Alcohol and Events: how to be better

One of the hallmarks of growing up in Australia and New Zealand is never quite being sure whether your socially acceptable drinking is actually super harmful, an idea I could probably write a five-part book series on. I like a glass of wine as much as the next person self-medicating stress-related sleep issues, but that’s like a good 40% of the population, right*?

And I want to reassure you I don’t ‘hate fun’ (as if alcohol and fun are synonymous) when I say : can we please run events with alcohol better.

Being around large amounts of alcohol, or lots of drunk people, or being in an environment where it’s expected that we’re getting draaaaaank totally sucks. When we make these situations the norm we exclude lots of people, including pregnant people, Islamic people, and anyone who might choose not to drink for whatever reason, including those who have struggled with alcohol dependency. Sure, when you plan your event you might not think about whether any people recovering from alcohol dependency might be attending, but that’s part of the issue, isn’t it?

But wait! I’m not just here to scold the really questionable drinking culture Australia and New Zealand share. I’m here to give you some hot tips.

Offer non-alcoholic drinks and don’t emphasise the alcoholic ones.

Don’t just “offer” them: offer them at the same amount and frequency. That means if a tray has 5 alcoholic drinks, it should have 5 non-alcoholic drinks – not one of everything.

Jackson Wood has written well about not drinking and also not just offering orange juice (although personally I love orange juice as my diet is pretty horrible and I need those vitamins). If you’re hosting at a bar, work with them to emphasise non-alcoholic drinks. My best experiences at bars in Dunedin was getting green tea in a pint glass and settling down for chats.

Not emphasising the alcoholic ones looks like not advertising free alcohol (people who want to know will ask) and maybe not letting a literal alcohol company brand part of your event when the focus on alcohol was discussed as a problem last year.

Level two: mocktails and alcohol-removed wine.

Okay look if you’re serious about being better: mocktails are so cheap compared to cocktails. You know what the expensive ingredient is? Alcohol. So get together some faux mojitos (mojifaux) and margaritas and bloody marys. If you’re hosting at a bar then you can talk to them about putting mocktails on the tab along with beer/cider/wine.

If you’re working with a catering company they might not be set up to do this, in which case alcohol-free wine can be a route to go down. The red is great for staining your teeth without staining your night.

Living Sober also has a “drink of the week” which is a good place to trawl for non-alcoholic drink ideas.

Have food!

Food means the people that are drinking don’t get gross drunk fast. Have more food than drinks. Have the food easier to get than alcoholic drinks. I’d love to go to an event with finger food and jugs of (faux) margaritas. Invite me to this event if you hold it. Thanks.

When talking to attendees, be aware of your language.

This is more of an issue for less profesh events: don’t talk about getting drunk or having a drink or be like “isn’t this great wow free wine and cider how rad”. If you’re a host or an event manager, just switch your language to be like “having fun” or “all of this free food”.

If you offer to get someone a drink, say something like “would you like a drink? maybe a juice?” I know from experience it is exhausting to continuously have to say “no I wouldn’t like wine, no not beer, great a water, I love water, tonight is great.”

Level two: keep an eye out for pressuring

As a host you can’t be everywhere at once. But reminding people you hear pressuring others to have a/nother drink that there are rad non-alcoholic options available is good. It helps to undermine the normalisation of alcoholic drinks.

Realise that making ~networking~ or ~bonding~ “drinks” less focussed on the drink will help remove barriers to cool people you definitely want to network and bond with

Fairly self-explanatory tbh.

The focus of your event isn’t alcohol

If it is – wine-tastings exist – you do you.

I know it’s difficult and scary to try run an event that doesn’t just give people wine until they like you. Booze, free booze, advertising booze are all fast ways to make people think they enjoyed your event, while excluding the people who wouldn’t have. But it’s well worth the effort to hold something that everyone can enjoy.

You don’t have to have a dry event in order to make everyone welcome. The above are just a few things you can do to help – and feel free to comment below with any more ideas!

*This is a joke currently, but legit how I have used alcohol in the past. 

If you’re having difficulty with your relationship with alcohol, check out your local Alcoholics Anonymous chapter (Australia, New Zealand) or have a chat to your GP. Living Sober is also a great online resource.


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