There’s probably nothing that gets brides-to-be more tied up in knots than the prospect of a dry wedding, with maybe one exception: the day you officially tie the knot. Online wedding forums and bridal chat rooms are endlessly aflutter with pre-conjugal worries about a booze-free reception and what guests will think. And, for every angst-ridden query hurled into the online universe by nervous brides, the steady stream of incoming responses often reflects some very strong opinions: “tacky” and “no fun” are two descriptions often reserved for sober weddings.
What such observations often overlook, however, is the prevalence of alcoholism and alcohol use disorders in American families, which makes a wedding without beer, wine or liquor not just more affordable but a safer and more sensible option. After all, nearly half of all adults in this country have had a parent, child, sibling or spouse who either is or was an alcoholic. That statistic makes it highly likely that someone at your wedding (if not you or your future spouse) — be they a relative or close friend, a member of your bridal party or an attending guest — will either be struggling with an active addiction or in recovery and trying to abstain.
Okay, that may all be true, but can a wedding be any fun without alcohol? The answer is “yes.” Here are 10 wedding-planning tips for throwing a reception that’s both free of alcohol and full of fun:
1. Choose an interesting and enjoyable venue that doesn’t allow alcohol
Some of the most fun and scenically unique or interesting venues prohibit alcohol. Recreational parks, nature preserves, lakes, beaches, and public squares, many of which prohibit alcohol, can provide one-of-a-kind settings in which to celebrate your exchange of vows, only without the booze.
Alternatively, if you’re a Disneyland lover or amusement park junkie, consider hosting your occasion on the grounds of your favorite Disney character or within close proximity to your favorite rides. Disneyland and other such parks often prohibit alcohol. What’s key is to find a venue that in and of itself offers enjoyment of some kind, just as it says something unique about you.
2. Schedule your ceremony at a time when people are least inclined to drink
Morning and early afternoon are generally better times. After a sunrise wedding on the beach, for example, most guests will ask, “Where’s the coffee?” as opposed to “Where’s the cocktail line?” You can then point them in the direction of a fancy coffee bar replete with classy, non-alcoholic choices. Or, a fancy mid-afternoon high tea may do the trick. Guests can then mingle in relaxed conversation over exquisite finger foods and gourmet teas, with hardly a moment’s notice that the tea isn’t spiked or that happy hour is an hour away.
3. Encourage conversation at tables
Let’s face it: A lot of us have been to at least one wedding where we found ourselves seated at a table next to strangers, awkwardly fishing for conversation starters while waiting for our glass of wine. In the absence of alcohol’s socializing effects, consider making some light-hearted icebreakers available at each table. These might consist of silly personal trivia questions about the bride and groom or a group Mad Lib that will put guests at ease.
4. Make it a kid-friendly wedding
There’s an inner child in each of us, and when kids are having fun, that’s often license for grown-ups to join in the silliness, too. Face painting. Karaoke. Twister. Bounce houses. Wedding table crafts. Games and prizes. Generally what’s fun for kids will encourage guests to let down their hair, too.
5. Hire a good MC and/or DJ who can keep the tone upbeat and interactive
Don’t underestimate the importance of this role. The right person should be able to engage guests with humor, move the festivities along smoothly, choose familiar hits that your guests will dance to, and yet not intrude on the festivities.
6. Serve mocktails instead
Non-alcoholic drinks can be anything but boring. If a pomegranate mojito or apple, elderflower and mint sparkle doesn’t strike your fancy, maybe a blood orange punch or tropical fizz will. You might even ask an ambitious bartender to create a signature virgin drink for you and your groom. These top 10 non-alcoholic drinks may inspire some ideas.
7. Plan your wedding around a fun theme that excludes alcohol
The theme might be “Waffle House,” with a buffet spread that includes all of your breakfast favorites. (Think smothered and covered hash browns, pecan waffles, and grits.) Or, a nostalgic recreation of a retro 1950s milkshake bar may suit you better. This way, you can enjoy being creative without the pressure to include alcohol — and the sky is the limit on themes.
8. Make a recreational hobby the centerpiece of entertainment
What fun points of interest do you and your groom share? What sorts of activities do the two of you like to take part in during your free time? Start there. If you both love to rock-climb, why not rent an indoor climbing gym for your reception? Chances are that when surrounded by 15-foot climbing walls, your guests will be more focused on putting on gear or rappelling without falling than drinking booze. If they don’t like to climb themselves, they’ll still be able to watch the action. Alternatively, if you both love live music, why not host your reception at an intimate music venue where a favorite musician will be performing? If that’s not your cup of tea, maybe miniature golf is.
9. Entertain your guests with games, activities, and even door prizes
If you’re planning a fall wedding, for example, why not include a hay-lined bowling alley, donut-eating race, and a bobbing-for-apples station? Or, as one wedding photographer recently testified online in response to a worried bride’s concerns about what to do in the absence of alcohol, even a pirate-themed wedding can be a real blast, as cheesy as it may sound at first. Think costumes, treasure hunts, “walking the plank,” and a photo booth for guests. You might even throw in a few door prizes as incentive to join in the fun.
10. Get your guests laughing
If your guests are laughing, chances are, they’ll be having fun. What that may look like can vary widely, based on your preferences. Got a love of stand-up comedy? Louis CK may not be available, but consider hiring a local comedian to be your MC and to do a short routine. If you’re an Elvis fan, hire one of his many impersonators to be your MC. Goofiness can be funny — and, as the word itself implies, “funny” includes fun.
Candice Rasa, LCSW, is Clinical Director of the Beach House Center for Recovery, a drug and alcohol addiction rehabilitation center in Juno Beach, Florida. She has over 10 years of experience in the mental health and substance abuse arena and she supports healing the clients she serves from a perspective of spirituality and alternative Eastern methods.