A reception, sans booze?

At my wedding reception, we had all manner of fancy beers and good champagne in addition to pop, juice, coffee, and water. We also had lots and lots and lots of alcoholic leftovers that we had to find some way to distribute. My conclusion? More people went for the dry drinks than the boozaholic ones.

In my lengthy career as a wedding attendee, I’ve been to receptions with top shelf open bars; receptions where a limited selection of beer, wine, and cocktails was served;receptions with cash bars; and receptions at which each table had been stocked with a few bottles of wine for guests to enjoy. But I have never once attended an alcohol-free reception!

The FOB and the FOG plan to settle the score

If the first question that popped into your head when reading the previous sentence was “Why would you nix the booze?” consider these points. People tend to drive to and from weddings, and it’s easy to overindulge when there’s a stocked open bar staring you down. At the same time, alcohol is expensive, especially when it’s free and flowing freely. Finally, a lot of people have one or more relatives who tend to end up three sheets to the wind any time there is free firewater on tap.

So, yes, there are reasons to keep your post-nuptial celebration on the dry side, but know that popular opinion really isn’t in your court. People dig the open bar scene, and there are a lot of folks out there who can’t fathom having fun without a little social lube. On a well-known forum, a number of posters responded thusly to a bride-to-be who was considering a virgin reception:

I can’t say I’d go to your reception — you sound like a boring couple! A tight budget through choice and no alcohol? It’s one day, so live a little.

I truly believe your wedding day is to do as you wish, but I wouldn’t personally feel right at a wedding with no alcohol and I’m not a heavy drinker.

Don’t be such a cheap bitch. People are going to be bringing you nice gifts, so the least you can do is give them a drink.

They obviously need an etiquette lesson. One must indeed refresh one’s guests, but the concept of refreshments is wide open to interpretation. Plenty of long-lasting marriages have been ushered into existence over nothing more than cake and non-alcoholic punch. In fact, a quick search brings up scads of booze-free wedding punch recipes for those who’d rather not get their guests sauced up.

Not festive enough for you? Set up a with station with colorful virgin frozen drinks served in pretty glasses or a gourmet coffee tasting bar. You may be surprised to find that your guests are too busy raving about your espresso selection to notice the fact that there’s no bar in sight. If anyone with a problem with it is gauche enough to actually bring it up…well, those folks have a lot to learn about manners.

What’s your take?

33 Responses to “A reception, sans booze?”

  1. mkb says:

    I have been to an alcohol-free wedding. It was in California, hosted by the groom’s parents who were Mormon.

  2. Linda says:

    I’m having a dry wedding. I do like to drink and so does my FI. But the site we rented is owned by the county so I can’t bring booze. I keep telling my guests that if they bring it fine. I just can’t provide it.
    This was the case a number of reception sites we looked at. Originally I couldn’t conceive of a reception without alcohol, but I’ve since change my mind. There’s so much else this site has to offer plus so much we’re doing for our guests. I assume people will bring a flask or a bottle with them, so I’ll provide mixers for people who choose to bring their own.

  3. jenny says:

    I can understand why you might want an alcohol-free wedding.
    Besides all the other factors in that kind of decision, weddings can become fairly unpleasant once everyone is drunk, falling out of their dresses, off their shoes, turning in to louts… and I always feel that it is a bit of a shame that weddings which started out quite lovely can turn in to some sort of horrible drunken mess with old arguments getting dragged up etc
    ( I used to work in a big fancy hotel so I have seen quite a few…)

    But at the same time I have been to pleanty lovely weddings where alcohol was served and personally I probably would nt want an alcohol-free wedding.

    So I guess what I am trying to say is I think it is entirely personal choice and a wedding would most likely be just as good without alcohol as with.

  4. Twistie says:

    We provided beer and champagne at our wedding. The site allowed it, Mr. Twistie likes a glass of champagne now and again, the men in my family all appreciate a good beer, and most of our crowd was fairly abstemious, so we weren’t too concerned about anyone getting to the point where they’d be unsafe to drive…though I did ask one good friend to keep an eye out and wrestle the keys away from anyone who did get to that point. Oh, and being of Scottish extraction I chose to turn a blind eye to anyone who decided a wedding wasn’t a wedding without a shot of single malt…but there was no way we could have afforded an open bar, and the woods were not equipped to provide one.

