Wedding Reception Protocols and Etiquette
Wedding Reception Protocols and Etiquette
Everyone, the bridal party and guests included, looks forward to the wedding reception as the high point of the whole wedding extravanganza. And what’s not to like, eh? Great food, terrific “refreshments,” jokes, backslaps, pranks and just good times spent with friends!
Well, the fact is, a wedding reception is not a chaotic free-for-all where everyone is allowed to go crazy and let it all hang out. Wedding receptions have traditions and protocols that define the stages and phases of the celebration and their upshot is to keep a lid on “too much ‘unbridled’ enthusiasm” and to keep the focus on the event that brought everyone there in the first place: two people have been joined in the holy bans of matrimony. The customs and traditions of wedding receptions are not hard and fast and allow for lots of flexibility and innovation, but they should be observed to some degree, nevertheless.
The Receiving Line
Traditionally the bridal party, including both sets of parents and the bridesmaids and groomsmen, and the maid of honor and best man stand in a receiving line to make sure every guest is personally welcomed and given the chance to speak directly each member of the wedding party to offer “best wishes and congratulations.” Many contemporary (as in you) brides and grooms, think this is a bore, that it slows things down, and is a particular drag on letting the guests come in and start their feasting and revelry. Au Contraire, mon cher!
The key to overcoming this bottle-neck (in your mind) situation is to let the guests arrive at the reception before the wedding party and have servers insist on them getting drinks and plates of food while they wait for your arrival. This actually makes use of the ordinary flow of events at wedding reception, because the wedding party is typically delayed at the church (or wherever the wedding ceremony took place) by the photographer who wants to set up all kinds of compulsory groupings and shots. So the idea is to arrive at the reception after your guests have had at least one drink and have started to unwind.
Then form the reception line and let people go through it as they want to, while also greeting late arrivals at the door. While all of this is going on, have servers offer glasses of champagne etc. to people in the line so they’re not at a refreshments-disadvantage to the other revellers. This is easily done and your crowd of guests will quickly get clued in about what is expected of them and how to go through the glad-handing at their own prescribed pace.
The order of people in the reception line has two main variants: Father of the bride, Mother of the bride, groom and bride, parents of the groom and then bridesmaids, led by the maid of honor and followed by the groomsmen led by the best man. The other way it’s done effectively is to have the bride and groom at the head of the line, followed by both sets of parents, with the rest of the wedding party bringing up the rear, as outlined above.
Wedding Presents Brought to the Reception
Invariably some people come to the reception bearing gifts and you need to establish a place where they can be stashed, otherwise they can get lost or even—gasp—stolen. There are two ways to do this, depending on your personal taste. One is to have appointed a table or coffee table in full view on which guests can leave their gifts. This can be very pretty and contribute to the overall atmosphere or décor. The other way is to have someone designated as the “gift runner” who will accept the gift and then place it in a room or closet out of sight from the celebration for safe keeping. But whatever you do, have a plan for this because otherwise gifts will get lost if they are stashed helter-skelter in different places and you can be sure some of your guests will be very unforgiving when they don’t receive the obligatory thank you note from you because you didn’t even know they gave you a gift. Ouch! Very bad!
Dressing and Changing Room
Before the reception, and actually well in advance, you should have established a private room or rooms for changing out of your wedding attire and into your “going away” ensemble. Ideally, this room or rooms act as a “retreat” for members of the wedding party to use when they need to pull away from the crowd of guests for one reason or another. If at all possible, this room should have adjacent to it bathroom facilities separate and private from the ladies’ and gents’ lounges that the guests will use. The reasons for these rooms are manifold, but to name just a few: parents need to discuss something in private, a bridesmaid has clothing crisis of one kind or another, the groomsmen need a place to plot their pranks for your ultimate leavetaking, your great aunt breaks out in hives and feels faint from all of the excitement. Never forget that a reception is “staged” and your goal is to accept all the good wishes your friends and relatives are offering, while at the same time protecting them from the embarrassing details of the private lives of the members of the wedding party.
Cutting the Cake
The ritual of the bride and groom conjointly cutting the cake takes place once it’s clear that most guests have arrived. Remember, no one can eat this delectible several stories high confection until it has been ceremoniously cut by the bride and groom. For some guests, the cake is always the paramount “treat” of the reception, so don’t delay doing this. Some brides and grooms simply cannot resist highjinks while cutting and tasting the cake (e.i., shoving a piece down the other’s throat, etc.), but if you’re going to engage in such, be gentle and always in the spirit of good fun. This is not the time to “get even” with your bride for some infraction she committed just before the wedding. If you do you will quickly lose your “prince charming hero’s status” among the guests!
Throwing the Bouquet and Throwing the Garter
These are time-honored wedding reception traditions and everyone will be expecting them. Some would be severely disappointed if you omitted them. The catchers of these items, theoretically at least, are supposed to be the next woman and man to get married among the assembled group (though not necessarily to each other!).
These little rituals take place shortly before the bride and groom go to don their get away clothes, and usually the bouquet fling to the bridesmaids and other female guests takes place first. Some brides choose to do a backwards “over the shoulder” toss to eliminate any possible charges of favoritism for both tosses. Don’t be surprised if you have a hard time rounding up guys to catch the garter! No man wants to appear eager to get married. Men are genetically wired to want to appear hard to get.
The Get Away
Once the bride and groom have changed, they traditionally walk to the door and are doused with rice, or butterflies or graffitti (anything goes here provided it’s not toxic).
While the bride and groom are changing into their street togs, the groomsmen are customarily putting the finishing touches on the get away vehicle. Groomsmen, a word of warning here: don’t go overboard or you’ll be sorry. Champagne incites marvelous flights of imagination and lowers mental hurdles, but you don’t want to do permament damage to the car or anyone’s psyche, particularly the bride’s! Use a light hand and a gentle touch and all will be well.
Once the bride and groom are off and gone, there’s usually a mess to tidy up. It’s not compulsory, but you could earn big points with the parents on both sides, if you offered to help—even just a little bit. It was one hell of a party, wasn’t it? And they probably paid for it. Show a little repect and courtesy and consider it bread upon the water. They’ll then be inclined to give you a really cool wedding gift when your big day rolls around!