Wedding Reception Traditions

Your wedding reception will probably have a completely different atmosphere than your wedding ceremony.  This is the time for you and your family and friends to let loose and celebrate your marriage.  Knowing what you are expected to do during the reception will make things go much more smoothly, and you will be able to enjoy your reception without worrying about doing something wrong.

The reception usually begins with a receiving line at the entrance to the room.  This is where you and your wedding party will greet the guests individually, so that they may all have a chance to speak with you.  The receiving line is usually set up in this order (from right to left):

  • Mother of the bride
  • Father of the bride (optional)
  • Mother of the groom
  • Father of the groom (optional)
  • Bride
  • Groom
  • Maid of honor
  • Bridesmaid(s)

If you choose, you may excuse your bridesmaids from participating in the receiving line. 

Each guest should introduce himself or herself to the mother of the bride, and then she should introduce the guest to the next person in the line; this should continue all the way through the line so that the guests do not have to repeat their names for each person in the receiving line. 

Guest Book

The guest book, which matches the wedding invitations, is sometimes present at the ceremony.  More often, the guest book is placed at the beginning of the receiving line at the reception.  A family member or a special friend is placed in charge of reminding guests to sign the book as they arrive.

After the receiving line breaks up, the members of the receiving line take their seats.  The bridal party is usually seated at the Bride’s Table, which is in the focal point of the room.  The bride’s table is usually on a raised platform so that the guests have a better view of the bridal party.  The newly married couple sit in the center of the table, with the best man on the bride’s other side and the maid of honor beside the groom.  This way, men and women alternate seats.  The couple can choose to have more guests, or less, at the bride’s table.  The bride’s table will always receive table service rather than buffet service.  If the couple prefers not to be separated from their guests, they should have a table reserved for themselves and the bridal party so they are able to sit down when they want to.  The bride’s bouquet and the bridesmaid’s bouquets are placed on the table around a centerpiece so that others will know that the table is reserved.  This should also be done if there is a bride’s table. 

The parent’s table(s) is close to the bride’s table, and the parents sit there with their immediate family members and their escorts.  See seating arrangements article (link) for more information.  After the receiving line is seated, the best man gathers everyone to make toasts to the bride and groom.

Master of Ceremonies

Many couples choose to have a master of ceremonies for their reception.  This person is responsible for announcing the beginning of toasts, dinner, and dancing.  In some cases the master of ceremonies takes a lot of the responsibility off the bride and groom, but in other cases couples have felt rushed and pressured by this person.  If you do decide to have a master of ceremonies, be sure to interview him/her beforehand.  You should make it clear that you want your guests to feel comfortable, and so he/she should not rush them or order them around. 


Couples are often worried about what will be said during their toasts.  Those giving toasts are usually pretty nervous, too.  You should make sure that your best man and maid of honor know to say only what is appropriate for everyone to hear, but your friends really won’t try to embarrass you.  The Best Man, Maid of Honor, and parents of the bride and groom are typically expected to give a toast.  However, anyone who wishes to say a few words is welcome to do so.  This may also be a great opportunity for you to thank your attendants and guests for their services and presence.


Your first dance as a couple should be special.  Most couples choose to take dance lessons before their wedding so they won’t be embarrassed, or too focused on the steps to enjoy their first dance as a married couple.  The order in which dance couples take the floor is:

  • Bride and groom
  • Bride’s Parents
  • Groom’s Parents
  • Bride and her father
  • Groom and his mother-in-law
  • Bride and her father-in-law
  • Groom and his mother

Afterwards, all the guests may join in the dancing and general revelry.  At this point, you and your groom need to make sure that you socialize with your guests and thank them for coming.  You should also make sure that no one is a wallflower.  You may want to assign a special friend or two to help you with this task so that you will have more time to enjoy your reception.

Tossing Bouquet and Garter

Tossing the bouquet and garter is done right before you leave the reception, if you choose to have these activities.  If you are planning on a bouquet toss, you may want to have your florist make a smaller version of your bouquet so that you can keep yours and have it preserved.  You also have several options in how to follow this tradition:

  • Present the lady of your choice with your bouquet and explain why to your guests
  • Present the bouquet to the couple in the room who has been married the longest
  • Pretend to toss the bouquet to the crowd, then toss it to someone you have chosen
  • Toss it to all your single friends and leave the receiver to chance

The bouquet toss is usually a lot of fun for your guests.  The garter toss may make you a little nervous if you don’t want the whole room looking up your dress.  However, you can simply move the garter from your thigh to the spot just above your knee, which will preserve your modesty.  If you have a DJ, tell him ahead of time what kind of music you would like during this activity so that he won’t play something risqué or inappropriate.

Leaving the Reception

Everyone knows that the bride and groom are pelted with rice, bird seed, or flower petals as they are leaving the reception.  To prepare for this you should choose what you want thrown at you and wrap small packets of the material in tulle.  Tie the packets with ribbon and place them in baskets near the exit. 

These are the typical activities of the wedding reception, but you should choose which ones you want to have.  You can also come up with original activities or add in others that fit with you wedding theme.  As you leave the wedding reception, endure the ribbing and whatever has been done to your car, but make sure you don’t tell anyone where you’re staying that night; you’ll want your privacy.