Mandatory vs. optional
The people who traditionally give toasts are, for the most part, already involved in the wedding. The one “mandatory” toast to have, if you have no others, is the best man’s toast to the bride. Many couples stop right here and let the guests enjoy their meal or dancing with no further ado.
A common modern practice is to have only two toasts: the best man’s toast to the couple, and the maid of honor’s toast to the couple.
It’s also not unusual for the groom or the bride to give a toast in response to the toasts by their honor attendants.
One view of the order of the toasts
If you are longing for an elaborate and somewhat arbitrary sequence of toasts, protocol expert Letitia Baldridge provides it. Her order of toasts is:
- The best man toasts the bride
- The groom toasts the bride
- The bride toasts her groom
- The father of the bride toasts the couple
- The bride toasts her groom’s parents
- The groom toasts his bride’s parents
- The matron of honor toasts the couple
- The father of the groom toasts the bride
- The mother of the bride toasts the couple
- The mother of the groom toasts the couple
This elaborate scheme brings with it three significant downsides.
- It’s likely that at least one of the prospective toasters will be unwilling to get up and speak in public. Public speaking is the second most common fear in the United States, so unless your guest list consists of your Toastmasters chapter, your college debate squad, and the local community theater, at least some people will consider giving a toast to be a fate worse than death.
- Unless the toasts are very short, this sequence takes quite a while to complete. Once the speeches go over 20 minutes, guests start shuffling their feet and gnawing their napkins.
- A large number of willing, but unskilled, speakers can make 20 minutes seem like two days! Toasts from the heart can be absolutely wonderful…but when the heart is equipped with very little speaking experience, the toast will be better if it’s short. Practice alone won’t equip your toasters with the right sorts of things to say.
A more informal approach
A more enjoyable sequence of toasts can be arranged by following the best man’s toast with a small number of toasters who are chosen because they’re both close friends and skilled at expressing themselves well. Or, if your circle of friends includes many people who might want to speak, and who might do it eloquently, the best man can ask who else would like to give a toast, and see who volunteers. It’s perfectly proper to have toasts done by people who want to do them, regardless of whether they’re on the “official” list. People who do not express themselves well are better thanked when you or your new spouse stand up and give a brief speech thanking those who are important to you.
An effective toast is…
An effective toast is brief and not too silly. The toast-giver should be prepared to tell one to three short, non-embarrassing stories that illustrate important characteristics of the bride and groom that will make their marriage together happy. If the toast-giver does not wish to tell stories, he or she can also stand up, say something like “To John and Jean, may they always be as happy as they are today,” and sit down. Thanks can be incorporated into a toast, but it should not resemble an Oscar acceptance speech.
As far as asking people now to give toasts at a wedding in August, your enthusiasm is both understandable and commendable, but it’s likely to backfire on you. Even your most devoted friends won’t remember the request and if they do remember it, they won’t act on it until a few weeks before the wedding anyway.
Concentrate your energy on planning the ceremony! Today, many officiants expect the happy couple to have a lot of input into the form and wording of the ceremony. Planning an effective ceremony turns into a remarkable amount of work, and your decisions will affect people who will need considerable advance notice to do their parts well.