How to Give a Toast
For each of the last four years, my wife and I (Jeremy) have hosted a Friendsgiving dinner the Sunday before Thanksgiving.
It’s a chance to gather our social group together for a potluck turkey dinner and give thanks for all the good things in our lives (like friends!). Each year, I’ve been called upon to say something before we all sit down and eat, and each year, I slightly dread that short block of time in which I’m supposed to articulate something memorable. I don’t remember previous years, but this year I didn’t take any time to think about or prepare a good toast, and I fumbled through trying to recite that toast that Will Smith gives in Hitch. No joke. It was awkward. And although our friends have assuredly already forgotten (or at least forgiven) that moment, I obviously haven’t. It didn’t elevate the room or brighten people’s hearts, which is exactly what a toast is supposed to do. Rather, my toast was sort of an off note in the “music” of an otherwise wonderful evening. Wouldn’t it have been far better to have had just the right words that would have perfectly suited the occasion and enhanced everyone’s mood?
As we talked about previously, toasting has a long (and often manly history), and we really ought to revive it more in the present age. But the tradition is so rare these days, that most of us have had little instruction and practice in it. If you’d like to help bring back toasting, how exactly do you do it?
The instructions below will help you raise a glass with real confidence, style, and event-enlivening effect.
How to Give a Toast
“Flubbing the toast is like serving stale champagne: it flattens the mood.” –Paul Dickson, Toasts
First, you need to be prepared. While toasting is meant to be improvisational, that doesn’t mean working entirely off the cuff in the moment; as Mark Twain once said, “It usually takes three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.” Even if you plan to give your toast extemporaneously, you ought to have a repository of some famous toasts/quotes in mind, and/or have been thinking about a theme for a few weeks and can pick just the right length and specific words once the occasion comes.
If you don’t trust yourself to do even that, go ahead and write something out. As you’re doing that, ask yourself the following questions:
- Who/what is being toasted? If it’s a best friend, it can be a little more informal. If it’s a grandparent, something sweet and sentimental is obviously far better.
- What is the reason for the toast? Is it an anniversary? A college graduation? A wedding? A promotion? Heck, even a breakup? The specific occasion will guide much of what you say.
- What type of event is it? The event type guides the formality of the toast more than anything else. A work party? Better keep it pretty straight-laced. Cocktail hour with college friends? You’re safer going off the cuff and/or with an inside joke or two.
- Who is in attendance? Related to the above point, but you really want to know your audience in order to craft your toast. You don’t want to say things that only make sense to one group of people. At a family event, you’ll say something quite different than you would at a work party. At a large, diverse gathering, you want to keep statements very broad and centered on the toastee so that everyone can get what you’re saying.
Along with these specific tips, in general, brush up on your public speaking and improvisation skills. The art of toasting deftly combines both of those things, and provides a great opportunity to practice those skills which naturally transfer into numerous other areas of life. (Also, giving a toast is a requirement for the Orator Badge in The Strenuous Life!)
Decide on Your Format
“A toast is a basic form of human expression that can be used to convey virtually any emotion, from love to rage (although raging toasts tend to cross the line into the realm of curses). They can be sentimental, cynical, lyrical, comical, defiant, long, short — even just a single word.” –Paul Dickson, Toasts
You can choose to make the whole toast an original composition, or to recite a classic set toast (see the ideas we’ve gathered below).
Arguably the best kind of toast, though, is one that combines the two elements: a brief, original introduction directed at the specific occasion and attendees, followed by a classic set toast to end things on a strong note.
Keep It Short
As Dickson notes above, toasts can involve just a single word; indeed, in ancient times, it was common to simply raise a glass “To health!”
You don’t have to keep your toasts quite that pithy, but they should always be short — about 30-60 seconds, erring on the shorter side versus the longer. Get to the point, and quickly. Only at particular gatherings should a toast exceed that, such as at a wedding, anniversary party, or other event where a longer tribute is more appropriate — and even then, you don’t want to go past a couple minutes or so.
Lean Towards Sincerity Over Humor
A lot of guys try to be funny at social gatherings, believing themselves to be far more humorous than they really are. This is especially true when giving a toast. Think about how different best man speeches are from maid of honor speeches. The former almost always tries to insert some funny story or joke that inevitably falls flat. Why is this?
Humor is very hard to get right, especially with a large and diverse crowd. At weddings especially, you have folks of all ages, all different careers and life experiences, and different social circles. The best man trying to be funny is likely doing so for his own circle of friends, and that’s all who will laugh. So with the vast majority of toasts, avoid seemingly humorous topics like exes, failures, and inside jokes; while covering such territory is common, it’s overly dicey to do.