    I have, however, been to several dry weddings. I only had a scaly time at one of them, and that had nothing to do with the lack of booze. It was one of those weddings where everyone is standing around knowing the marriage is a bad idea from the start. The others were all fun, and I heard no complaints from those who do imbibe. In fact, at one of them Mr. Twistie didn’t notice it was dry until we left and he suddenly realized he hadn’t had a glass of champagne!

    It really bothers me when people start carrying on about how not serving lots of liquor is rude. It isn’t at all. The hosts are required to offer refreshments to the guests, but what form it takes is up to the hosts, not the guests. Whether the reason is economy, religious beliefs, rules of the venue, concern about the legal/moral ramifications if someone gets toasted and still tries to drive home, or simple preference, there is nothing at all rude about choosing to hold a dry reception or one with limited alcohol. What is rude is when people assume they can’t have a good time at a party if they can’t get drunk at it.

    Calling someone a ‘cheap bitch’ because she has chosen not to serve alcohol at her wedding is appallingly rude. Miss Manners needs to give these posters a good talking to.

  5. Kbam says:

    Here, here, Twistie! My wedding was at noon at a very cute bed and breakfast, and all I planned to do was one pour of champagne for the toast. However, it turned out the bar opened later, after lunch, and some people chose to buy drinks. In our case, almost everyone drove in from out of town and was leaving again right after the reception, so it was better that they weren’t drinking for free!

  6. MissPinkKate says:

    I attended a Christian college, so I attended a fair number of alcohol-free weddings. Nobody seemed to care much.

  7. Audrey says:

    I wanted a dry reception because we got married at 10am and were having a lunch affair after which most people would be driving 1-6 hours to get home. My in-laws asked if they could have a few drinks available inside for an alcoholic senior relative, I said okay, and the next thing I know there are bottles of wine everywhere and hard liquor. Not what I wanted, and I think they ended up wasting their money because not many others wanted it either.

  8. C* says:

    I live in Utah so until my own wedding I had never been to a wedding with alcohol served and I never thought anything was amiss. That being said, we got married in PA and decided to serve wine at our wedding (but no other liquor).
    With 120 guests for 5 hours our final bill only included 66 glasses of wine. Most people drank yummy locally made apple cider, soda, and water, and I don’t think a single person missed having an open bar.

  9. Lynn says:

    We had a dry wedding. It was a very easy choice for us. First of all, we were both underage and so were a lot of our friends. Second, our reception was held at the church, – a Southern Baptist church which doesn’t allow booze. Then were the number of alcoholics and recovering alcoholics in our families. Don’t get me wrong, we don’t come from long lines of drunks, but I felt like it would be a slap in the face of one specific relative that works very hard to stay sober. I’ve actually been to more dry weddings than ones with bars of any kind. It doesn’t seem odd at all to me, but then again, I am a non-drinker even now that I am over 21.
    I’m really not trying to be harsh (I promise I’m not), but if you can’t imagine having an enjoyable evening without alcohol then maybe it’s time to take a hard look at how much you drink

  10. mcmiller says:

    I did not serve alcohol by choice. I drink extremely lightly if at all, both my parents and many of my family members are recovered alcoholics or have problems, and most of my guests were military members taking a break from their work shift to attend. That being said, my husband had a tantrum about how his family all fell into the “wouldn’t attend” a dry reception crowd. Our compromise was that the reception was at a venue that had its own full bar across the hall and some people did leave to buy a drink or have a smoke before returning.

    As it was, the groom’s family all came up with excuses as to why they couldn’t come that had nothing to do with the reception. We couldn’t convince them to come even when we offered to completely pay their way or change the date. Their response was “If you really wanted us to attend, you would have held it here” – here being 3 hours from the nearest airport in central Illinois. To this day, I’m convinced they would have used any excuse to make their lack of support about us and not them.

    Anyone who “can’t have fun” without drinking doesn’t know what fun is. Period. If you have to have brain altering substances in your body to enjoy a wedding, be it booze, cigarettes, heavy doses of sugar and caffeine… you might want to rethink attending anyway. If I have to bribe you to come to my wedding/party/event with booze, you can stay home for all I care – in fact, I would strongly prefer not to have that energy in the same place as me. People who make a fuss or call a stranger names over her choice not to serve alcohol need licensed professional help.

  11. emily says:

    i was just going to say that i’ve been to plenty of both; weddings with and without alcohol. it really depends on the expectations of the guests — in families where both sides are LDS (mormon) like mine, i think everyone would’ve been surprised if we HAD served alcohol. on the other hand, expectations are (obviously) different in different social circles. maybe just something to think about. 🙂

  12. amy says:

    for the record, if anybody wants me to dance, i’m going to need a glass of wine.

    i’m just sayin’.

