There’s a moment in John Mulaney’s 2012 comedy special New in Town when he encapsulates the plight of the sober partygoer with pinpoint precision.
“Once people start drinking for the night, they forget everything that isn’t alcohol,” he jokes. “I’ll show up at a party and they’ll be like, ‘Hey everybody! All right, we got Coronas in the fridge and oh, hey Mulaney! Would you like an old turnip we found in the cabinet? Would that be good for you? Would you like that? I know you don’t drink.’ ”
Most hosts are better than this. And because the world of non-alcoholic drinks has expanded to include an array of zero-proof spirits, beers and wines, as well as artful non-alcoholic (NA) mixed drinks, there’s something for everyone to pour, drink and enjoy.
Here are five tips to make your next lively gathering an inclusive event to remember.
1. Don’t Push
There are countless reasons why someone may choose not to drink, and, frankly, none of them are anyone’s business. When entertaining, respect your guests enough to never push booze on them.
2. Entertainment Matters
Cookbook author and party planner Ramona Cruz-Peters is a fan of sober entertaining. Alcohol-free events “open the festivities up for all ages and those newer in their sobriety, who might be tentative to attend parties due to triggers,” she says. “Good food, music and company are all you need for a memorable time.”
Entertainment matters, she says, and urges you to not skimp on the DJ or live band. Instead, rely on professionals to read the room, loosen people up and get them dancing without the liquid courage of alcohol.
Of course, you don’t need to spend big on a band to have big fun at your gathering. Build night-in parties around card games, such as Uno Flip and Phase 10, which can be a riotous good time, as well as board games like Scattergories and Taboo, each encouraging teamwork and hilarious vocal outbursts, making them the perfect nightcap for any evening spent with sober-curious friends.
3. Have Fun with Food Pairings
Flavor pairings are one of Cruz-Peters’ favorite parts of entertaining. An easy way to subtly blend flavor profiles from party food to party drinks are with herbs and seasonings, and to focus on seasonality.
For example, during a fall party she used “apples, apple cider, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon and fall herbs incorporated with cheeses, pastries and beverages. The dishes and drinks were different, but the flavors flowed.”
4. Provide Options
A mixologist, or a host who has done their homework, can make sure every kind of drinker feels part of the party. Cruz-Peters says that seltzer is a great mixer for mocktails and zero-proof cocktails, noting that, “Carbonation activates different taste buds, making simple ingredients stand out.”
She’ll have a variety of fresh fruits and herbs, like melon balls, blueberries, blackberries (that she pairs with basil) and grapefruit (teamed up with rosemary) ready for her hired barkeeper or guests to mix, match and muddle before adding ice and liquids.
“The flavor possibilities are endless, and the presentation [is] lovely when more fresh herbs are added as garnish,” she says.
Ed Eiswirth, director of beverage operations for Royal Caribbean, sees rising interest in zero-proof cocktails among those who do and don’t drink alcohol. Alongside its full bar, he says, Royal Caribbean serves a Blueberry Nojito (blueberry puree, lime juice, simple syrup and mint) and other non-alcoholic drinks that feature fresh fruits and herbs.
5. Presentation Matters
Those not drinking may feel self-conscious and want to hold something that doesn’t single them out as different. To this end, Royal Caribbean serves its zero-proof cocktails in the same glassware as their alcoholic cocktails, Eiswirth says, and with equally elaborate garnishes.
Presentation equality doesn’t end with mixed drinks. Put just as much effort into how, and in what vessel, you pour non-alcoholic beers and wines.
For example, offer a proper pint glass with the Heineken 0.0 lager, and make sure you’re pouring Leitz Eins Zwei Zero Sparkling Riesling in a wine glass, just as you would a Clean Slate Mosel Riesling.
Remember, the key to non-alcoholic entertaining is assimilation and thoughtfulness. The way you present all your beverage options goes a long way toward accomplishing both goals.