Humor can work if you’re with a smaller, perhaps all-male group of comrades. In those informal instances, inside jokes and even some “colorful” remarks are acceptable, and even expected. In general, though, aim for sincerity. That’s sometimes harder for guys to do (which is why we lean on humor in the first place), but if you’re prepared — it all comes back to being prepared! — you’ll be able pull off a sentimental salute without a hitch. Sincerity is far better remembered by a toast’s recipients than an ill attempt at humor.
Be Sure That Everyone Is Involved & Has a Drink
Toasts are all about inclusion. Nobody is to be left out — children, the elderly, non-drinkers, all should be able to be part of the toast. At a dinner party, be sure that everyone is seated with their food and drink. If food isn’t part of the gathering, or if the toast is happening during cocktail hour versus the dinner hour, be sure everyone has a drink to toast with (ginger ale or something else that’s bubbly makes it special for kiddos; and here’s a list of fun mocktails for the teetotalers out there). Also, as much as is possible, ensure everyone is present. As the host, keep an eye on things; if someone is off to the restroom, wait until they’ve returned. You don’t want someone to have to awkwardly walk into the middle of a toast.
Don’t Toast Before the Host
If you aren’t the host of an event, don’t give a toast before they’ve had the chance to do the honor. If it’s been mutually decided that you’ll toast first, then go for it. Otherwise, wait until the host has had their say.
Announce Your Intentions With Both Words and Behavior
At a boisterous party or gathering, it can be hard to know the right time and way to make your toast. How do you get everyone’s attention? At the start of a dinner party, it’s a little easier: as host, you should be waiting to get your food until everyone else has already done so. So when you approach the table, theoretically everyone else is already seated or in the process of doing so, and you can simply stay standing and say something like, “I’d like to propose a toast.”
If people are milling about, or you’re giving a toast in the midst of a meal, you’ll need to get the room’s attention. Don’t do so by clanging your glass with a utensil, which isn’t very tasteful, and might break the glass to boot. Instead, signal your intention by standing up and raising your glass to shoulder level, with your arm pointed towards the center of the party. If people still don’t notice your gesture and quiet down, just loudly say something to the effect of “If I can have everyone’s attention.” A loud throat clearing or “Ahem” is a bit informal and just never comes across quite right; it almost reads as sheepish and shy.
End With a Clear Invitation
You’ve surely seen toasts that end amorphously; the audience isn’t sure if you’re finished or not. So when ending your toast, make that fact clear and demonstrate what everyone should do next. Say something like “Cheers!” or “Let’s a raise a glass to ___,” and then lead the way by finding someone near you to clink glasses with (if you’re in a small gathering) or going ahead and taking a sip from your glass (if you’re in a large gathering).
When to Give a Toast
So now you know how to give a toast, but when should you do so?
In our modern, generally toast-free society, it’s hard to know when it’s appropriate to offer a toast. Luckily, there are numerous occasions where giving one would not only bring a smile to everyone’s face, but elevate the general mood and environment — always the goal of a good toast!
Below you’ll find a sampling of times where it’s appropriate to offer a toast; the list is certainly not meant to be exhaustive, and there are many other fitting times to offer one as well.
While weddings are generally a carefully orchestrated affair, there are a couple times during the celebratory events where a toast might be appropriate. At the reception, there is often the formal giving of toasts by the best man, maid of honor, bride and groom, and/or parents. This is not a point where you want to add your own toast (if you haven’t gotten permission from the couple first). You might instead give your own “unauthorized” toast at the rehearsal dinner before the wedding, or on the day of the wedding itself, you might do so at your individual table or with a group of friends during the cocktail hour. The happy couple should of course be the object of your toast.
Dinner Parties With Friends
While dinner parties are a dying breed of their own, they’re the perfect occasion for a toast. If hosting, it’s easy and can really be given anytime, though during a cocktail hour when everyone has a drink or at the start of dinner is ideal. Toasts here can focus on your thankfulness for the group involved, and perhaps even an inside joke (if everyone would be privy to it, of course). You can also toast even if you aren’t hosting, though, remember, you shouldn’t be the first to do so.
Holiday parties, whether they be filled with coworkers, friends, or family, are perfect occasions for toasting. You can toast to the good year behind you, the upcoming year ahead, your thankfulness for the holiday, and/or the reason it exists in the first place (Thanksgiving, 4th of July, Easter, etc. — those all have pretty clear meanings). A prayer is often part of religious holiday observances, but there’s certainly room for both that and a sincere toast.
Graduation, Retirement Parties, Post-Funeral Gatherings
This really encompasses any occasion that’s been put together for a specific life transition, and also includes promotions, engagements, and anything else you can think of too. Toasts at gatherings like these should of course focus on the life transition at hand, reflection on past memories, and well wishes for the future. Note that while toasts don’t happen at funerals, or even typically at wakes, they are appropriate if you get together with a small group of friends at a bar or pub after these more formal events to pay more intimate respects to the dead.
