An important practical open question has been to design explicit, structured optical receivers that achieve the Holevo limit in the contexts of optical communication and "quantum reading." The Holevo limit is an achievable rate that is higher than the Shannon limit of any known optical receiver. We demonstrate how a sequential decoding approach can achieve the Holevo limit for both of these settings. A crucial part of our scheme for both settings is a non-destructive "vacuum-or-not" measurement that projects an n-symbol modulated codeword onto the n-fold vacuum state or its orthogonal complement, such that the post-measurement state is either the n-fold vacuum or has the vacuum removed from the support of the n symbols' joint quantum state. The sequential decoder for optical communication requires the additional ability to perform multimode optical phase-space displacements - realizable using a beamsplitter and a laser, while the sequential decoder for quantum reading also requires the ability to perform phase-shifting (realizable using a phase plate) and online squeezing (a phase-sensitive amplifier).