“Ladies and gentlemen,
I’m sorry to drag you from your delicious desserts.
Uh, there are just one or two little things I feel I should say as best man.”
~Hugh Grant as Charles in Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
Toasts are a highlight of the wedding celebration, both at the rehearsal dinner– where they are more free-form, anecdotal and often hilarious — and the reception, where they are more scripted, brief and well-planned. But because a toast is carefully prepared and rehearsed does not mean it cannot be witty and entertaining. Brilliant toasts have been known to prompt tears of sentiment, nostalgia and laughter and add truly memorable moments to a wedding celebration. Some couples tape their toasts for posterity, which I think is a great idea.
The Parents of the Groom
Traditionally, the groom’s parents host the rehearsal dinner; as such, the father the groom typically welcomed the guests and began the toasts, usually followed by toasts from the father of the bride and other attendees. As the rehearsal dinner is usually less formal than the reception, so are the toasts. And because the rehearsal dinner is really all about toasting and merriment, and the two families getting to know each other, the toasts may be more plentiful than the ones delivered at the wedding reception.
In our modern times the mother of the groom may welcome the guests and make the first toast, followed either by the father of the groom or the mother and father of the bride. While it is helpful to know in advance who will be speaking at the reception in order to keep things orderly, it’s also a good idea to have a list at the rehearsal dinner to ensure that everyone who wishes to speak may do so.
Once the scheduled guests have made their toasts, the groom’s parents may ask if anyone else wishes to make one. When everyone has finished with their toasts, the wedding couple should toast each other. Then the wedding couple should thank all their guests for their wonderful gift of being part of their lives and wedding celebration and for their generosity, and they should thank their parents for all their love, guidance and support. The wedding couple’s toasts may conclude the dinner.
It’s also important to remember that most rehearsal dinners occur the night before the wedding, so it’s the wise hosts and couple who schedule the rehearsal dinner or party earlier than later in the evening and limit the flow of liquor to only the toasts so that everyone in the wedding party can get to bed at a decent hour and relatively sober.
Here is a suggested order of toasting for the rehearsal dinner:
- Father / mother of the groom toasts the bride and groom
- Father / mother of the bride toasts the bride and groom
- The honor attendants — maids / matrons of honor and best man/men toast the bride and groom (the best man may toast the bride and the maid/matron of honor may toast the groom)
- Other attendants toast the bride and groom
- Other guests [close friends, family members, the officiant(s)] may toast the bride and groom
- Groom toasts his bride
- Bride toasts her groom
- Bride and groom thank and toast their parents and guests
The Best Man, the Toastmaster General
The best man’s turn to shine in the spotlight is at the reception. It is the best man — AKA the groom’s honor attendant — who is the toastmaster, whose responsibility it is to compose the list of toasters and keep everything in order and moving along as scheduled. And, of course, it is the best man who makes the first, and often most memorable toast.
There have been a number of famous — as well as infamous — best-man and best-woman movie toasts. While the words might be different in your own toast, studying the delivery and body language of actors making toasts in movies can inspire your own delivery, enhance your creativity and build your confidence. (See the aforementioned best man’s toast by Hugh Grant)
Here is a suggested order of toasting for the reception (modeled on Letitia Baldrige’s order on page 345 of her 2003 book, New Manners for New Times, but updated a bit to fit our even newer times:
- Best man toasts the bride/couple
- Maid/Matron of Honor (AKA bride’s honor attendant) toasts the couple
- Parents of the bride toast the couple (in whichever order they wish)
- Parents of the groom toast the couple (in whichever order they wish)
- Couple toasts each other’s parents (in whichever order they wish)
- Couple toasts each other
- Time permitting, the best man may issue a general invitation to the other attendants of the bride and groom and wedding guests at large to make toasts to the couple.
As each toast concludes, the best man may indicate with a nod to the next person who is scheduled to make a toast. If there is time and he invites guests who are not scheduled, he can wind up the toasts by simply announcing that “we have time for one more toast.”
At large weddings, a microphone is often made available so that everyone can hear the toasts. Either a stationery standing one is provided where guests may make their toasts, or one or two wireless hand-held mics are passed around by attendants or ushers.
The best man should contact prospective toasters well before the wedding celebration to ask if they would like to deliver a toast. Such a list should include the parents of the bride and groom and all members of the wedding party. The best man should have face-to-face conversations with the parents or the bridal couple who can then confer with their respective parents to determine if they or any close relatives would like to be put on the list of toasters. The rest of the wedding party may be contacted via phone or email. It is best to make direct contact with everyone rather than simply posting the query on social media.
Stand Up or Remain Seated?
If there are 10 or fewer people present at any affair it’s fine for the toasters to remain seated. However, for large dinners or parties it is proper etiquette for the toaster to stand, out of respect and to be heard by all.
