How To Propose A Toast

Me as a bridesmaid drinking to my friend's health. [Jennifer May Photography]

Me as a bridesmaid drinking to my friend’s health. [Jennifer May Photography]

I LOVE proposing toasts. I do it at pretty much every meal I don’t eat alone, whether it’s a simple “cheers” with whatever glasses we have, or saying thanks to the hosts for having us together. According to my research, that latter move is in no way correct, but whatever, I’m grateful and I like clinking glasses and making eye contact.

So how do you toast a nice occasion? First, a bit of history. According to Service Etiquette by Oretha D. Swartz, the tradition of toasting goes back to “ancient times, when a piece of toast was placed in a goblet with the mead, or any alcoholic brew. When it became saturated, the toast sank to the bottom goblet, and after someone challenged ‘Toast!’ it was necessary to drain the goblet in order to get the toast.” Is this real? This sounds apocryphal, but The Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette has a similar story. I’ll take it.

Swartz continues with some modern (it was written in 1988 but not much has changed) toasting etiquette tips. Nowadays it is not necessary to drain your glass; take a sip or two so that more of your beverage is available for future toasts. At formal occasions toasts may be made with champagne, but just use whatever drink you have on hand. If you happen to be served wine but don’t drink, Swartz recommends just touching the glass to your lips, since not participating in a toast is incredibly rude. However, I think it’s fine to just use whatever else you may be drinking, and give the wine to someone else.

Amy Vanderbilt notes that the best toasts are short and sweet, so if you are asked to toast a newly-wedded couple, a holiday dinner, or other celebration, simply honoring those who the party is for and saying how thankful you are to have everyone together is nice. A toast does not need to turn into a speech, unless you’ve been requested to prepare one, which is a whole other can of worms we can talk about later (or never because oh boy, public speaking).

Nearly all the etiquette books I’ve found mention that you are not supposed to drink a toast to yourself, lest you come off as self-congratulatory. I personally could not care less, but just be aware that some people might. In the event that someone is toasting to you but you still want to drink, you can respond “Thank you, and here’s to you all,” in which case you’ve flipped to toast onto them and technically are the only person in the room allowed to drink, you sneaky minx.

Now, some toast notes:

  • At a wedding, the first toast is traditionally given by the best man. However, I can’t think of the last wedding I went to that specifically followed this rule. Toasts were given in all sorts of orders by the couple’s parents, bridesmaids, siblings, etc. We may be able to retire this one.
  • Swartz says it’s traditional to toast the bride at a bachelor party, gentlemen.
  • If you feel an imminent toast, be sure to top your glass and the glasses of those around you, as it’s rude to toast with nothing.
  • According to Debrett’s, “port is never drunk before the Loyal Toast,” which is a toast to the head of the state. In this ceremony port is apparently passed to the left, and if you miss the decanter, you have to pass your glass to the left in hopes it catches up because the decanter can never be passed to the right.
  • If you’re going to be traveling abroad, learn the common toasts in those countries.
  • When I studied abroad in Italy I was taught you’re supposed to make eye contact with everyone at the table while toasting otherwise it’s seven years bad sex. It seems that many cultures have a similar superstition, so may as well play it safe.