How to Host A Kick-Ass Sober Wedding or Other Celebration

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You hear it all the time: dry weddings are a drag. Nobody wants to show up for a celebration without alcohol. Even a cash bar is often considered a faux pas. For a lot of people, that may be true. Simply put, some people just associate weddings and drinking, and find it particularly difficult to have a good time if they don’t have both. But that doesn’t mean you have to. There are plenty of ways to make your wedding reception or even just a party you’re hosting awesome without putting everybody there under the influence. The key is giving people enough to do that they forget about the fact that they’re not drinking. It’s also to lower your expectations and recognize that some people are simply not going to be able to enjoy themselves without a drink or two – and in that case, you might be doing them a service by keeping the event dry. After all, alcoholism often appears as the life of the party. The simple fact is, you’re not going to be able to please everyone with a dry event… but that would be true even if it wasn’t dry. Weddings bring together all sorts of people from two different families, who likely have completely different interests and values. Somebody is going to feel out of place regardless of what you serve. That’s why it’s on you, as a host, to ensure you keep people engaged with the event. And here are some ways you can do just that.

Plan Events and Games

Alcohol is a sort of form of “passive” entertainment for people. At a party or event, it’s something to fall back on to lower their inhibitions, so they can more easily have fun with things that otherwise wouldn’t be. Alcohol is an ice-breaker that gets people talking to each other in a situation where lots of people there are perfect strangers. So instead of having alcohol be that ice-breaker, plan something else to get people talking. Rather than give them passive entertainment in alcohol, give them active entertainment in games. Every wedding has certain common events – there’s the cake cutting, the garter toss, the bouquet toss, first dances with parents. But up to that time, there is going to be a fair amount of downtime, and people are generally going to think to fill that time with drinks. So give them something else to do. Pack the schedule in with more events. Plan raffles, giveaways, limbo contests, bingo, ring toss, cornhole, whatever suits your aesthetic. Rent a Skee-Ball machine if you have to. Everybody loves Skee-Ball. Give people something to take their mind off the fact that they’re not drinking by giving them other, more active ways to entertain themselves.

Plan Your Event Early in the Day

It’s a bit unusual to have a wedding or a get-together over brunch. But it’s not THAT unusual. More importantly, it’s way less of a big deal to abstain from alcohol in a morning or early-afternoon event, as most people aren’t really ready to drink at that hour, anyway. This is an unorthodox, but effective way to make your celebration unique, and also give you a perfectly good reason to keep alcohol away from the party (“Don’t you think it’s a little early for that?”). The later in the day your event is, the more the lack of alcohol will stand out. So if you want it to be a non-issue, consider a morning or noon-time event.

Offer Interesting Non-Alcoholic Drinks

Just because your party doesn’t have alcohol, that doesn’t mean your drink options have to be boring. Do you know what kinds of things you can offer instead of alcohol? How about:

  • soda
  • tea
  • sparkling water
  • virgin cocktails
  • smoothies
  • milkshakes
  • non-alcoholic beer and wine

You’ll get plenty of people who are looking for drinks at an open bar for the flavor more than anything else. It’s simple enough to meet this demand by offering a variety of drinks that hit the spot without being intoxicating. A juice or smoothie bar is one such option, where people can get interesting mixes of drinks without alcohol (this works especially well with the previous idea to have your event early in the day). There is also the option of going for non-alcoholic beers and wines, though be warned. In some cases, people are so averse to these options, they’d rather have nothing at all. Don’t be surprised if you get more complaints about the presence of non-alcoholic beer than the absence of real beer. Likewise, you’re probably getting into trouble if you try to impose a drink limit. If you’re actually looking to have an open bar, with a bartender and wait staff and everything, but simply not serve alcohol, think about what you could offer instead. Perhaps a milkshake bar, with floats and malts. You can also offer virgin cocktails like piña coladas and bloody marys. Depending on who you’re getting for catering services, you may be able to concoct something new or offer something completely unique. The key is offering a number of options that get people excited about ordering them, and that hopefully get peoples’ minds off of the lack of alcohol.