  13. Dent says:

    Our wedding will be cash bar only. While we’re not against alcohol at our wedding (the party will have champagne) we’re simply on too tight of a budget to allow anyone to drink whatever they like on our ticket. However we are going to serve punch and a root beer keg. In the upper midwest where we live I think most weddings are dry or cash bar only. I’ve never actually attended an open bar wedding.

    Personally I see nothing rude or in poor taste about not freely offering alcohol to guests. You are still feeding and refreshing your guests, people should not be offended when you don’t give them an open ticket to getting drunk.

  14. Meg says:

    We did a champagne toast, and people could buy their own drinks at the bar if they wanted — but we were footing the bill entirely ourselves and it just wasn’t an expense priority.

    I think maybe three people bought a drink. And no one complained.

  15. Melissa B. says:

    Similar to MissPinkKate, I attended a Presbyterian-affiliated college and I’ve been to and heard of lots of dry weddings. I will probably have an open bar at mine but I don’t think it’s weird when people make a different choice. Maybe a relative is an alcoholic. Maybe the reception site won’t allow it. Maybe they can’t afford it. There are lots of good reasons not to have an open bar. As for the woman who called that poor bride a “cheap bitch” — seriously, what the heck is wrong with people?! Ugh.

  16. Kate says:

    I think that if you care enough about the couple involved, you will go to the wedding, whether it’s open bar or totally dry, whether it’s a beach bbq or a ten-course meal in a ballroom.

    Most of the weddings I go to are open bar of some kind – sometimes just beer and wine only, sometimes full bar. I tend to prefer having a drink to relax a little. However, there are plenty of reasons not to have alcohol at a reception. Maybe it’s against the religious beliefs of the couple or their family. Maybe the bride or groom is a recovering alcoholic, or maybe the bride and groom are on a very tight budget and opt not to serve alcohol, which is really expensive.

    I’m having an open bar at my wedding in the fall. Most of my guests are responsible people who can drink moderately, but there might be a handful who need some babysitting. My reception site is very mindful of drinking and driving issues. They put up signs reminding people not to drink and drive, will call cabs for guests who need them, and say that they will not ticket or tow any guest who leaves their car in the lot overnight.

  17. Nony Mouse says:

    It also might help to remember that sometimes “cash bar” means that even water and sodas are pay as you go. I’ve been to one of those: not my favorite. I had a limited bar, myself… but the apple cider was almost gone and I had a case each of white and red wine left over.

  18. Dianasaur says:

    We didn’t have alcohol at our wedding. We knew some people would leave after the ceremony if there was no alcohol at the reception, but decided we didn’t really care. It’s our day, and we didn’t want to have to be concerned about underage drinking, guests drinking too much, or special alcohol insurance for the site. We are still thankful we decided on that.

  19. Never teh Bride says:

    You’ve been to weddings where you had to pay for water and soda, Nony Mouse? Now that is tacky…the first question that comes to mind is whether the couples in question also sold cake by the slice!

  20. Pencils says:

    We thought about having a dry wedding, but decided to stick to beer, wine and champagne for our Sunday afternoon affair. If we had decided on a Friday or Saturday evening affair, we would have had a full open bar. What it meant was that our bar bill was cut in half, and as far as we know, no one missed a thing. And there were no unfortunate incidents (there are several alcoholics in the family.)

  21. The only dry wedding reception I have attended was not boring because there was no alcohol — it was boring because there was nothing to eat but cake and mints and there was no music. My friends and I, all poor college students, drove at least seven hours to get to the wedding. We left right after the reception (which was at noon) and all drove seven hours to my mom and dad’s house, where my mom made us a huge, delicious meal. We went out dancing that night, slept in sleeping bags in the living room and the back yard, then went tubing on the river the next day. That was the fun part — the wedding was a complete bust.

    Not saying that someone is obliged to throw an expensive wedding, but if someone drives 400 miles to see you get married, would it kill you to play some records and have a few sandwiches?

  22. de says:

    I’m MOH in an upcoming wedding in October that will have no alcohol (the HC aren’t drinkers and they have several recovering alcoholics amongst the family – they decided it just wasn’t a good idea) as well as no dancing (they aren’t big dancers either). The reception is going to have the feeling of an intimate dinner which will be lovely.

    Much like other posters, I think that if you need alcohol ot have a good time (especially at an event where you shoudl be celebrating in your friend/family’s happiness) then you ahve deeper issues than an open bar could cure.

