When you said yes, it was time to pop the bubbly. Then that off-the-shoulder silk taffeta gown made your mother tear up, and a toast was in order. At your bachelorette party, you lost count of how many corks got popped. And at your rehearsal dinner, you said “cheers!” every other word. Here’s the truth: From the engagement through the honeymoon, a wedding typically involves a lot of champs. But the sparkling wine gets its star turn during the most important glass clink of all: the champagne toast.
The tradition provides an opportunity to gently roast the groom, get nostalgic over old memories, and shower the newly betrothed with heartfelt sentiments. But without a solid plan in place, the moment can get clunky. There’s timing to consider, as well as the order in which speeches should be given.
In an effort to let your champagne toast feel more like a pleasant buzz and less like a drunken mistake, we wrangled some advice from the pros. Here’s the lowdown on how to execute this tradition with aplomb.
The champagne toast is thought to have its roots in England’s Shakespearian days. Back then, people would allegedly dunk stale toast into wine to take the edge off its acidity. Whatever the actual roots are, one thing’s for sure: This is a time-honored tradition, and it’s still prevalent at most Western weddings today.
Does that mean it’s a totally essential part of every wedding day? That depends, of course, on how you want your special day to flow. Keep in mind, any couple can put a personalized spin on the tradition. It’s totally fine, for example, to let uncle Herb toast with an Old Fashioned instead of a glass of bubbly.
“I rarely have a champagne toast as part of the wedding day,” says celebrity event planner Mindy Weiss. “Instead, we have a toast where the guests raise the glass of what they are already drinking. [The champagne itself] is never mentioned or missed.”
Meet the Expert
Mindy Weiss is the ultimate authority on planning an unforgettable wedding, with more than 20 years of planning weddings and events for top Hollywood personalities (think the Kardashians, Ellen DeGeneres, and so many more).
This is good news for your bottom line: “I love that there is the tradition of a toast, but I don’t think that it has to be with champagne,” Weiss reiterates. “And opting out of passing champagne does save money in the budget.” Regardless of what guests are toasting with, “All glasses should be filled before the toast begins,” Weiss says.
So, when should guests plan to raise their glasses? “The first toast should be a welcome, usually by the father of the bride or groom, or a chosen host or close family member, before the first course is served,” Weiss shares. “This way, the host can tell their guests to enjoy the food, dance, and send good wishes to the couple. I have had some clients that want to wait until after the entire meal for the first toast, but I feel the guests are more attentive at the beginning of the evening.”
“We recommend keeping speeches memorable, short and sweet … between three to five minutes,” says Davina Arceneaux, associate director of catering at the Langham Chicago. “Any longer and guests may become antsy.”
Meet the Expert
Davina Arceneaux is the associate director of catering at the Langham Chicago, which produces some 40 weddings a year.
So, just how saucy can those speeches get? Perhaps it's best to save any X-rated barbs for the after-party. According to Arceneaux, “A best practice [with champagne toasts] is to be sincere, complimentary and appropriate.”
“Don’t make the speech too long or too embarrassing,” Weiss adds. “My ingredients for success are to introduce yourself, make a comment about how beautiful the ceremony was, and tell a story about the bride, or groom — preferably a sweet and fun story. Then share positive thoughts about the other half of the couple. Don’t forget to welcome the other family into yours and keep it short.” In a nutshell, Weiss says, “Leave the guests with a smile.”
Writing a lighthearted, three-to-five-minute speech that will make people laugh and not embarrass the couple comes easily to some. But let’s face it: This proves challenging for most. If you’re in the position of writing a speech — or if your maid of honor has hit writer’s block and is asking you for advice — here’s some food for thought:
“Be charming, simple, and sentimental,” Arceneaux says. “The speech should honor the couple that is about to spend the rest of their lives together. Inspiration can be drawn from childhood, high school, or college memories. You can also draw inspiration from funny moments or stories enjoyed with the bride and groom.”
Still stuck? “Look to the internet for lovely examples that can be personalized or seek out song lyrics that have special meaning,” Weiss suggests.
Champagne Toast Alternatives
Not a fan of the sparkling stuff? Spice it up with these four alternatives.
- Go With a Shot: Instead of pouring champagne into flutes for each individual guest, chat with the caterer beforehand and get them to prepare mini-shots for each guest of your favorite kind of liquor or mixed drink. While not everyone may be excited to take the shot, if it's something you prefer over champagne, don't feel weird about doing it. People can just have a tiny taste if they'd like.
- Opt for a Signature Cocktail: If you're going to have a signature cocktail at your wedding, you can replace the champagne toast with it. Arrange to have pitchers of this drink available and poured in glasses when guests sit down.
- Choose Your Favorite Wine: If you're looking to keep the toast classy, switch out the champagne for your favorite wine instead. You can even offer a choice of one white and one red to better accommodate your guests. This will also give you and your fiancé a fun activity to do before the wedding — pick a weekend for a fun wine tasting.
- Let Guests Pick and Choose: Instead of setting one specific drink, have them choose what they like. Let them toast with whatever they are actually drinking. This is a great way to keep it personal and also inviting your guests to want to join in and participate.