Chapter 4 – A Nice Day For A Dry Wedding

You can check out the other chapters of the series at https://www.quester.com/blog/

 

Did you know there is a growing trend towards dry weddings? Welcome to this edition of “Assume and Doom” where spring is in the air and we’re in prime wedding season. So, we’re taking a break from economics and marketing to talk about these alcohol-free nuptial celebrations.

  • Discussions about dry weddings are up 900% over this time last year
  • There are many reasons people give for having dry weddings—but also many challenges
  • While you can’t please everyone, there are recommended ways to put on a dry wedding

Assumption: It’s rude or unthoughtful to not serve alcohol at a wedding

Assumption: Dry Weddings aren’t fun for the guests

VERDICT: No it’s not rude, but both hosts and guests can be rude in the way they handle it. And with some exceptions, many guests are surprised at how much fun dry weddings are if done the right way. We will look at this from both sides but there are recommended ways to host and attend a dry wedding so it’s a fun experience for everyone.

Let’s set a scene we’re all familiar with, either from personal experience or from movies/TV shows: the bride and groom are radiant, the venue and decorations are beautiful, the food is tasty, the flower girls are adorable, and there are one or more guests who get obnoxiously drunk and become the lingering memory of the wedding due to their bad behavior. It can ruin the day for the bride and groom but the decision to do a dry wedding is not an easy one. There’s lots to consider; from the reasons for a dry wedding, how to communicate it to everyone, what to provide in its place, and the huge questions that hang over any dry wedding considerers—will people even come? Will they stay? and will everyone have a good time?

Luckily, our deep dive into the social narratives around this topic revealed quite a bit of the positive, certainly the negative, the worry and relief, and the lessons learned and success stories. Let’s start off with what people are saying about why they decided to have a dry wedding.

#1: The couple doesn’t drink themselves or know many guests don’t drink. We found three main reasons that fall into this category: religious, cultural, and inclusivity.

Yeah my wife and I both don’t drink and so naturally we don’t have a lot of friends who drink either.

We went to a wedding that was a dry wedding for religious reasons – the couple didn’t want to upset older relatives.

Most of our friends and family didn’t drink and we didn’t want to make the day about drinking.

#2: The couple or their immediate family members have a history of alcohol-related problems or addiction. This is related to #1 but it’s their prior issues or bad experiences with alcohol at weddings that drive the decision.

So, my fiancé is two years clean and sober and I’m so f**king proud of him! But I’m really worried about our wedding, I’ve decided it’s going to be fully dry and I’m staying that on invitations.

We’d been to another family wedding earlier in the year that had an open bar and a lot of my wife’s extended family got absolutely smashed (in a disruptive way not a fun way). We still love them and wanted them at our wedding, but we definitely didn’t want them repeating that mess again.

Expense is a big part of it, and that seems more acceptable to people vs the “my family are a bunch of drunks, we don’t want drunks ruining our day.

There is a perception of judgment by some of the guests, or at least feeling passive aggressiveness. Some of the conversations of couples throwing a dry wedding do come across as “they have a problem and should get help.” This attitude is more often from those who have dealt with personal alcohol problems or family ones.

#3: Budget considerations. This one is pretty simple—booze is expensive and people tend to drink a lot in crowds and at celebrations. A dry wedding is one way a couple can save significantly on their wedding budget. However, this is not the main reason couples opt for a dry wedding, only a secondary benefit. As you’ll see later in this article, couples do a lot to compensate for an alcohol-free wedding by providing lots of interesting and fun drink alternatives that end up not saving them as much money as many guests think.

Yeah, I’d have a sober wedding if I ever ended up getting married, mainly because of how expensive it even is to provide alcohol in my state. I could focus more on a great band, food and venue.

It’s an easy way to cut costs, especially if having a more low-key ceremony at an off time of day like late morning or the couple is prioritizing other parts of the day or experience.

Challenges for the couple

While any wedding day belongs to the bride and groom and all the festivities are about them, there is a lot of struggling with the decision of having a dry wedding. Then if they do, questions loom about communicating it (if and how), what to serve instead of alcohol, managing guests’ expectations, and making the festivities engaging for all guests.

It is frustrating for couples to deal with the perceived entitlement of potential guests that they’ll get unlimited, free alcohol. It’s as if guests have lost focus that the wedding day is about the couple, not the guests. This is an area where the couple risks being rude to their guests if the couple projects this entitlement frustration.

I want a sober wedding one day! I wanted one already, but the girl I will marry has alcohol related trauma, so that just sealed the deal. I feel like if people genuinely can’t enjoy themselves without drinking then they have an untreated alcohol dependency.

If you get invited to a Bar BQ and there’s no beer or alcohol, you wouldn’t just leave or tell yourself you’ll have a terrible time. You would enjoy your friends, food, and the fun social atmosphere. Why does it have to be so different with weddings?

Does a big venue automatically come with the expectations of booze in the eyes of the guests?

Even though there is frustration about this issue, it’s not as if couples don’t consider their guests. They want everyone to have a good time. They worry it won’t be a “real wedding” if there’s no alcohol while fighting the perception that the couple doesn’t care about their guests having a good time if there’s no alcohol. All discussions around this topic have the same sentiment: “I’m still trying to make it be a fun party” but worry people won’t come or leave early after the ceremony.