Go All Out With Food and Entertainment

There’s no getting around it – not having an open bar at your event saves you a ton of money. And everybody knows it. Regardless of your reasons for hosting a dry celebration, you run the risk of people thinking you’re just being cheap. Head off that line of thinking by blowing them away with your other offerings. Go big on the food offerings. Make sure you have not only great food, but diverse options, great snacks, and a number of choices for each course. Knock their socks off with a cheesecake buffet, or a lobster dinner, or some sort of edible arrangement that people will remember. Draw their attention and their awe with something other than the dulling effects of alcohol. And beyond the food, go for great music. It’s easy enough to hire a DJ and be done with it. They’ll play some songs everyone knows, run through their playlist after two or three hours, call out some events, and that will be that. It’s safe, but not terribly memorable. If you want to really make your mark on the event, bring in a great live band, or some kind of entertainment that will really keep peoples’ attention. Impress them with something other than a bar, and the lack of a bar won’t be quite as important. You may not get as many people on the dance floor, but great music is great music regardless of who dances to it.

Understand What You’re In For

Here’s the thing: No amount of planning and fun events will take the place of a stiff drink for some people. That’s just how it is. You can expect a relatively empty dance floor, and a lot of people to leave early. The sad fact is, the most amazing dry party you could ever possibly have will still, for some people, pale in comparison to a crappy wet one. Understand this going in: You can’t please everybody, and unless it’s for religious reasons (and maybe even still), you’re likely to get a lot of push back if you host a dry party. Some people just won’t come, and others will leave as soon as they can. And that’s okay. They may need the time to reflect on why drinking is a higher priority for them than having a good time with friends and family. But as an event planner, that’s something you have to be prepared for, and don’t be offended when it happens. Also, don’t assume people are leaving just because there’s no alcohol. Some people only intended to stay for a set amount of time, anyway. Losing a big chunk of wedding guests after the cake-cutting or so is a pretty normal thing. It may not have anything to do with the spirits available or lack thereof. In the case of planning a wedding, you need to be prepared for resistance during the planning stage, too. Dry weddings are growing in prominence, but a fair number of people still find them socially unacceptable – including a lot of parents of brides and grooms-to-be. Be ready for the argument that you’re going against social protocol, or even that your decision to keep your wedding dry is “rude,” and “inconsiderate.” Weddings have a lot of tradition involved, and a lot of people have parents who are sticklers for tradition. Your parents might even fight you on the idea of a sober wedding even if they know you, yourself, are a recovering alcoholic. The idea of your wedding being different from theirs freaks them out in a lot of cases. But this is your event, and your day. You don’t have to feel guilty for doing it the way you want. People might try to make you feel guilty for doing it your way, and people are wrong. Just steel yourself for people to be very vocally wrong about it.

Let People Bring Their Own Alcohol (Make it BYO)

If you’re considering a dry wedding or non-alcoholic party, chances are you’re already okay with not having alcohol there. It’s the guests you have to worry about. Well, if it’s really THAT big of a problem that people simply can’t have a social get-together without a few drinks, then just let them bring in their own drinks. And maybe give them a quick quiz, because it really shouldn’t be that big of a deal. If it is, they might consider talking to someone about it. This isn’t appropriate for all situations, but as long as your event isn’t in a place where alcohol is banned, and you’re not worried about them doing damage with their drunkenness, this can be a pretty harmless compromise. They won’t be happy that your party hasn’t supplied them with free booze, but if they really find it that necessary, they can at least get their own fix. What are your ideas for a sober wedding or other celebration? The world of entertaining without alcohol involves literally everything other than alcohol, so these options are nowhere near a complete list of ideas. Give us your ideas in the comments below, and we might feature your ideas in a future article!