How to Host a Wedding if You're Sober

Should you go zero proof or have an open bar?

non-alcoholic bar

Photo by Valorie Darling

Whether you’re never drinking again, taking a break from alcohol, haven’t had one sip in your entire lifetime, or abstaining for another reason altogether, fret not—there are a variety of ways to celebrate if you decide to serve (or not serve) alcohol at your wedding.

When Elizabeth Nugent got married in 1992, she and her then-husband Michael decided to have a dry wedding (read: no alcohol). “Most of our friends and family didn’t drink and we didn’t want to make the day about drinking,” she says. 

Instead of wine, beer and spirits, the Nugents served lemonade, iced tea, coffee, water, and soda. They subbed a Champagne toast for one with apple cider, which helped save money.

Before the Nugents wed, and certainly 30 years later, couples—who are not drinking for whatever reason—continue to host dry weddings and dry-ish weddings across America. However, these days, one major difference is that there are a plethora of non-alcoholic wines, beers, spirits, and cocktails to choose from (and give toasts with) and more creative bartending possibilities, too.

Guests Attend for the Right Reasons

“All of our guests were on-board with a dry wedding,” says Nugent, who has been sober 17 years and lives in Winchester, Va. “We may have had a few guests not happy about it, but we didn’t hear any complaints or issues on the day.” 

Having grown up in South Carolina, Laura Scholz says dry weddings have been quite common. (To date, she’s attended more than 10.) “There are several factors that could motivate people to have a dry wedding, one of them being religious faiths—ranging from Mormons to Muslims and many Evangelical Christian traditions—where drinking is not the norm,” she says. “Another is budget: booze is expensive, and people tend to drink a lot in crowds and at celebrations. So, it's an easy way to cut costs, especially if having a more low-key ceremony at an off time of day like late morning or the couple is prioritizing other parts of the day or experience.”

Scholz says she has become so accustomed to dry weddings that she never assumes alcohol will be served. “Since you are the guest and someone else is hosting you, I don't feel the need to be informed about a wedding being dry,” she says. “It’s totally someone else's choice, just as if serving vegetarian or kosher fare is a choice." And while it isn't necessary to announce if you are hosting a dry wedding, a line mentioning it in your wedding website or invitation can be nice for guests who might not be expecting it.

Deciding to Make the Wedding Dry

Nugent has zero regrets about keeping her 100-person wedding alcohol-free. She advises couples to do what makes them happy. “In the end, it’s your love story, so you get to decide what you want at the wedding,” she says. “You might be surprised at how much fun people will have at a dry wedding—after all, they are there to celebrate your marriage.” With that, she has a few pieces of advice for couples going the N.A. route.

Three Tips for Hosting Dry Weddings

  • Keep the invite list small. “It can help manage expectations of your guests,” Nugent says.
  • Day parties are best. “Having our wedding in the afternoon set the tone for no alcohol to be there,” she says. 
  • Include exciting elements. “We had a lively DJ and dance floor, and our guests were all over it,” she says.

Serving Libations but Not Drinking as a Host

While the Nugent wedding was alcohol-free, she knew of sober brides and grooms who served alcoholic beverages at their parties for their guests. “Some of our friends in recovery at the time would offer just beer and wine instead of a full bar,” she says.

In other instances, one partner may abstain while the other might sip on something alcoholic. Good Drinks author Julia Bainbridge became engaged in December to her fiancé Alan Delgado. Bainbridge will not be imbibing at their wedding, though she imagines Delgado will have some Champagne, mezcal, or both, to celebrate their nuptials.

How to Navigate a Dry Toast and an Inclusive Bar 

When booze is present at events, Zero Proof author Elva Ramirez suggests having a variety of choices available for all to drink. That means including non-alcoholic cocktails on the menu. “The zero-proof movement is fueled by people who might still like to drink but also want healthier options,” she says.

Bainbridge and Delgado haven’t yet set a date to wed, but she already knows she wants to stock the bar with “cases and cases” of Unified Ferments' Snow Chrysanthemum jun (a kombucha ferment sweetened with honey) and Delmosa La Rhubarbelle Petillant (a rhubarb sparkling beverage).

For toasts, Bainbridge is fond of Noughty Alcohol-Free Sparkling Chardonnay, Semblance Non-Alcoholic Sparkling Wine, and Eins Zwei Zero Alcohol Free Sparkling Rosé. These bubbly beverages can be served alongside Champagne. This way, drinkers and nondrinkers alike can participate in wedding traditions together.

zero proof cocktail

Photo by Robert Bredvad

Offer Zero-Proof Cocktails

Beyond creating an inclusive bar, the mere act of offering alcohol-free or alcohol-removed can prevent attendees from being over-served. This, in turn, can ward off accidents, patrons feeling sickly and potentially embarrassing situations. 

“People drinking too much at weddings is such a well-known phenomenon that it’s a cliché in movies,” Ramirez says. (We’ve all heard of those real-life stories or unfortunately witnessed them first hand.) “Serving zero-proof drinks alongside liquor is a good way to set up a great party without too many next-day regrets.”

Make it Fun and Tasty

Chris Marshall, the founder of Sans Bar in Austin, Tex., has worked alongside traditional bartenders at weddings to create non-alcoholic drinks for guests. But this past year alone, he bartended at four dry weddings. “We work with each couple to design a menu that both pairs with the food menu and their own special love story,” says Marshall. 

His advice to brides and grooms is that they should consult with a professional bartender before the big day. “Offer drinks that feel special and look just as beautiful as the alcoholic offerings,” Marshall says. “We drink with our eyes first and then with our nose, so garnish your drinks with bright citrus twists, pink rose petals, and shimmering edible gold flakes.” 

In terms of ingredients, Bainbridge wants people to think outside the box. Instead of steeping and sipping tea, she urges others to consider using it as an ingredient in N.A. mixed drinks. “There are as many varieties as there are wine, if not more.” she says. “Some are nutty (buckwheat), some are smoky (Lapsang Souchong), and some are earthy (Oolong). Rooibos is woodsy and vanilla-like. They can take you in such different directions. You can also play around with steeping time: Go longer to extract bitterness, or lightly brew green or herbal teas if you want ethereal, pretty flavors.”

Marshall, who has been sober for 15 years, also notes that non-alcoholic spirits (like N.A. gins, tequilas, burlon, and more) have made it easy to offer the zero-proof versions of popular cocktails upon request. “Some of our favorites have been Blueberry Mint Julep, Rosemary Me Mule, and Watermelon Sansgarita,” he says.

When there is effort, expertise, and creativity coming from behind the N.A. bar, some guests may enjoy non-alcoholic options so much that they do not miss—or think about—booze at all. When wedding guest Hannah Schneider of Nashville, Tenn., flew to Hawaii to celebrate a clean and sober couple’s nuptials, she was impressed by the bride and groom’s respective signature N.A. cocktails. “I have to say, for someone who is not sober, feeling like I could order fun drinks was really nice,” she says. Sh eadded that she had another lovely surprise the next morning: no hangover. Cheers to that!

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