Can we still be good hosts without serving alcohol?
Think of a time you were the recipient of deep, warm hospitality, I prompted the members of a group I was coaching. What occurred that made you feel welcomed and seen?
They were quiet for a while and the answers started emerging slowly and then quicker like popcorn.
I heard of fresh sheets in the guest room and a single blossom in a bud vase; a clean house; an invitation to join another family’s custom; a hand-colored cardboard welcome sign; being invited to join in a jam session; a special place set at the table; having little but cutting it in half to share anyway; being invited to say grace; communicating with gestures when there is a language barrier; respecting a dietary preference; a long-simmered savory dish.
Not one person mentioned alcohol!
In my 20 years in the wine industry, I took great joy in serving my guests the best Burgundy, Champagne and Oregon Pinot Noir, often offering a glass before they’d even had a chance to take their coat off. So when I decided at age 51 to remove alcohol from my life, I needed to confront the question, can we be good hosts without serving alcohol?
And in my coaching practice, I learned that I’m not the only one wondering.
Sales of alcohol surged in the earliest months of the pandemic. But as people settled into the long game, many realized that alcohol wasn’t helping their immunity or anxiety so they cut back or took a break altogether. Some of these folks and many of my clients gained skills and confidence around minimizing or eliminating drinking at home but are now a bit anxious about how to manage as we turn on the gas grill for the first time, or get invited for a backyard soirée.
Patio bars seem to harken like a siren’s song.
There is good reason that we might associate alcohol with the beach, the hammock, the deck, the campsite. Alcohol was present at most of the big and small occasions in our lives so it’s normal that it became tangled up in these spaces and in our idea of hospitality.
When we hold a belief such as a good/fun/sophisticated host serves alcohol it is normal for our brain to defend that belief by ignoring all contradictory evidence. Our brain wants to conserve energy and defending a belief we already hold is expedient. So our brain will ignore evidence of the times we received or offered alcohol-free hospitality.
Can we reconsider and reclaim what it means to be a good host? We can ask ourselves how we make people feel welcomed, special, respected and connected? Since I remember the kindness of a bowl of oatmeal a friend served to me eighteen years ago when I was an exhausted mom of a two year old, my experience tells me that it is the simplest of gestures that warm the heart of another.
It could also mean getting more creative and proactive about our social lives. For my birthday this year I thought about what I really wanted to do and instead of a wine dinner, I texted 2 friends and invited them over for the city’s best Thai food, ping pong and 80s dance music (in a well-ventilated open garage space).
And whether you drink alcohol or not, if you want to be part of the movement to increase options and inclusivity, consider making a commitment to arrange a nice array of non-alcoholic options with pretty glassware and garnishes.
(If you are newly not drinking, honor your intuition of what feels comfortable and right for you around hosting or attending events where alcohol may be served. Give yourself total permission to protect your beautiful baby sobriety at all costs.)
Martha Wright is a New Orleans-born wine industry veteran turned sobriety/mindful drinking coach. She works in small groups and 1:1 in her own practice, Clear Power Coaching, as well as coaching hundreds of people within This Naked Mind (founded by best-selling author Annie Grace) where she is a Senior Coach. She offers a path to regain control that focuses on understanding the neuroscience of habits, uncovering unconscious beliefs, honing coping tools and cultivating fun and play. The goal is not removing alcohol, but rather removing alcohol is just one tool in reconnecting to our best thriving lives. She loves sourcing and tasting the latest non-alcoholic beverages; inspirational podcasts (Ten Percent Happier, This Naked Mind and Take A Break are current faves); visiting her daughter in Paris; cooking and eating; and roller skating.