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A Toast is in Order

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One of those pieces of wedding etiquette that many couples forget about until the last minute is how to organize and assign the toasts over their various events. Sometimes they feel awkward formally telling their loved ones when to say nice things about them. Nowadays the open-mike format has become more popular, however, they can open the door to embarrassing, off-color or long-winded speeches with little means of shutting the offending orator down.

To avoid the unpleasant unexpected, it's still a good idea to plan ahead - here's how.

Come to Order

The first official speech comes at the rehearsal dinner after the guests sit down but before the meal begins. According to Tom Haibeck, author of "Wedding Toasts Made Easy" (Haibeck Communications Group, 2006) and founder of WeddingToasts.com, this responsibility falls to the host, typically the groom's parents, and includes a toast to the new couple and the uniting of two families. The bride's parents might then respond if they wish.

But if both sets of parents are hosting the rehearsal together, the bride's parents should go first, even if the groom's family paid more. "If there's ever a question, wedding etiquette favors the bride's side first in all events," says Sharon Naylor, author of 35 wedding books, including "The Bride's Survival Guide: 150 Mistakes You Should Avoid for the Perfect Wedding," (Adams Media, 2009).

When dinner is done, before coffee and dessert, the bride and groom should offer their own toast, thanking everyone for coming, their parents for their help with the planning and the bridal party for participating. This is typically when you hand out gifts to your bridal party as well.

In addition, after dessert when things are winding down, the groom will often stand and surprise his bride with a toast, thanking her for all the work she put into making the wedding happen.

At the wedding, after everyone is seated for dinner, it's the best man's turn to open with a toast to the bride or the new couple, says Haibeck, followed by the maid of honor. The bride's father then stands to welcome his new son-in-law into the family and thanks all the guests for coming. At this point, the groom and possibly the bride might respond with another thank you to their parents and an acknowledgment of guests, but this last speech also often comes right before it's time to cut the cake.

"You don't want too many toasts or it could end up looking like a corporate event, or even worse, a roast," says Naylor. "Don't plan more than four a night and try to spread them out throughout each event."

Controlled Chaos

Although the above order is traditional, bear in mind that there is no legal requirement or societal bylaw that demands it, says Haibeck.

Today's couples are twisting tradition to fit their own needs, Naylor agrees. If the maid of honor is terribly shy, skip her speech. Or if the best man is the groom's 5-year-old son from a previous relationship, substitute a good friend. "Feel free to personalize your toasts according to who will do the best job," she says.

Give Direction

Being asked to make a wedding toast is one of life's great honors, and for many people it's a once in a lifetime experience. They may have no idea what to say, how long to speak, how to use a microphone or even where to stand. "As any event planner will tell you, preparation is the key to success," says Haibeck, "and that same philosophy applies to anyone who is asked to propose a toast. Brief them in advance and offer them assistance if they need it."

Managing Mishaps

Even with an agenda, there's always a chance that one of your toasters might get toasted and start making inappropriate comments, or a wannabe comedian could get a hold of the mike. If you need to give someone the hook, Haibeck suggests asking the band or DJ to simply bring up the music and cut the microphone. Another option is to warn your bridal party beforehand so that you can signal them to start clapping with a wink or an ear pull if things get out of hand. "People tend to start clapping when others do, which would effectively shut the speaker down," says Naylor.

But before you take these more extreme measures, gauge the audience's reaction first. If they're horrified, don't hesitate, says Haibeck. But if they're merely uncomfortable for a moment and the speaker is winding down, just grin and bear it. Every wedding needs at least one mortifying/hilarious story!

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