Toasting Special Occasions
Toasts to the newly betrothed are meant to be short and sweet. Memorize a favorite quote and have it ready. Wait until the host gives a welcome toast, then offer yours. One woman swears by this fail-safe standby: "Antoine de Saint-Exupery said, 'Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking together in the same direction.' To Tom and Mary. You can't take your eyes off each other tonight, but we all know you're just as focused on the road ahead!" Speak clearly and deliberately, look the couple straight in the eyes, and, above all, smile. Remember to keep the tone light and upbeat. Anything more weighty than general good wishes and humorous advice should be saved for the rehearsal dinner or the wedding reception.
Learn how to make a toast, then get 8 tips for giving a wedding toast to the happy couple.
A Rehearsal Dinner
Since the groom's family typically hosts this event, the father of the groom should speak first, followed by the best man. After that, the floor is open, though toasts should be kept to less than three minutes.
A Wedding Reception
As opposed to the open-mike informality of the rehearsal dinner, wedding etiquette calls for toasts to be made in a specific order: The best man speaks first, followed by the groom, then the bride, the father of the bride, the groom's father, the mother of the bride, and finally the groom's mother. When this procession is finished, anyone may raise a glass and toast the newlyweds. Just remember not to dawdle, since many others are probably lining up to speak. The couple and the crowd are likely to grow restless if remarks tend toward the generic, so be creative.
A maid of honor in Texas created a time capsule during her toast, asking guests to contribute something to a box that would be opened on the couple's 10th wedding anniversary. A bridesmaid in Minnesota made up a song and played the harmonica to give the bride something borrowed, something "blues."
If it's a major birthday―say, one ending in a zero or a five―you should devote some time to reflecting on the person's life and accomplishments. Use your judgment when it comes to joking about someone's age―the woman who just got a face-lift and Botox injections may not be amused. The toast will feel more personal if you add a few favorite anecdotes. A New Jersey woman recently toasted her husband's 45th by recalling the time he'd made her a "get-out-of-June-free card," absolving her of car-pool duty for 30 days.
One of the biggest challenges of speaking at a party for a milestone anniversary is that the audience may span as many as four generations. A clever way to please elders and jaded teens alike is to make the toast interactive. At their golden wedding anniversary celebration, one woman had her parents sit back-to-back onstage and answer Newlywed Game-style questions ("Who's more likely to lose their luggage on vacation?") that were read aloud by guests. Everyone talked about the toast for years afterward.
Holiday toasts should first and foremost acknowledge the family member who shopped, chopped, boiled, and baked for the entire crew. Once that's taken care of, Florence Isaacs, the author of Here's to You!: Creating Your Own Meaningful Toast or Tribute for Any Occasion ($14, amazon.com), suggests giving a short toast in another language; Romance languages, in particular, have a way of making the prosaic sound elegant. She suggests "Salud, amor, y pesetas, y el tiempo para gustarlos," which is Spanish for "Health, love, and money, and the time to enjoy it." A Mother's Day brunch or dinner should always begin with a toast to all the mothers in the room. Last year one woman from Austin, Texas, saluted her mother by saying, "The most difficult people to thank are always the ones you see every day. In case I forget to say it 364 days a year, thank you, Mom." Another offered, "The only job in the world that's tougher than being a mother is being our mother. To our own personal saint!"
Farewell, Bon Voyage, and Welcome
When sending off departing friends or colleagues, point out the void they'll leave in your world: "Now who will I call and ask for directions when I'm lost?" A woman from San Francisco arranges a themed gift for colleagues moving to a new area: a subscription to The New Yorker if the move is to Manhattan, flip-flops and sunscreen for warmer climates, like Florida. When a friend or a coworker relocates to her city, she assembles a notebook listing the area's best restaurants, doctors, florists, and hairstylists and presents it with a toast at a welcome party.
Toasting a colleague's promotion not only recognizes her achievements; it also shows you aren't threatened by her success. Steve Deyo, a motivational speaker and the author of The Art of the Toast: Milestones and Memories, suggests organizing your thoughts around a theme, such as this quote from historian David McCullough: "Real success is finding your life's work in the work that you love." Deyo says that, ideally, "every toast should contain humor―it keeps the audience from falling asleep and helps relieve your jitters." But don't strain for humor if that's not your style.
Celebrating the final chapter of someone's career usually takes one of two forms: nostalgic tribute or good old-fashioned roast. Consider the person you're toasting and the intended audience before you decide which way to go. Since toasts to retirees tend to be on the long side (they can, after all, span decades of work and last up to 5 or 10 minutes), make sure you're prepared. Rehearse and carry note cards, just in case.