Wedding receiving line alternatives: No, you don’t have to hug everyone [UPDATED FOR 2021!]

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Offbeat Bride, can you help me with receiving line alternatives? My mother-in-law has a medical condition called MRSA that means she needs to avoid physical contact. Both of our families live out-of-state and have not met the majority of our guests. I want them all to meet, but but I also want to respect the needs of my mother-in-law. – Reader Germaphobe

We touched on the receiving line alternative issue way back in 2010, but the issue is even more relevant now. We're updating this post in the era of COVID, we all know how important socially distancing is to reduce the spread of coronavirus…. and MRSA is no joke! Finding a way to greet your guests without physical contact is a great idea for everyone, for a whole bunch of reasons.

So, let's talk about a few alternatives to the receiving line that will minimize contact and maximize sweet moments of connecting with your guests and expressing gratitude. You'll still probably need to discreetly mention the no-contact needs since people will likely go in for the handshake or hug no matter what, but these activities will help.

Pare it down to just the couple

If you'd still like a traditional receiving line, you could cut out the rest of the crew and just have you and your partner do the greeting. You're the ones they want to see anyway, so you likely won't get complaints. Plus, the line will move a lot faster when it's just two people to greet.

Greet guests as they enter the reception

If you're not going to be occupied when guests enter the reception venue/area, plan to greet them as they arrive. Your crew can head in and you and your partner can handle the hugging and handshakes instead. Bonus points to handing them a favor or a drink, too!

Use a photo booth as your mingling session

With a bunch of props at hand, there are less ways to make actual contact. Set up a photo booth to gives you time to greet everyone, get some rad photos, and skip the receiving line altogether.

Have a cocktail reception

Before or after the ceremony, arrange to serve drinks and/or a few appetizers to get everyone chilled out and mingled up. Plus, you can put the receiving line members behind the food table to keep a barrier between you and the guests.

Serve dessert or drinks to your guests

Elle and Bear ran with the idea of serving dessert by grabbing platters of muffins and walking them around right after the ceremony. Post-ceremony yummies, arms too full to do hugs — it works. Here's what Elle said about it:

We wanted to serve our guests, not just be served by staff … It was great to have a quick chat, hug, and offer tasty treats in this way because these people had done so much for us.

Visit guests at their tables

Greeting groups of guests at their tables while they're eating is a great way to talk to larger groups and keep your distance while they nosh. You can also have your mother-in-law skip this part, avoiding the issue altogether.

Do ye olde video messages

Designate someone with a camera to record messages from guests just like they did in wedding movies in the '80s. They can say something sweet to you and you'll have lots of video memories to relive later on. Win-win.

Now it's your turn: what's a great receiving line alternative that you've seen done?

Comments on Wedding receiving line alternatives: No, you don’t have to hug everyone [UPDATED FOR 2021!]

  1. We had what we called a “rockstar receiving line” – think of it like when you win a meet and greet with your favorite band. We stood in front of the fireplace at our venue and had our guests come to us! We got to say hi to everyone, and we got a picture taken with everyone of our guests. It was an awesome alternative to going table to table or having the traditional receiving line with both families, etc.

  2. We opted to skip out of the receiving line — we walked down the aisle and just kept walking to our room (where we spent 15 minutes just being, which I recommend to everyone). Then we joined people at the tail-end of cocktail hour, and then visited each table as folks were eating/seated so there was not a lot of contact (and wouldn’t be any with the parent in the question).

  3. Honestly it didn’t even occur to me to have parents in the receiving line… me and my husband just stopped by the entrance to the reception hall and hugged everyone on their way in. People most likely will try to greet your MIL on their own so she’ll have to be prepared to deal with that, but it doesn’t need to be part of the line at all.

    In other news now I’m reading about MRSA and am pretty much never touching anyone ever again, so. Accckkkkkk.

    • I also feel like maybe the MIL could consider some fancy gloves to keep skin to skin contact to a minimum.

  4. As the wedding couple you have fantastic distracting power (and bottle neck creating power so use it wisely). People will want to see and touch you as soon as possible after the ceremony and in my experience will also do the same to anyone next to you so setting up that first congratulatory moment with your MIL far from you will help.

    Our ceremony and reception were at different venues and we were supposed to arrive at the reception before our guests and meet them at the door but our cab got lost and we arrived to find everyone there allready and having a great time! We ended up going table to table instead. You could do this on purpose with your MIL, ie create some way for her to duck out as people move from ceremony to next bit and come back once they are settled especially if at tables.

  5. I learned a trick from a friend who was coaching an orthodox jewish woman on how to greet people in a business setting. Many people who are orthodox don’t touch members the opposite gender outside of their family, so it can be hard to avoid a handshake in a polite way.

    She manages by moving her shaking hand to her heart (think taking the pledge) and saying, “I’m so happy to see you/meet you.”

    Your MIL could have a purse or drink in her left hand and then keep sweeping her right hand up to her heart, “thank you for coming/it’s so good to meet you.”

  6. For a more classic ceremony layout, where you have seated guests in rows… thus your ushers will be going up to each row to seat and “release” the guests, this is the smartest idea I’ve ever watched, the Bride and Groom release the guests vs the groomsmen! This is how it flowed:

    After the wedding party walked back down the isle after the ceremony, the bride and groom then separated and walked back up to the front on the outside edge of the seating area, coming back together at the front (everyone wondering what the heck is going on of course), then the bride and groom released each row! This allowed for that special hug, and personal congrats from everyone!

    This method proved to be very personal and personable, allowed the guests to remain seated vs standing in a line (nice for older guests), and moved faster than any receiving line I’d actually participated in before!

    (bonus… allowed the wedding part to get to the reception area first to make sure everything there was ready and to greet/seat/etc guests as they arrived)

  7. We did this too, except we both walked back up the aisle together then released guests row by row. The officiant made an announcement at the end of our ceremony, so everyone knew to stay put. It was honestly one of my favorite moments. I loved being able to say hi and thank each person. It will keep your MIL away from hand shakes especially if she doesn’t linger in the lobby. She could maybe move to the reception location as soon as her row is released.

  8. We didn’t do a receiving line. We also didn’t want to walk around and interrupt people while they were eating. What we did instead was stand at the head of the (potluck!) buffet table, and hand everyone their plate and napkin as they came up for food. We got to see everyone, but our hands were too full for much contact.

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