    Additionally, I wouldn’t want someone like that at my wedding or reception anyway.

  23. amy says:

    for the record, i’ve also been to open bar weddings that were total busts. it’s all about how welcome you make your guests feel. making blanket statements that imply that people who enjoy open bars are alcoholics doesn’t help the negative perception some people might have of those who choose dry receptions, for whatever reason. lots of people drink moderate, healthy amounts just to take the edge off of doing the YMCA in front of their third cousins. i don’t see anything wrong with that.

    if you’re having a late night dance party, you should probably provide some beer. if you’re having an afternoon cake reception or an intimate dinner, it’s not a big deal. it’s all about the atmosphere. you know your guests better than anybody else, and as long as you do what you can to show that you thought of them when planning your evening, they’ll be happy.

  24. talda says:

    we will most likely be having a dry wedding because no one in our families really drinks so it’d just be a waste of time and money to have the alcohol available on a general basis. while i do enjoy the occasional cocktail, i can honestly have a bang up time without it. besides, its a wedding…do you need any more incentive to get up and dance and celebrate? or at least mingle?

    most of the weddings i’ve been to have either been dry or with a limited bar [beer and wine] and all were fun. it’s sad that, according to some people, that my wedding wouldn’t be worth attending if i wasn’t going to liquor them up. while i don’t think it’s rude to not offer alcohol at a wedding i do think its definitely rude to demand it as a guest.

  25. Megan says:

    Hey, guys– just wanted to thank you all for your thoughtful and helpful comments. I’ve really enjoyed reading your insights into this touchy topic.

  26. southernbella says:

    the knot is so trashy.

  27. amy says:

    hear hear, southern. those boards give me the willies.

  28. raincoaster says:

    One of the nicest weddings I’ve ever been to was a dry one. It was an afternoon tea reception with all the tea party trimmings (except the sherry, of course). As long as what you offer your guests is of high quality, festive, and of sufficient quantity to serve as a meal, you have done your duty as hosts at a wedding reception.

    That tea reception was so nice I’m thinking about that for myself, although I am an amateur booze snob, myself. Now all I need is the victi- uh, GROOM.

  29. Dianasaur says:

    I forgot to mention that after a relatives wedding the year before mine, her grandmother was killed in a car crash on the way home. Alcohol was not related, but that was still a painful memory in a lot of the family’s minds, and her wedding day is forever the day her grandma died. People are responsible for their own actions, but I’d still feel terrible if I had a party/wedding/dinner with alcohol, and someone was in an accident driving home.

  30. Talix says:

    I am a recovering addict as are many of my friends. I would hope that for one occasion, the people who care most for me and want my happiness would be willing to forgo alcohol. I think it would pretty selfish of people to expect alcohol at a wedding if both the bride and groom were in recovery!

    That said, I also still associate with friends and family who drink. While I don’t think I’d feel obligated to provide alcohol for them, I’d probably have a couple of cases of wine to, as Amy said, make them feel welcome. On the other hand, those friends know and support me in that if I’m uncomfortable at an event where alcohol is plentiful, I will leave. I’d (and I’m sure they’d) prefer my reception not be one of those events.

  31. Talix says:

    A final thought about the customary toast – provide champagne along with another sparkling beverage of a different color. That way, when facing a table of drinks placed haphazardly the risk of confusing a “leaded” drink with an “unleaded” is somewhat mitigated.

  32. anonymous says:

    In traditional Jewish weddings, wine is a necessary part of the ceremony (or grape juice) but it’s not necessary for the guests… in any case, at my sister’s icy January wedding, my mom decided that serving wine was fine but wouldn’t serve any liquor because of all the people driving. A few guests were horrified, and brought their own, but I don’t think anybody else even noticed – and it set a precedent for the rest of us to do the same when we married. Somebody usually brings a bottle of scotch, but then he has to share it among lots of guys.

  33. rekke says:

    My sister had a wedding with no alcohol because they didn’t drink and they were trying to be thrifty. Only about two people clearly cared about the lack of booze and they seemed like jerks for it (and we pointed them to the nearest bar where I believe they sat out the reception).
    The rest of us had an awesome party. We came for their celebration, and it was up to them to decide what kind of celebration it was going to be. Of course that wasn’t the only break with tradition– they also had chocolate mousse and fruit instead of a ridonkulous wedding cake. No one pitched a fit because they couldn’t get any buttercream frosting (hmmm). They rejected a lot of the silliness of weddings– they kept the love and the joy and left behind a lot of the pomp and circumstance. They rock.