The Etiquette of the Receiving Line–(What to Say and Do)

Receiving Lines

When a gentleman is escorting a lady, she always precedes him in a receiving line—except at the White House or diplomatic visits, for example, if the man is a well-known elected or appointed official. In such instances, the gentleman precedes his female companion so that the announcer can announce, “Ambassador Shahryar Safari and Mrs. Safari,” for example. At such formal events, the “announcer,” whose job is to receive the names of the arriving guests, will be strategically positioned just before the line, which should have as few people as possible since receiving lines, as impressive as they may seem, are, in actuality, cumbersome. (Whenever possible, it is best that the receiving line be situated on the left side of the guest-entrance so that guests can make their way down the line led by their right hand, which will be used to shake hands during the introductions). Upon receiving each name, the announcer announces the name to the host or hostess, who then proceeds with the introductions. Names provided to an announcer should be preceded by a title: Mr., Mrs., Miss, Dr., Count, etc. No conversation is to be had between the guests and the announcer, and guests do not shake hands with him or her, unless, of course, they are personal friends. An appropriate name transfer to the announcer would be, for example: “Good evening. I am Mr. Craig Jameson,” or “Good evening. Ambassador Anthony Prince.” When there is no “announcer,” arriving guests present their names directly to the host or hostess, who will be positioned at the head of the receiving line. Only elected or appointed titles or titles of aristocracy should be presented under such circumstances: “Good evening, sir. Senator Jose Morales Bermudez of Argentina”; Good evening. Baron Henrik von Troil.” Where there is no “announcer,” Mr. Charles Smith would simply present himself as, “Good evening, I am Charles Smith,” without the title of “Mr.”

Long conversations are not appropriate in receiving lines; an exchange of names and perhaps the passing of a compliment or two should suffice. The objective should be to get through the receiving line as elegantly, but efficiently, as possible. Each member of the receiving line shakes hands with each guest and introduces him or her to the next person in the receiving line. And it should be specially noted that drinks and cigarettes have no place in a receiving line.

The general rule is that men are introduced to women, regardless of rank or distinction; a younger person is introduced to an older; and less distinguished is introduced to more distinguished (It should be noted that in some cultures, age, not accomplishment, is the ultimate conveyor of distinction). So, for example, “Mrs. Singh, please permit me to introduce Mr. Christian Wolff, my father’s law partner,” is an example of a man being introduced to a woman. “Billy, have you had the honor of meeting Mr. Montgomery of Texas? Mr. Montgomery studied law at Georgetown with your father back in the early 1980s,” is one way of introducing a younger person to an older one. And “Mrs. Williamson, please allow me to introduce you to five-time Grammy Award Winner Ms. Dionne Warwick,” is an example of less-distinguished being introduced to more- distinguished.

A typical receiving line exchange at a wedding would go as follows, for example: A young gentleman in his mid-forties walks up to the head of the receiving line and says, “Good evening. I am Winston Farrelly. The groom and I attended Bradley together.” To which, the mother of the bride, extending her hand for a handshake, responds, “Welcome to Charleston, Mr. Farrelly. And thank you so much for coming to the wedding.” “It was a beautiful ceremony,” responds Mr. Farrelly. “My dear friend is a very lucky man to have found your daughter. I wish them all the luck in the world.” The mother of the bride then turns slightly towards the next person in the receiving line and says, “Mr. Farrelly, permit me to introduce you to Mrs. Geraldine McIntosh, mother of the groom.” To which Mrs. McIntosh responds, “Oh, Mr. Farrelly and I are old friends. I think he spent all his spring breaks during his Bradley days with us at our home in Nashville, Indiana. I have known this handsome young man since he was in his late teens. And he gets more charming and debonaire each year!” And as such, guests make their way through the receiving line, each person doing his best to make the experience pleasant and memorable.

Receiving lines have stood the test of time as the best way to ensure that each guest is given an opportunity to meet the host and guest of honor. And when compared to its alternatives, including hostesses going from table to table or person to person during the course of the evening, receiving lines, despite their days-gone-by appearance, are refreshingly efficient.