Reception Etiquette

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Reception Planning & Traditions

Eating
If you are having a buffet you need to bother very little about seating people in particular places, although you should always make sure that the bridal party has a formal table where they can be served. If you are having a sit-down meal, however it is important to sort out the seating sensibly so that everyone is in the best position through the meal.
The guests like to be able to see the bridal party in all their splendour, and it is also nice for the newly-married couple to be able to look out over the reception and see all their friends and relations enjoying themselves, so there should be a top table where the main participants sit. This is generally arranged so that there are people on one side only, facing the rest of the room, and the table may be set on a raised dais or stage if the room has one.

The basic top table arrangements for traditional weddings are shown below.

Arrangement for an ordinary wedding
Best Man
Groom’s Mother
Bride’s Father
BRIDE
GROOM
Bride’s Mother
Groom’s Father
Chief Bridesmaid
————————————

Arrangements when the groom’s parents are divorced and remarried
Chief Bridesmaid
Groom’s Stepfather
Groom’s Mother
Bride’s Father
BRIDE
GROOM
Bride’s Mother
Groom’s Father
Groom’s Stepmother
Best man
————————————

Arrangements when the bride’s parents are divorced & remarried
Bride’s Stepmother
Best Man
Groom’s Mother
Brides Father
Bride
GROOM
Bride’s Mother
Groom’s Father
Chief Bridesmaid
Bride’s Stepfather
————————————

Arrangements When both sets of parents are divorced and remarried
Groom’s Stepfather
Brides Stepmother
Best Man
Groom’s Mother
Bride’s Father
BRIDE
GROOM
Bride’s Mother
Groom’s Father
Chief Bridesmaid
Brides Stepfather
————————————

Of course, there are numerous variations within these basic schemes; for instance, if one parent is widowed, and the other set of parents have divorced and only one has remarried. The basic idea is that husbands and wives (or ex-husbands and ex-wives!) should not sit together. If parents have divorced and remarried, their new partners should be at the same end of the table. Bearing these considerations in mind, sort out a sensible arrangement; don’t let convention dictate an uncomfortable arrangement, for instance if it would decree sitting two people together who can’t stand each other.

If one of the chief participants is missing, for instance, if one of the parents is widowed or if another cannot be present because of illness, fill the gap on the top table with a relative or a close family friend who will be able to take on the appropriate duties of conversation and hospitality.

The top table may be part of a horseshoe shape or E shape, with longer tables butting up to it at right angles; if this is so, the groom’s family and friends should be at one end of the arrangement and the bride’s at the other. This is simply to make conversation and mixing among the guests easier; if one guest finds that he only knows the groom and he is sitting beside someone who only knows the bride, conversation may be a little difficult to initiate.

If you are having a sit-down meal it is best to plan where everyone is going to sit, even if there are lots of smaller tables dotted around the room. If you do the planning you can make sure that everyone will be sitting near guests they will find congenial, that children are sitting with, or under the watchful eye of, their parents, and that there is a good balance of men and women on each table and through the room in general. You may prefer to have all the children sitting together near one of the doors so that they can disappear to the garden or another room to play when they get bored without too much disruption. Any mothers of small children should also be near the doors so that they can get up without embarrassment to deal with feeding, changing, crying, etc.

Arriving and welcoming
The way you deal with the arrival of guests at the reception will depend on the size and formality of the reception and the arrangement of the place where you are holding the reception. If there are lots of guests who came along to the service but who have not been invited to the reception, it is a nice idea to have a small receiving line for them outside the church, to give them a chance to say their good wishes personally This will also get you into practice for the more extensive one at the reception! The idea of any receiving line is simply to make sure that every guest has the chance to congratulate the couple, wish them well, meet the parents, and thank the hosts of the wedding whoever they happen to be. Consequently a formal receiving line at a formal reception will include all the people who have been important in the planning of the wedding.

A full line-up for a receiving line will be as follows, in this order: bride’s mother bride’s father, groom’s mother, groom’s father, bride, groom, chief bridesmaid, other attendants. It is generally better not to have small attendants in the receiving line; they will be too small to join in its main purpose, and will quickly become bored. Generally the best man will not be in the receiving line as he is supposed to be the last to leave the church, so that he can be sure that all the guests have been safely dispatched to the reception. However, if the receiving line is delayed until all the guests are at the reception venue, the best man could be included next to the groom and before the chief bridesmaid.

At a less formal reception the receiving line could simply consist of the bride’s mother, the groom’s mother and then the bride and groom. If the wedding is informal, guests can be greeted by the bride and groom on their own. This last arrangement is also often a good idea when relationships are complicated by divorce, step-parents, etc.

