A toast from your heart, written by someone else

I WILL ... I woo ... I do! Whew. Hard part over. Well sure, for the bride and groom, but what about the best man? He's got a toast to give and may not understand the gravity of what lies ahead. Nearly 1 in 5 brides surveyed last year by Modern Bride was mortified by the best man's toast.

Ty Chivers is a best man who does understand. He hired a ghostwriter for the toast he gave at his brother's Atlanta wedding this month.

"I'm not shy when it comes to words, but I wanted something that would be impressive," he says of his duty to warm the hearts of 150 wedding guests. "I wanted a writer to help me put it together."

Toast-tailoring is the newest entry in a wedding-service industry designed to take the pain and suffering out of the blessed event.

Mr. Chivers, for example, found ThePerfectToast.com, a service offering custom wedding toasts. There are perhaps a few dozen companies offering toast-writing help. The price for eloquence? Thirty dollars for a pre-written, one-toast-fits-all squib to $75-an-hour for custom work. At Rhyme Lines in Fridley, Minn. – where all toasts rhyme – it's $20 per stanza.

Chivers, a Florida real estate agent, completed an 18-question form at ThePerfectToast.com's website, paid with a credit card, and answered some follow-up questions from his writer, company founder David Pitlik. A few days later Chivers got a 785-words that began: "What greater tribute to our friendship could there be than standing by my brother on this, the most important day of his life?"

To read the words Mr. Pitlik wrote for Chivers – including a story about the time his brother, at the urging of their father, punched the neighborhood bully in the nose – almost suggests the ghostwriter has done something illicit, like rummaging through Chivers' drawers, reading private letters and personal scrapbooks. But, says Chivers, it didn't feel strange speaking sincere, sentimental words about his family that were written by a total stranger.

"Nah," he explains, "this toast includes all the feelings I have for my brother that I didn't know how to put down on paper. I changed some words that I don't normally use ... but otherwise, it's great." The toast went off without a hitch – but he didn't tell anyone he didn't actually write it.

Weddings are an occasion that demand a moment of Hollywood glamour, and the toast provides that, says Marshall Fishwick, a professor of humanities at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. "Everyone involved has spent a great deal of time, money, and effort to bring all these people together. Here is the moment where the best man is asked to say something poignant and important ... that will be remembered for more than 20 minutes."

Pitlik agrees. "For most people, this toast is perhaps the most important speech they'll ever make at a public event," he says. "This isn't the M.C. introducing the new couple, it's ... more intimate and emotional."

But isn't it kind of cheating to have someone else write from your heart? No, it's not bad form at all, says etiquette expert Marjorie Brody, of Brody Communications in Jenkintown, Penn., and author of Professional Impressions ... Etiquette for Everyone, Every Day. "As long as the stories and feelings you're sharing are yours, I don't see it as a problem. You can buy any number of books with sample toasts ... to use," she says. "Besides, you don't need to tell anyone you didn't write it. Why would you?"

Pitlik began ThePerfectToast.com five years ago, after his brother's wedding, where he and a third brother served as co-best-men. Pitlik is so crowd-phobic he initially begged off the honor. But after much arm-twisting, the brothers decided Pitlik – a TV comedy and marketing writer – would pen the toast, and a younger brother would do the speaking. It was such a funny, touching success that people told Pitlik he should do it for a living. Now he does – employing five writers.

Most of the toast-writing is done for those too terrified or too busy to compose a short speech. Pitlik recalls a desperate e-mail he received from a groom who'd written his toast only to decide the day before the wedding that he hated it. " We were able to turn it around in time. He told me his bride couldn't believe he'd come up with such beautiful words on his own," says Pitlik. "I'm guessing he didn't tell her he paid for them."

Although business isn't booming yet. it is growing at a nice clip, says Pitlik. In past wedding seasons, ThePerfectToast averaged 150 toasts per month, and Pitlik expects to double that this year. Heather Pieczonka, cofounder of InstantWeddingToasts.com expects sales to be triple those of last summer. And Bud Dauphin, founder of Rhyme Lines, says he's turning away business, limiting his poetry load to five a week.

The upsurge, say some social observers, is due in part to a return to more traditional values – an eloquent toast being one of them. But best men often see the toast as a roast, says Pitlik. "A good toast should leave everyone choked up. A bad toast just makes everyone choke."

History and etiquette experts dictate that a toast should be less than a minute. But that's rarely the case, says J. Joseph Edgette, a professor at Widener University and its resident folklorist. Purists like Mr. Edgette who study today's mangling of the toast tradition – usually caused by too much champagne and a lack of preparation – look admiringly back to the origin of the toast. In ancient Greece it was simply to wish friends good health. Romans took a small piece of bread and toasted it until black, then put it in the wine to absorb any possible poison intended for the recipient. "That's how it became known as a toast," says Edgette.

Still an enduring sign of friendship, modern toasts have lost some charm. "Very few people use elegant words anymore," says Mr. Fishwick. "I've been at functions at Harvard where the toast ... is given in Latin. It's a bit pretentious, but it harks back to a time where protocol and position were very important." Even though people today are just as likely to get married in blue jeans as they are in a tuxedo, there's this notion that you can elevate a moment by toasting. You can make it eternal."

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