Wedding receptions: Who greets whom?
Dear Frances from New Jersey. Receptions are times that frequently give us practice in excercising broad social graces, including forbearance, because protocol oversights do happen. They are likely unintentional. Wedding complexities can overwhelm the best of us, especially dreamy eyed brides and nervous grooms. And, should the new couple see this post, and my answer contrary to their actions, be assured that everyone understands these issues aren’t always easy or as clear cut as they should be…
Question: Are the groom and bride supposed to visit each table of guests at the reception, especially the parents of the bride and groom? Or are the guests supposed to go to the bride and grooms table? There was no reception line at this wedding.
Answer: The main responsibility to meet, greet, acknowledge and personally thank ALL guests belongs to the bride and groom. Parents also have an obligation to receive and speak to each guest.
Traditionally (and for good reason) these happy duties are performed immediately as guests arrive at the reception. The very word reception denotes its purpose–to receive each guest in attendance who accepted the bridal family’s invitation. This is why receiving lines are standard etiquette among people who invite more than fifty guests.
Receiving lines represent the best way to greet and meet everyone when groups numbers several hundred. Otherwise, at big gatherings, as people move around, some end up unintentionally being ignored, unacknowledged, thanked or disregarded without introduction.
Guests represent diverse people from both families. Some are meeting for the first time, nor have they met the hosts, thus introductions are necessary–Facts left out of some etiquette manuals which mean young couples can miss the point of receptions.
On a related note, guests expect to and do not mind standing in a queue that moves quickly along. This is why guests do not linger for more than a short, courteous greeting. A large number of guests means a longer line and more time involved, thus the acceptable practice of informal shorter receiving lines where only the bride, groom, the two mothers, and maid or matron of honor meet, introduce, and greet guests to keep the line moving while fathers of the couple, bridesmaids, and groomsmen freely circulate nearby with guests. A good solution for very large weddings. Beverages are offered, but guests set those aside before going through the line.
Back to your question: The bride and groom together should visit each table if there’s no receiving line. And, their first stop begins at the bride’s parents table, if they have not already thanked their parents . Why? First, because the younger always honor the older, so this includes acknowledging both parents and grandparents. Second, the parents must be thanked for all they have done to make this occasion special. Third, because the parents then need to mingle and acknowledge each guest in attendance if this was not done at the door as guests entered. Moving through vast numbers of people and speaking to indivduals can be very difficult at a large reception. You can see how it easily results with little time for the couple or the parents to sit down and enjoy the food and people at their own tables. They need to be up and moving around.
If the couple missed opportunity to thank their parents during the reception, they should do that prior to departing the celebration. My son and daughter-in-law brought tears to both mothers’ eyes at their reception. Their smiles, hugs, and sincere “thank-you for all you’ve done” during the reception and, especially, just before they left filled our hearts with joy.
What to do if you’re not introduced or acknowledged. I suspect all of us have been at some rather large informal receptions with no receiving line where guests are left to wander in, fend for themselves, without instruction or welcome. I’m never offended or bothered by this. It isn’t that the hosts and bridal couple mean to ignore anyone, they are simply overwhelmed. In this case, my husband and I take the initiative, find and greet the couple as soon as a convenient moment opens up. A few times, we were unable to connect with either the parents or the couple, and that’s always a disappointment.
When we remember the purpose of the reception provides opportunity for the bride and groom to meet, acknowledge, thank and celebrate with invited friends and family before they leave, then we know why protocol requires them to individually recognize guests who have “honored them with their presence” and presents. It’s also why I encourage the practice of receiving lines. It’s considerate etiquette. No one is left out and the order of the party proceeds more smoothly. Thank you for your good question. Protocol matters!