Toasting can make even a meal at the local diner a special occasion. It can add a festive air to a gathering and has a way of bringing everyone at the table together.
The host proposes a toast, often welcoming a guest to a meal, at the beginning of the meal. The toast may also occur in the middle of the meal, when the host raises a glass to the guest of honor on his or her right. If the host has stage fright, it is acceptable to have his or her spouse make the toast. A guest may also propose a toast, but only after the host.
Live and Learn
The toast originated during the Middle Ages, when people put a piece of scorched bread into a tankard of beer or wine because they thought it improved the flavor of the drink. The custom of putting a piece of toast in a drink is still followed in England, albeit rarely. When, exactly, the custom of offering words of welcome or congratulations began to accompany the lifting of the glass is lost in the mists of history.
Mind Your P's and Q's
It has been said that toasts are like a woman's skirt. They should be long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to be amusing. That usually translates into about one minute.
An example of an excellent toast was given at a dinner for Nobel Prize winners in the State Dining Room of the White House. President John F. Kennedy rose and said, “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, ever gathered at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined here alone.”
You don't have to be that clever. A typical welcoming toast might be “I am so pleased that you all could be here to share each other's good company and this good food. Welcome.”
Instead of offering the toast at the beginning, you might want to wait until the end. In that case, you could stand and toast the guest of honor this way, “I am so pleased that you could all be here to welcome my dear friend Florence, who's come all the way from Rome to visit.”
Or “It's wonderful to have Florence with us tonight. Let's toast a rare woman who looks at every situation in life as an opportunity to give of herself, to make things better, happier, and more fun. To Florence.”
Or be even more specific: “I am particularly honored to have my mother-in-law with us tonight, jogging Jo Fleischmann—triathlete, pal, coach, and mom extraordinaire. To Jo.”
One-word toasts, such as the Danish skol and the Spanish salud, both of which mean “health,” are pretty much universally accepted as symbols of welcome. It's a nice idea to toast people in their native tongue but be sure to use the correct pronunciation.
Some examples follow:
- Irish: Slante (SLANT tay)
- Yiddish: L'chaim (leh KHY yim)
- German: Prosit (PRO sit)
- Japanese: Kanpai (kahn pi)
A wonderful toast makes gathered guests feel honored to be together and with you, whereas a bad toast just embarrasses everyone. Here are some tips to help you shine:
- Don't ever toast yourself.
- If you're the one being toasted, just listen quietly to the toast and then say a quick thank-you. Don't even put your hand on your glass, much less drink.
- Don't read your toast. If it's too long to commit to memory, it's too long. Come up with something pithier.
- Don't clink glasses. It's an old custom involving the driving away of spirits—not a happy thought at any occasion. Besides, it's bad news for glassware.
- Do keep your toast short.
- Do toast the host in return if you are the guest of honor and are being toasted. You can do this as soon as the host's toast is finished or later, during dessert. Just keep it short.
- Do not tap the rim of your glass to get everybody's attention—it's tacky.
- Do make a toast even if you're not drinking alcohol. Anything will do. It's the thought that counts.
- Do toast more than one person. For example, you might toast an entire family that has come to visit, or a whole team.
- Do not preempt. The host should be the first one to toast.