You can survive a few weeks or even months without food, but dehydration is literally a killer. Actual fact: if you are ever stranded in the shade when the temperature reaches 90 degrees (which I lovingly call “winter in New Orleans”), you’ll last less than a week without something to drink. Equally lifesaving as parties go, if you get trapped in an awkward conversation “excuse me while I grab something to drink” is a built-in getaway plan that doesn’t hurt anyone’s feelings. Which brings us to the age old question, should you have booze at your event or not? And if so, how much?
As a totally awkward guy, I always support booze as a social lubricant. That doesn’t mean I expect every host to provide it though. If you are ok with libations at your event but don’t want the cost or the stress of trying to figure out what everyone likes (nothing wrong with that!), put BYOB on your invites so that guests know that they can bring their own without offending you. Booze is expensive, a lot of people drink like it’s their job, and some people are ridiculously picky about what they drink, so there’s no social foul in putting it back on people to bring what they want.
If you want to supply liquor but stocking a full bar or bartender seems excessive, come up with one or two unique signature drinks that match your theme.I can’t tell you how many events I recall by lines like “it was the one with the carrot martini.” Rope a friend into playing bartender (or hire one from a local event staffing company) and just serve up that one drink alongside some non-alcoholic options. Even easier: find a creative way to display the recipe for it (cute little chalkboard on a tabletop easel or printed in a fancy frame), and set the ingredients on a table. Your guests will figure it out. At a loss for a good drink idea? Type the word “Drinks” into everyone’s favorite site, Pinterest.com and prepare to be overwhelmed by a rush of “How cool is that one? No wait, that one!”
A Beer and Wine (and maybe champagne) bar is always a good middle ground. A plain old cooler will do, but compliments abound if you think of something cool and unique that’s related to your theme and fill it with ice. I have seen everything from bathtubs to barrels to empty rain gutters to fountains used as ice chests for beer. An easy estimation for how much to stuff into the ice is 3 beers or 1/2 bottle of wine per guest per hour. If the event lasts longer than two hours, dial that formula down a little bit for each hour after the first two. Sound excessive? Think about how often you set your drink down at a party and then get a new one because you can’t remember which one is yours or where you set it.
If you want to stock a hard bar, the standards are Vodka, Gin, Rum, Tequila, Bourbon, Whiskey, and Triple Sec. With those, and an assortment of mixers (oj, cranberry juice, soda water, tonic, and sodas), and a few cherries, limes and lemons, pretty much everyone will be able to order something they can tolerate for a couple hours. If you want to stock a full bar, adding things like Kahlua, Amaretto, Grand Marnier, Bailey’s, and assorted varieties of Schnapps can dramatically increase your cocktail offerings. If you are looking to provide that level of bar service, chances are you are ok with a fairly large liquor tab. The best bet in that case is to ask your caterer if they stock and service bars, or can recommend someone who does.
or Not To Booze
There are a million good reasons why you might choose to preclude alcohol from your event: you have a personal objection to alcohol, you don’t want your obnoxious drunken cousin ruining your big day, the venue doesn’t permit liquids, or you just don’t want the added stress or cost of other people’s vices. I racked my brain for a tasteful way to say “No drinking at my party” before being informed that no one has ever seen any variation of such a line on an invitation. Regardless of the reason you’ve chosen to have an alcohol-free event, the standard is apparently to make no mention of it at all.
Even so, respect the importance of a good beverage. At the very least, if you have an event lasting longer than an hour, supply some sodas, punch or ice water. Get all fancy on your water by grabbing a lemonade or iced tea jar (a giant glass contraption with a spigot at the bottom) and add a few slices of fruit, cucumber, or fresh herb leaves like they do in the lobby of fine hotels. Suddenly it’s functional and it’s decor! There are also a ton of great mocktail recipes, if you want to follow the “signature drink” suggestion outlined above.
That is the question.
I have to disclaim that life in New Orleans skews my perception of alcohol a little. I honestly cannot remember the last time I was outside of my office at a place that didn’t offer a drink or a good excuse for not doing so. Or rather, I can’t remember being at such a place without hearing (“whispering”) sarcastic remarks like “there are still places that don’t serve drinks?” Each time I head to visit relatives for holidays, I’m reminded that there are still parts of the country where drinking on Sundays is verboten, where alcohol is not available in grocery stores or drive-through daquiri shops, and where the phrase “a drink” means an iced tea or a soda. What’s my point here? That outside of Orleans Parish, this is probably a more liberal angle on the topic, but is not meant to suggest in any way that alcohol is required or expected at every social function. As the event host, you know your crowd and preferred scene better than anyone, so it’s entirely your call. As for me and mine, we’ll raise a glass at any festive occasion that offers the opportunity. And then because it’s New Orleans, we’ll pour what’s left of it into a plastic cup and saunter down the street, relishing the fact that it’s one of the only places in the world where such antics are both allowed and encouraged.