When event planner Marcy Blum started out in the wedding business nearly three decades ago, a Champagne toast was de rigueur during a couple’s celebration. It didn’t matter if it was decent wine or not, she says. It was customary.
“Now my clients care about the wines and Champagnes they pour — not necessarily expensive, but well thought out and paired with the food,” Blum says. “But since so many guests don’t drink Champagne, it would be a waste to pour it automatically for a toast.”
Blum notes a shift in how couples getting married today view Champagne at the wedding reception, especially around the Champagne toast: It’s not happening like it used to. The idea of toasting with a flute glass filled with sparkling wine is quickly becoming a memory of the past. Instead, couples opt to invite guests to toast with the drink in hand or even offer signature cocktails and glasses of beer as their official toasting beverage.
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“The Champagne toast has evolved from something that was a must-do to something that is now more flexible,” says Brooklyn-based event planner and designer Jove Meyer. “Some couples love bubbles; others don’t care for it so they swap it out for something they enjoy more.”
The history of the Champagne toast may date all the way back to 6th century Greece, when wine was used as an offering for good health. More often, it’s thought to have sprung from the traditions of the royal courts of the 17th and 18th centuries. This is the time when Napoleon Bonaparte would famously saber the top off a Champagne bottle to celebrate his wartime victories, presumably with a toast to his soldiers.
Simultaneously, many of today’s major Champagne houses, including Louis Roederer, Taittinger, and Moët & Chandon, began to form in France in the late 1700s. By the 19th century, Champagne had increased in popularity and was a regular guest at royal events throughout Europe.
Over the following two generations, the Champagne toast became a sales tactic by top hotels and caterers, explains Michelle Rago, an NYC-based event planner. Venues would include a Champagne flute at every place setting in the ballroom or waiters would circle the room with trays filled with the beverage. During speeches, guests would lift the glass in honor of the newlyweds. Veuve Clicquot ruled — and still does — as the Champagne of choice.
But this offering is not without its faults. In many instances, by the time a guest sips the pre-poured drink during a speech, it has gone flat — and sometimes worse, warm. As couples have sought out new spins on their parents’ wedding traditions, this type of dedicated Champagne toast hasn’t made the cut. “Fewer couples are willing to pay for that kind of moment,” Rago says. “At least half of my couples toast with whatever is in their glass.”
Rago’s experience tracks with the statistics. According to The Knot, only 51 percent of couples in 2021 included a Champagne toast. Meyer notes that many couples say Champagne when they actually mean Prosecco, Cava, or even a cocktail. The terminology is still used, even if the drink differs, and some of the evolution has to do with price.
Cava and Prosecco can often be 25 to 50 percent less than the price of Champagne, making it an attractive option for couples looking to stay on budget. On average, a couple spends nearly 8 percent of their total budget on the bar services alone, according to The Wedding Report. It’s no wonder that tips on wedding planning sites and apps tout the affordability of bubbles from other regions of the world as a great substitute for French Champagne. The bubbles are present, but at a fraction of the cost.
The shift, though, is more than economic. Couples are simply more adventurous with their wedding drinks. The Knot also notes that 79 percent of couples offer an open bar at the reception, meaning guests have their pick among wine, beer, and various spirits. Tequila has been trending in recent years for weddings and shows no sign of stopping, say planners. Old-Fashioneds and Aperol Spritzes are, anecdotally, some of the top signature drinks at weddings. And, like mainstream drinking culture, craft mocktails are on the rise, too.
Personalization also plays a key role. Couples want their weddings to reflect their personalities and preferences, and drinks are an easy line item to do that. If a couple isn’t into wine, they may opt for a Guinness toast to reflect their meet-cute in Dublin, or collaborate with their bartending team to design a custom cocktail inspired by ingredients from their most memorable vacation together.
One couple on a wedding-focused Netflix show even asked to toast with moonshine as that is their go-to liquor.
In general, the bar has become an experience versus a necessity with typical well drinks. Couples host interactive wine tastings, make-your-own smoked cocktail stations, and even serve molecular cocktail courses during a seated dinner.
As Blum said, not all guests even want to drink Champagne, so it’s in the best interest of couples to offer a variety of drinks to fit the taste preferences of their friends and family. After all, it’s about everyone having a good time. Insisting Uncle Bob drink Champagne when he’d prefer a lager affects his enjoyment of the day.
That doesn’t mean that Champagne doesn’t have a place at the wedding table. Blum says that Champagne is always an option at the bar for her couples — and guests drinking it will toast with it. For her, she recommends serving it as a welcome drink when people arrive at the ceremony or reception. For those who enjoy it, a crisp glass of Champagne is a nice way to be greeted.
Meyer believes this actually puts Champagne, or other sparkling wine, in a much better position to be enjoyed. It won’t be competing next to dinner wines and cocktails. “Champagne is seen as such a celebratory drink, one that is opened when good things happen and to honor loved ones,” Meyer says.
But as couples think about personalizing every aspect of their wedding day, it’s perhaps no surprise that the beverage they choose for a toast in their honor is becoming more and more customized to their love story, too.