How To Plan A Sober Wedding, According To Experts

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Among millennials, "sober curiosity" is on the rise — and that means that big life events, like weddings, are increasingly sober, too. A survey by Nielsen in 2019 found that 66% of millennials are keen to reduce their overall alcohol intake. Given that a 2017 study from wedding planning website The Knot found that the average cost of a wedding reception bar was over $2,300, a dry wedding can represent a not-insignifcant cost savings, as well as be more comfortable for sober soon-to-be-newlyweds. If you're planning a wedding celebration that reflects your commitment to sobriety, you're not alone.

"Dry weddings and events are gaining traction," Lauren Grech, co-founder and CEO of LLG Events, tells Bustle. "Sober events should be respected, and that's why we're so supportive of their increasing prevalence." But planning to have a sober event that's historically alcohol-heavy may present some difficulties, from navigating social pressures to dealing with the expectations of caterers and guests alike.

Weddings are alcohol-heavy events in many cultural traditions, so it may raise a few eyebrows to have a dry event. "Not everyone has the same enthusiasm when you take away their liquid courage for the dance floor," Grech says. So if you're planning a dry wedding, you need to make preparations not only for an excellent event, but also to forestall any concerns that it won't be as fun, elegant, or romantic as a wedding with free-flowing champagne. (Spoiler alert: it will be just as lovely, if not more so.)

Here are seven things to keep top of mind as you plan a dry wedding.

1. Communicate Clearly That It's A Sober Wedding

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Grech tells Bustle that it's important to make sure that guests know clearly that the wedding, reception, or both will be dry before they turn up. "Whichever your choice, be sure to indicate it on your stationery and wedding website so your guests know what to expect beforehand," she says. That way, guests won't be caught off-guard or turn up expecting a traditional boozy toast.

You can include an explanation of your decision to have a sober event if you choose, but you have no obligation to explain your decision; it's your day and your life together, not anybody else's.

2. Choose An Alcohol-Free Space

One clever way to avoid conflict with guests who question your decision, Grech says, is to pick a venue for the event that doesn't allow alcohol at all.

"Consider choosing a venue that doesn't allow alcohol and specify this on the invitations," she tells Bustle. "Most outdoor venues will have these restrictions, such as recreational parks, nature preserves, public squares, lakesides and beaches, where you can set up a stunning tent to recreate the indoors, or just party under the stars." If you want to have a destination wedding, she suggests a tea plantation or similar space where the focus is on non-alcoholic beverages.

3. Be Confident In Your Decision

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Having a sober wedding in the face of opposition from others can be a difficult decision. It's worth remembering why you're doing it, experts tell Bustle.

"When I was drinking, I noticed that I would almost feel bad or guilting for not drinking — like I was letting people down," Katie Lain, the director of community outreach for alcohol treatment center RiaHealth who is sober herself, tells Bustle. "Feeling guilty for saying no can sneak up on us." The best way to combat social pressure about sobriety and alcohol-free events, she says, is to be confident in your decision; it may be difficult, but it can develop over time.

Grech agrees. "Don't worry about any speculation — this is your day, and should be celebrated however will be most enjoyable for you," she tells Bustle. Stand firm and confident as a couple about your decision.

4. Consider Making It BYO

If the decision not to have alcohol is one of expense, Grech has a solution. "If you just don't want to spend the extra money on alcohol, consider letting your wedding be BYO (bring your own)," she tells Bustle. "If you do this, or rid your event of alcohol all together, you're likely to have a lot more to spend on guest entertainment or food." This is also a way to explain the decision to naysaying friends or guests, if you feel the urge to do so. If you do decide to go BYO, it's a good idea to provide the facilities for people to serve and store their drinks, even if you yourself aren't partaking.

5. Have Delicious Substitutions

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If people are drinking delicious things, there's a good chance they may not even care that there's no alcohol. "Make kombucha cocktails, as the healthy effervescence might have your guest's tastebuds feel like they are drinking a beer," Grech tells Bustle. Kombucha's fermented taste is sophisticated enough to provide an intense flavor profile for adult drinkers, but without the alcohol to inebriate anyone (though kombucha typically has an alcohol content of up to 3%).

Mocktails are a growing trend, according to a survey reported in Forbes in 2019, and they can be as sophisticated and elegant as alcoholic cocktails with the right ingredients and an expert in charge. "A tip from the pros is that fresh ingredients will always make your mocktails taste better," Grech says. "Fresh herbs like mint and basil, edible flowers like lavender, or citrus fruits like melon, can double as not only garnishes for a self-service water or juice bar, but also eye-pleasing decor."

Want that extra sparkle? Non-alcoholic drinks can be just as fancy and entertaining as alcoholic ones, says Grech. "There are plenty of entertaining drinks that can be made without alcohol — ones that change color, that you can light on fire, that a bartender needs to spin around and shake up before serving in a fancy glass, and so on," she tells Bustle.

Don't leave mocktails to chance; when you're selecting a caterer or location, have a tasting with the bar staff, and give non-alcoholic beverages the same attention you would to a traditional drinks list.

6. Consider Your Timing

If you'd like to make your guests more comfortable with an alcohol-free event, Grech suggests considering the timing of your wedding or reception carefully. "If it's in a brunch reception after a sunrise ceremony, many will likely be asking for a coffee bar," she tells Bustle. "Similarly, if the wedding is on a Sunday or weekday, when most people have to work the following day, they'll be less likely to complain about the dry nature of the event." Wedding venues often offer discounts for events that aren't on Fridays or weekends, so it can also be a cost saving — a double win for you.

7. Have A Little Flair

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It's also worth considering your wedding season, and whether it can influence the presentation of your refreshments. "For example, if you're having a sober wedding in the fall, opt for a cider bar," Grech tells Bustle. The thematic element adds a special flair, and is also more likely to impress guests. However, don't go all out if it doesn't reflect you as a couple. "Ultimately, you shouldn't need any additional flair just because you're opting out of alcohol for your wedding," Grech says.

Having a sober wedding can be pretty easy with a bit of forward planning, some creativity, and effective communication with guests and those around you. "The guests who are attending should recognize that the point of the day is to celebrate you as a couple, the way you want to start your life together," Grech tells Bustle. A sober-friendly event is your choice, and doesn't mean your wedding is 'lacking' something: if anything, it makes it seriously special.