Anniversaries and Date Nights
Toasts well suit the marking of romantic milestones, and that’s true even if you don’t throw a big anniversary party, and the only audience for the toast is your partner. You can offer a nice toast to your gal if you go out together to celebrate your anniversary, or even simply during the course of a normal date night. Either way, toasting to the woman you love is a great way to express sincere affection, wonder, and gratitude for her presence in your life.
Casual Social Events
Getting together with old friends at a bar? Having a bonfire with the neighbors? Tailgating at the big game? This is where you can really harness the spirit of our ancient manly ancestors. (Whether or not you drain your vessel is of course up to you and your good — or not so good — judgment.) Offer up an informal toast; this is where your wit, humor, and inside jokes can be unleashed, which isn’t the case with many of the events listed above.
Toast Ideas for Various Occasions
Having some classic toasts memorized is a great way to always be prepared to offer a fitting tribute when the opportunity presents itself; classic toasts are such for a reason — they encapsulate strong, pithy sentiments and enduring wit. But don’t do a general online search for toast ideas to add to your brain library, as those you’ll find are generally just about drinking or center on crass jokes. To solve this dearth, below we offer a nice treasury of classy and genuinely humorous toasts for a wide range of occasions.
Anniversary/ Date Nights
[For a 50th wedding anniversary] “With fifty years between you and your well-kept wedding vow. The Golden Age, old friends of mine, is not a fable now.” —John Greenleaf Whittier, “The Golden Wedding at Longwood”
[For the 25th wedding anniversary] “Love seems the swiftest, but it is the slowest of growths. No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century.” –Mark Twain
“Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.”
–William Butler Yeats
“Here’s to you who halves my sorrows and doubles my joys.”
“Were’t the last drop in the well,
As I gasped upon the brink,
Ere my fainting spirit fell,
’Tis to thee I would drink.”
“A baby will make love stronger, days shorter, nights longer, bankroll smaller, home happier, clothes shabbier, the past forgotten, and the future worth living for.”
“A new life begun,
Like father, like son.”
[Given by fathers with a son or sons] “Father of fathers, make me one, A fit example for a son.” —Douglas Malloch
[Given by grandparents] “Grandchildren are gifts of God. It is God’s way of compensating us for growing old.” —Irish
“Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.” —Dr. Benjamin Spock, Baby and Child Care
“Do not resist growing old — many are denied the privilege.”
“Another candle on your cake?
Well, that’s no cause to pout,
Be glad that you have strength enough
To blow the damn thing out.”
“Happy birthday to you
And many to be,
With friends that are true
As you are to me!”
“Many happy returns of the day of your birth:
Many blessings to brighten your pathway on earth;
Many friendships to cheer and provoke you to mirth;
Many feastings and frolics to add to your girth.”
–Robert H. Lord
“May you live to be a hundred years with one extra year to repent.” —Irish
“To wish you joy on your birthday
And all the whole year through,
For all the best that life can hold
Is none too good for you.”
“As fits the holy Christmas birth,
Be this, good friends, our carol still—
Be peace on earth, be peace on earth,
To men of gentle will.”
—William Makepeace Thackeray
“Then let us be merry and taste the good cheer,
And remember old Christmas comes but once a year.”
—From an old Christmas carol
“Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.” —Hamilton Wright Mabie
“Heap on more wood!— the wind is chill
But let it whistle as it will,
We’ll keep our Christmas merry still.”
—Sir Walter Scott
“Here’s to the day of good will, cold weather, and warm hearts!
Here’s to the holly with its bright red berry.
Here’s to Christmas, let’s make it merry.”
“Here’s wishing you more happiness
Than all my words can tell,
Not just alone for Christmas
But for all the year as well.”
“Holly and ivy hanging up
And something wet in every cup.”
“I have always thought of Christmas as a good time; a kind, forgiving, generous, pleasant time; a time when men and women seem by one consent to open their hearts freely; and so I say ‘God bless Christmas.’” —Charles Dickens
“I know I’ve wished you this before
But every year I wish it more,
A Merry Christmas.”
“I wish you a Merry Christmas
And a Happy New Year
A pocket full of money
And a cellar full of beer!”
“May you be as contented as Christmas finds you all the year round.” —Irish
“Oh, here’s to other meetings, And merry greetings then;
And here’s to those we’ve drunk with, But never can again.”
“Here’s to eternity — may we spend it in as good company as this night finds us.”
“It is around the table that friends understand best the warmth of being together.” —Old Italian saying
“To friends: as long as we are able
To lift our glasses from the table.”
