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Modern Etiquette: Guidelines for giving toasts

Updated: 2012-10-22 21:10
By Mary M. Mitchell ( Agencies)

Mary M. Mitchell has written several books on the subject of etiquette, including "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Etiquette" and "Class Acts." She is also the founder of executive training consultancy The Mitchell Organization with the website themitchellorganization.com. The opinions expressed are her own.

SEATTLE  - Especially during the holidays, toasting can make even a meal at a fastfood restaurant a special occasion. It can impart a festive air to the gathering and has a way of bringing those present together.

One of my best memories is a pre-dawn toast in London. I had taken the "Flight From Hell" that arrived nearly a day late, due to a variety of mechanical problems.

My client gamely picked me up at the airport. We stopped for breakfast at some dingy travelers' restaurant, the only one open at that hour.

When our orange juice arrived, he stood and said, "To Mary, welcome. You are worth waiting for." Never mind that we looked silly. His warmth went a long way to defuse an anxious situation and put me at ease. That toast motivated me even more to do my very best in serving the client.

Here are some guidelines for toasting:

The host proposes a toast, often welcoming a guest, at the beginning of the meal. The toast also may occur in the middle of the meal, when the host raises his glass to the guest of honor, who properly should be seated on his right. If the host has stage fright, it is perfectly fine to have his or her spouse make the toast.

A wonderful example of a toast is one given at a dinner for Nobel Laureates in the State Dining Room at 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: "Thank you all for being here to share one another's good company and this good food. Welcome. Happy holidays!"

At the end of the meal, before dessert, the same host might rise and toast the guest of honor, if he hasn't already done so: "I am so pleased that you all could be here to welcome my dear friend Jane, who has come all the way from Rome, to spend the holidays with us."

Or, be even more specific, "Let's welcome Lee, friend extraordinaire, triathlete, surgeon, and theologian. To Lee."

One-word toasts, such as the Danish skoal, (meaning "health") are pretty much universally accepted as symbols of welcome.

It's a nice idea to toast people in their native tongue. Just be sure to learn the correct pronunciation.

Here are some other things you should know about toasting:

*Do not toast yourself. If you are being toasted, just sit there, and afterward, say thank you. Don't even put your hand on your glass, much less drink.

*Do not clink glasses, especially if there are more than four people involved. It's an old custom having to do with driving away evil spirits, and it's bad news for glassware. Simply lift your glass and say, "Hear, hear", or "Cheers."

*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 his or her toast is finished or later. Just keep it brief.

*Do not tap on the rim of your glass to get everybody's attention. It's tacky. Simply stand up and say, "Time for a toast".

*Do raise your glass even if you are not drinking alcohol. Anything will do -even water. Your drink does not have to look like alcohol, either. It's the thought that counts.

*Do toast more than one person if it makes sense. For example, you might toast an entire family that has come to visit, an entire office department, or an entire team.

*Do not pre-empt. The host should be the first one to make a toast.

In our shrinking world, you might discover that people from other countries are more comfortable making toasts because it is a more natural part of their culture than ours. If you know that you are expected to give a toast in a formal setting, by all means rehearse it. In fact, say your toast over and over to your mirror when you are alone.