At large informal receptions the services of an announcer are sometimes employed, although this is probably rather an affectation unless you are really moving in the highest strata of society! Generally it is sufficient for each guest to make it obvious to the first in the receiving line who he or she is; don’t expect everyone to remember you, as all the guests will be out of their normal context and it is easy for minds to go blank when faced with lots of semi-familiar people. The official way to continue the receiving line is for each person involved to present the guest to the next in line with an appropriate remark suited to the depth of their acquaintance – for instance ‘James, this is my cousin Peter’, or ‘Mrs Jones, meet Julie our chief bridesmaid’, etc. In fact, the receiving lines these days are likely to be far more spontaneous, and people are unlikely to need hints on what to say to the right people.

If you are having a receiving line you should stay in it until every guest, as far as you can tell, has arrived safely Once the company seems to be complete, then the meal can be started. If you are having a sit-down meal, the bridal party will make their way to the top table and this will be the signal for the waiters to start serving; everyone else should be in place by this stage. If you are having a buffet, the Master of Ceremonies or the bride’s father can loudly invite everyone to begin eating.

A Formal Receiving Line
Bride’s Mother
Bride’s Father
Groom’s Mother
Groom’s father
Bride
Groom
Chief Bridesmaid
Best Man

Toasts and speeches
The speeches and toasts can be either the highlight or the low point of a wedding reception. depending on the participants!
The purposes of the speeches are twofold; first to congratulate the couple and wish them well in their future life together and secondly to say thank you to appropriate people. Many people quake when they know that they are going to have to make a speech at a wedding, but if you familiarise yourself with what you want to save and stick to a few basic guidelines you should be fine. If you are really stumped, there are agencies that will write a speech for you or provide you with a selection of jokes, anecdotes or quotations.

The bride’s father
In this country, the first person to make a speech is usually the bride’s father, if he is alive. if he is not, this speech could be made by whoever has given her away, or by an old family friend or favourite uncle or godfather. Generally this speech will say how happy the father is to see his daughter marrying the man of her choice, and how he is sure that all the guests want to join him in wishing the couple well. He may include one or two funny references to events leading up to the wedding, or from her childhood, but this should not be an excuse for causing the bride to squirm with embarrassment over tales of her first boyfriends or her early questions on where babies come from! The bride’s father will then propose a toast to the couple; this could take the form of ‘the bride and groom!’, or , Andrew and Sheila’ (or whatever the couple’s names are). or ‘to the happy couple!’ All the guests should raise their glasses, repeat the toast, and drink to the couple.

The Groom
The groom is the next person to speak, and he will do so on behalf of the couple – the assumption being that the bride is too full of maidenly coyness to say anything herself! The groom’s speech is usually the one that gives least scope for wit, as his task is mainly to thank people who have been involved in setting up the marriage and reception. He should thank the bride’s parents (or whoever else has hosted the reception) for their generosity and also for providing him with his bride; he should also thank anyone else whose contribution has been outstanding, for instance those who have cooked the food, made the bride’s dress, found the new couple a home, etc. or even introduced them in the first place. He then usually makes mention of the support of the attendants, and proposes a toast to the bridesmaids. If there are lots of bridesmaids the toast can simply be ‘the bridesmaids’. if there are only one or two he can toast them by name. Again the guests raise their glasses, repeat the toast and drink.

The Best Man
Traditionally the best man’s speech is the highlight of the reception; somehow it always seems much more permissible to embarrass the groom than it does to embarrass the bride! The best man is officially replying to the toast on behalf of the bridesmaids, but in fact he has the chance to pull the whole proceedings together with style. Anecdotes from the couple’s courting days always go down well, provided that they are not too cruel, and if the best man has known the groom for many years there are often chances to let the guests in on various well-kept secrets. When the best man has finished his speech he should read out any telegrams and important cards (having vetted them first for unsavoury remarks. . . ) . If any guest of importance has been unable to attend the wedding, for instance a brother abroad or a parent in hospital, he may propose a toast to absent friends. At the end of the speeches, or a little while afterwards, the bride and groom cut the cake, and this concludes the official part of the reception.

Tips for making speeches

Do:
Make notes in case your mind goes blank
Keep it brief live minutes should be a maximum
Try to include a joke or two to lighten the tension
Plan what you want to say well in advance
Rehearse your speech in the preceding week, to check that you have grasped the salient points

Don’t make embarrassing references to anyone
Tell blue jokes
Fidget, scratch or put you hand over your mouth
Mutter and look down at your feet
Sound as though you can’t wait to finish!
Swear, Cuss, or use local phrases that may not mean anything to guests who have travelled from another area.