The Art of Formal Toasts According to Naval Protocol
Just One More Thing To Make You Insecure About Official Washington
For almost 14 years, I published a society magazine for Washington D.C. called Washington Dossier. I was in Black-Tie so many evenings that the doorman at my apartment thought I worked in a restaurant. I attended every conceivable type of event from formal dinner parties, arrival ceremonies, National Day Celebrations, State Department functions, Inaugurals, Charity Balls and galas. Except for the fried food and single gatherings on Capitol Hill and an occasional “Playboy’s Girls of Capital Hill” Party, they all involved a degree of understanding of “Official Protocol.” After all, you never wanted to drink the finger bowl.
My secret source was called the Green Book. It was the listing of who’s in, and it included all the “cave dwellers, cliff dwellers and official Washington.” The reference section in the back had the real information — such as how to address a Senator and spouse, an Ambassador (male or female); where to seat people; how to host a proper reception and master the art of writing thank you notes. And much more.
I found that the back of the Green Book was taken directly from the Social Usage and Protocol Handbook: A Guide for Personnel of the U.S. Navy. Since the handbook is a public document, we at WHCInsider.com have taken the liberty of adding the appropriate chapters to our site. Now everyone in Washington will have access to the information they need if they find themselves in an unfamiliar high-profile situation. It is not just manners, it is a protocol and what I call the “programming of human behavior.”
- Formal Dining According to Naval Protocol
- Formal Receptions and Receiving Lines Protocol
- Proper Seating according to Naval Protocol
- The Traditions of Formal Toasts According to Naval Protocol
- Official Precedence (Order of Importance)
Needless to say, most reporters are not given this kind of training in journalism school, and being part of Washington means decoding elements of the proper social behavior.
Here is our first excerpt on ceremonial toasts, including some history and cultural differences.
David Adler, Co-Founder, WHCInsider.com
Formal Toasts as Recommended By Naval Protocol
Toasting is a means of expressing good will toward others on a social occasion. It may take place at receptions, dinners, dining-ins or wetting down parties. Toasting originated with the English custom of flavoring wine with a piece of browned and spiced toast. In 1709 Sir Richard Steels wrote of a lady whose name was supposed to flavor a wine like spiced toast. Thus evolved the notion that the individual or institution honored with a toast would add flavor to the wine.
Today we honor individuals and/or institutions by raising our glasses in a salute while expressing good wishes and drinking to that salute. Etiquette calls for all to participate in a toast. Even nondrinkers should at at least raise the glass to their lips.
Those offering a toast, men or women, should stand, raise the glass in a salute while uttering the expression of good will. Meanwhile, the individual(s) being toasted should remain seated, nod in acknowledgment, and refrain from drinking to one’s own toast. After, they may stand, thank the others, and offer a toast in return.The one who initiates the toasting is the host at a very formal occasion, Mr. Vice/Madame Vice at a Dining-in, or any guest when the occasion is very informal. The subject of the toast is always based upon the type of occasion. General toasts would be “To your health,” or to “Success and happiness,” while special occasions such as weddings or birthdays would require toasts more specific in nature, such as “To Mary and John for a lifetime of happiness and love,” in the case of a wedding, or on a birthday, “May your next 25 years be as happy and as successful as your first 25 years.”
When the formality of ceremonial toasts is to be observed on state occasions, the order and subject of all toasts should be arranged beforehand between the host and his ranking foreign guest. Such toasts are initiated by the host, during or after dessert wine is served. The experienced guest is always careful to leave enough champagne in his glass toward the end of the meal to be able to join in several toasts.
A toast to a Chief of State is always drunk standing. The toast to the ruler of the country of the foreign guest of honor is always the first toast proposed on a state occasion. A few minutes after the guests have seated themselves again, the senior representative of the country honored rises and proposes a toast to the ruler of the host’s country. All the guests rise again to drink this toast.
These initial toasts may be followed by others to the countries or the services represented by the guests, and/or to the guest of honor and the host. There may be brief speeches which fit the occasion.
When the occasion is an official and formal one, the order and subject of all toasts should be arranged beforehand. It is the responsibility of the host to inform the guest of honor which toasts will be offered and when. The rule here is that the host proposes all toasts and the guest answers in kind.
EXAMPLE: Suppose the occasion is a black tie dinner hosted by the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations in honor of the Ambassador of Great Britain. The following would apply:
USN CNO (Host/Hostess would stand after the dessert wine has been seined and would raise his/her glass, saying:
“To Her Majesty the Queen.”
All the guests should stand and raise their glasses and toast the Queen. This may be followed by the playing of the British National Anthem.
Moments later, the Ambassador would stand, raise his/her glass and say, “To the President of the United States.” All guests would stand and toast the President. This may be followed by the U.S. National Anthem.
Other toasts may follow, such as:
USN CNO: “To the Chief of Naval Staff and First Sea Lord.”
British Ambassador: “To the Chief of Naval Operations.”
USN CNO: “May the bonds of friendship which tie our navies together continue to strengthen in the future.”
British Ambassador: “To the great traditions of the U.S. Navy and her many gallant leaders.”
When the guests represent more than one nation, the host/hostess proposes a collective toast to the heads of their several states, naming them in the order of the seniority of the representatives present. The highest ranking foreign officer among the guests will respond on behalf of all the guests by toasting the head of state of the host’s country.
Since governments and titles change, it is essential to verify their accuracy.
NOTE: The position is toasted and the individual’s name is not mentioned.
At an official dinner given by a British official for a high-ranking U.S. officer, the former rises during or after dessert to toast the President of the United States, and then the orchestra, if present, plays “The Star-Spangled Banner.” After the guests are seated, the guest of honor rises to toast “Her Majesty, the Queen,” and the orchestra plays “God Save the Queen.” if other monarchies are represented at the dinner, the honored guest would say, “Her Majestry, Queen Elizabeth II”. These toasts are sometime followed by short speeches and toasts to the services represented.
At regular mess dinners in the Royal Navy, the senior member of the mess proposes the toast, “The Queen,” and all present in a low voice repeat, “The Queen” and sip the toast. If an American officer is a personal dinner guest in a mess where a nightly toast to the Queen is drunk, the mess president might propose a toast to the U.S. Navy after the usual toast to the Queen. The American would then properly reply with a toast to the Royal Navy. It should be remembered that at official Anglo-American dinners, the British officer would toast, “The president of the United States,” and the senior American would reply, “Her Majesty, the Queen.”
FRENCH AND ITALIAN CUSTOMS
Officers of these navies often preface a toast with the phrase, “I have the honor to . . . .“ At a dinner for a senior U.S. officer, the French host/hostess may say, “I have the honor to propose a toast to the President of the United States.” The guest of honor might properly reply, “It is my great honor to propose a toast to the President of the French Republic.”
Ceremonial toasts are less usual in the Scandinavian countries. Rather, the host/hostess “skoals” each guest. No one drinks wine until after the host/hostess has offered a general skoal of welcome. Skoaling then continues throughout the meal among the guests. The ladies must be alert to respond to individual skoals from the gentlemen, for each gentleman skoals the lady sitting at his right at least once.
The procedure is to raise one’s glass slightly from the table, and looking directly into your partner’s eyes, draw the glass down and toward the body, bow slightly, say “Skoal,” drink, and salute again with your glass before putting it down. The skoal received must be returned a few minutes later.
Specific customs of individual countries should be understood prior to attending social functions; for example, in Norway an additional procedure is for the guest of honor to thank the host/hostess with a toast at the end of the meal.
In Sweden, the hostess is never skoaled by a guest during a formal or semi-formal dinner.