“A toast to our host
And a song from the short and tall of us,
May he live to be
The guest of all of us!”
“Here’s to our hostess,
considerate and sweet;
Her wit is endless,
but when do we eat?”
“May the warmth of our affections survive the frosts of age.”
“Friendship: May differences of opinion cement it.”
“Here’s to a friend. He knows you well and likes you just the same.”
“May the friends of our youth be the companions of our old age.”
“To our best friends, who know the worst about us but refuse to believe it.”
Going Away Party
“Happy are we met, happy have we been,
Happy may we part, and happy meet again.”
“Here’s to good-byes—that they never be spoken!
Here’s to friendships—may they never be broken!”
“The pain of parting is nothing to the joy of meeting again.” —Charles Dickens
“May you never forget what is worth remembering or remember what is best forgotten.” —Irish
“If you have an appetite for life, stay hungry.”
“May you live to learn well, and learn to live well.”
“May you live all the days of your life.” —Jonathan Swift
“’Tis not so bad a world,
As some would like to make it;
But whether good or whether bad,
Depends on how you take it.”
“May you have the hindsight to know where you’ve been, the foresight to know where you’re going, and the insight to know when you’re going too far.”
“As you slide down the banister of life
May the splinters never face the wrong way.”
“Another year is dawning! Let it be
For better or for worse, another year with thee.”
“As we start the New Year,
Let’s get down on our knees
to thank God we’re on our feet.”
“Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man.” —Benjamin Franklin
“Here’s to the bright New Year
And a fond farewell to the old;
Here’s to the things that are yet to come
And to the memories that we hold.”
“In the year ahead,
May we treat our friends with kindness and our enemies with generosity.”
“May all your troubles during the coming year be as short as your New Year’s resolutions.”
“May it be the best year yet for you, and everything prosper you may do.”
“May the best of this year be the worst of next.”
“May the face of every good news and the back of every bad news be toward us in the New Year.” —Irish
“Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring happy bells across the snow;
The year is going, let him go.” —Alfred, Lord Tennyson
“Here’s to the present — and to hell with the past! A health to the future and joy to the last!”
“Here’s to the good old turkey
The bird that comes each fall
And with his sweet persuasive meat
Makes gobblers of us all.”
“To our national birds — The American eagle, The Thanksgiving turkey: May one give us peace in all our States — And the other a piece for all our plates.”
“When turkey’s on the table laid,
And good things I may scan,
I’m thankful that I wasn’t made
—Edgar A. Guest
“Love doesn’t make the world go ’round. Love is what makes the ride worthwhile.” —Franklin P. Jones
“A toast to love and laughter and happily ever after.”
[Given by a parent] “It is written: ‘When children find true love, parents find true joy.’ Here’s to your joy and ours, from this day forward.”
“May their joys be as deep as the ocean
And their misfortunes as light as the foam.”
“May we all live to be present at their golden wedding.”
“May you grow old on one pillow.” —Armenian
“May you have enough happiness to keep you sweet; enough trials to keep you strong; enough sorrow to keep you human; enough hope to keep you happy; enough failure to keep you humble; enough success to keep you eager; enough friends to give you comfort; enough faith and courage in yourself, your business, and your country to banish depression; enough wealth to meet your needs; enough determination to make each day a better day than yesterday.”
“There is nothing nobler or more admirable than when two people who see eye to eye keep house as man and wife, confounding their enemies and delighting their friends.” —Homer, Odyssey
“To the newlyweds: May ‘for better or worse’ be far better than worse.”
“Cheerfulness, content, and competency. Cheerfulness in our cups, Content in our minds, Competency in our pockets.”
“May the works of our nights never fear the day-light.”
“The three H’s: health, honor, and happiness. Health to all the world, Honor to those who seek for it, Happiness in our homes.”
“Love, life, and liberty. Love pure, Life long, Liberty boundless.”
“I wish thee health, I wish thee wealth, I wish thee gold in store, I wish thee heaven upon earth—What could I wish thee more?”
“It is best to rise from life as from the banquet, neither thirsty nor drunken.”
“Make the most of life while you may,
Life is short and wears away!”
“May our faults be written on the seashore, and every good action prove a wave to wash them out.”
“May we be happy and our enemies know it.”
“May we live respected and die regretted.”
“So live that when you come to die, even the undertaker will feel sorry for you.” –Mark Twain
“To the riotous enjoyment of a quiet conscience.”
“While we live, let us live.”
Source of the information and the specific toasts above: Toasts: Over 1,500 of the Best Toasts, Sentiments, Blessings, and Graces by Paul Dickson. Consult the book for more insight on the history and art of toasting, as well as hundreds of more toast ideas.