Those who are being toasted should remain seated and not join the others in raising their glasses or drinking from them, but rather simply make gracious gestures of appreciation such as smiling, nodding, placing their hands over their hearts and the like.
As well, everyone else who is joining in a toast but not actually making it may remain seated while raising their glasses, drinking from them and adding their voices to an appropriate chant, such as “here, here,” or saying the names of the bride and groom. It is fine, however, for all to rise at the end of a toast to the couple, especially if it is the final — or only — toast.
Once the person who is making a toast has finished, he should be seated and the next person who wishes to make a toast should stand up and start the process all over again. This, of course, also includes the bride and groom; the one toasting should stand while the one being toasted — or not toasting — should remain seated. If both the bride and groom wish to toast their parents or guests together, both should rise together to deliver the toast, and both should have something to say while delivering the shared toast.
Wording and Length of a Toast
Toasts can be extremely simple, such as, “I just want to wish the happy couple all the blessings in the world, so here’s to Jack and Jill,” to the delightfully illuminating, touching or funny anecdote about the bride and groom. It is wise to remember, however, that nothing truly embarrassing or private should ever be revealed in a wedding toast; after all, this is a celebratory wedding rehearsal dinner not a celebrity roast!
Toasters should plan their toasts and rehearse them prior to the occasion. Toasts should be kept to thee minutes or less. There are many resources to give you inspiration and words to include in your toast, but speaking from the heart is always the best place to start.
To ensure that toasts do not ramble on, the toastmaster may deliver a witty warning to all toasters at the rehearsal dinner along the lines of, “…similar to those award programs, if your speeches run overtime you will hear increasingly persistent music or perhaps a bird call to remind you to wind up quickly, and in extreme cases a hook will appear from stage left…” Of course, as the toastmaster you will already have contacted and briefed everyone who wishes to make a toast at the reception and will have the timing of the toasts well under control.
Finally, when trying to gain everyone’s attention to make a toast one technique is to tap one’s glass with a spoon. If you do this, do so very gently in order to avoid shattering the glass. Or you can simply rise from your chair, raise your voice just a bit to be heard above the chatter and politely but firmly request everyone’s attention. Other members of the wedding party should be alert to helping to quiet everyone so that you can speak.
Some key members of the wedding party might be reluctant to make a public statement, especially if there are people present that they don’t know well. Making a toast is a form of public speaking and not everyone is comfortable or confident doing so. It will have nothing to do with the person’s feeling for the couple, and he or she should not be made to feel guilty or in any way forced into doing something with which they are uneasy. On the other hand, if someone is a bit reticent about making a toast but really wants to do so it would be kindness to offer help, perhaps in composing the toast and practicing it and then providing discreet encouragement to them in delivering it.
Thus, if it is the best man or honor attendant who is the reluctant one, it’s best to find someone else to fulfill this role. There usually is at least one outgoing individual that will be willing to fulfill this role.
While champagne is the usual choice of bubbly with which to toast, any fine sparkling beverage — alcoholic or non-alcoholic — will do. Even water is acceptable. The idea is to have something available to suit the bride and groom, their parents and all the guests, depending on the wedding budget and preferences. In any case, alternatives to champagne should be available for those guests who must avoid alcohol and sugar, including non-alcoholic beverages that include sugar-free selections.
The Etiquette of Clinking Glasses
Clinking drinking glasses dates back to the Middle Ages in Europe when lore tells us that people clinked their goblets to ward off evil spirits with the sound or to spill the liquid into each other’s vessels in case it was poisoned by either, the tip-off being that one or both drinking partners would then not take a drink!
Many modern etiquette authorities disagree on the issue of to clink or not to clink one’s toasting glasses. I am solidly in the “to clink” camp, as I find clinking glasses to be festive and uplifting. But I do understand the concerns of those in the “no” camp, which largely have to do with damaging and possibly shattering fine crystal and everyone reaching around to clink their neighbor’s glass causing a dignified dining table to descend into disarray .
Thus, we have clinking etiquette. This involves clinking champagne flutes and wine glasses bowl to bowl rather than rim to rim. This approach protects the delicate rim and produces a more melodious and festive ring. This also applies to the champagne coupe glass, which is enjoying a resurgence in popularity. And, remember that no more than a gentle clink is required or advised.
When seated at your table following a wedding toast — or a toast at any formal event — it’s fine to clink glasses with the guests on either side of you, but avoid leaning across the table or jumping around it to clink glasses with everyone and causing a disruption or distraction. If you do not initiate a clink but someone offers you his or her glass to clink, to be polite you should return it. Refusing to clink glasses is akin to refusing a handshake. Of course, if the person is too far away, simply raise your glass, smile, and perhaps shrug to indicate you cannot reach far enough.
Here is a website that offers a good demonstration of clinking glasses in the proper manner.
Here’s to your wonderful rehearsal dinner and reception! Cheers!
Until next time,