure you see each of your guests and still have a chance to eat.

So tell me… when was the last time you saw a receiving line at a wedding? I think mine was 1999. No… for real.


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  • Natalie M.February 20, 2012 - 11:39 am

    Hmm, maybe it’s a regional thing, because I have NEVER been to a wedding without a receiving line (I’m from Michigan). The receiving lines are generally the bride and groom and their families, and the bridesmaids/groomsmen tend to be in the area talking to guests, but not in the formal line.

    For example, I was at a wedding a few months back (in Cleveland, OH) and as guests left the church, the bride and groom, with their parents, were standing directly outside the door in a receiving line. After the receiving line, there was a courtyard where guests were mingling with one another and with the bridesmaids and groomsmen.

    I honestly never even thought of not having a line, as it is so ingrained in my perception of a wedding!ReplyCancel

  • Kimberly | Hitched EventsFebruary 20, 2012 - 12:14 pm

    Maybe it is a regional thing! Of all the weddings I have on the books for 2012, none are doing a receiving line. Instead, they are opting to go from table to table to visit with guests instead.ReplyCancel