Then there’s the issue of etiquette: Do you let people know in advance it’s a dry wedding and if so, how do you say it? Finding a way to set expectations without coming across as rude or judgmental is a major concern.

Since you are the guest and someone else is hosting you, I don’t feel the need to be informed about a wedding being dry. It’s totally someone else’s choice, just as if serving vegetarian or kosher fare is a choice.

You want all positive stuff on the wedding announcement, not bad stuff, so don’t put anything about the dry wedding on the invitation. You wouldn’t put “no dancing” or “no full dinner” if you didn’t have those things so why say “no alcohol?”

Some people advised not to warn guests ahead of time as advance notice may find guests drinking prior to the wedding or bringing their own alcohol.

Think if any or some of your guests are likely to drink too much and not behave themselves then informing ahead of time would be a good solution. However, be aware that they might “load up” before coming or bring alcohol secreted in a bag or something. Personally, I don’t think I’d invite anyone who would be that disrespectful, but you might not always have a choice.

There are still some couples who want to put it on the invitation but don’t know how to state it. Suggestions range from replacing cocktail hour with “light refreshments” and playing up the dinner and dancing.

Most of the conversations about announcing it on the invitation centered around finding it annoying if the invite read “sober” or “no alcohol served.” While they would appreciate expectations being set, the word sober seems especially triggering.

But if it said in the invitations it was a “sober wedding” it would annoy me, even if I wasn’t planning on drinking or smoking lol

Guests’ reactions to a dry wedding

Discussions about dry weddings have risen over 900% in the past year, with the majority coming from guests who had attended a dry wedding. As you would imagine, the results were very mixed. Let’s start with the obvious negative reactions and potential rudeness of the guests:

I have to admit that it did impact the experience. I did not dance as much as I normally would have (but the time of day also had an impact). Most people actually left after the food was served, so very few people partook in dancing. And the few who remained, about 50, could not muster up the courage to dance to “Get Low” while sober.

As a guest I dialed back my gift value now that alcohol is not included and the couple saved money on the wedding.

For people that I’m not that close with a sober wedding would definitely make it more difficult, especially when I don’t know most people that are attending.

That makes it even more bizarre…do you and your wife not drink in general? Seems wild to not allow anyone to drink so people you invited would leave early…and not have fun.

Many people, however, were very understanding and quite surprised by how much they enjoyed themselves at a dry wedding:

For my best friends and close family I don’t care what the wedding is like, I just want to spend time with them, see them happy and have a good time.

Yesterday was the first time I have ever been to a sober wedding – no alcohol, Pretty much every wedding I have ever been to I have gotten so wasted and woke up with foggy memories of the night and usually regrets. But this time around I actually enjoyed the food and was present for the speeches and other festivities. I woke up the next morning feeling so incredibly proud of myself.

I have to say, for someone who is not sober, feeling like I could order fun drinks was really nice, and I had no hangover the next morning…Cheers to that!

Alternatives and some middle ground

Couples who went with a dry wedding put a lot of effort into making the entire event fun, changing the time of day, and including a variety of fun beverage options.

We had a lively DJ and dance floor, and our guests were all over it.

Having our wedding in the afternoon set the tone for no alcohol to be there.

We had some… I guess champagne style kombucha? Came in a champagne bottle. It was very tasty and made a great non-alcoholic toast drink.

Ginger beer, root beer, craft sodas etc. are all good too. And here’s my secret tip about non-alcoholic beer: it’s also super popular with drinkers, especially on a long day like a wedding.

Consult with a professional bartender beforehand. Offer drinks that feel special and look just as beautiful as the alcoholic offerings. We drink with our eyes first and then with our nose, so garnish the drinks with bright citrus twists, pink rose petals, and shimmering edible gold flakes. 

There were too many non-alcoholic recommendations to list individually but fell into one of these categories: non-alcoholic sparkling wines, sweetened kombucha, craft sodas, and non-alcoholic beer and spirits.

There are ideas in conversations that are rising fairly quickly—”drinking less” weddings. You still have some alcohol, but it’s limited in some fashion.

One option is offering a champagne toast then a bottle or two at the table but no bar and no replacing the bottles. This is seen as an option when the reason for a sober wedding is to remove the drama of drunkards.  There will still be alcohol, but the person will have to work hard to get drunk.

Another popular alternative is to not serve hard drinks and limit the alcohol to beer and wine.

All the best! I got married sober as well! A real trip! I would not allow hard alcohol at our reception! I am from a large alcoholic Irish family, so I had to make some accommodations. we served draft beer Regular and light beer Red and white wine but limited it.

Finally, there is the option to still serve alcohol as you normally would but also provide zero-proof options alongside that can be an option for everyone.

“The zero-proof movement is fueled by people who might still like to drink but also want healthier options.

“Serving zero-proof drinks alongside liquor is a good way to set up a great party without too many next-day regrets.”

As a couple wrestles with the decision of a dry wedding, this last piece of advice is always good to keep in mind:

In the end, it’s your love story, so you get to decide what you want at the wedding. You might be surprised at how much fun people will have at a dry wedding—after all, they are there to celebrate your marriage.

 

Quester’s series “Assume and Doom,” presents some prevalent assumptions, then brings clarity to them using our intuitive and informative ability to dig into social narratives to see what consumers are saying about these issues. So many times, people on all levels within a company hear about trends and buzzwords or read one article about a topic and make assumptions based on limited information. They then sometimes make knee-jerk decisions that do not help their business. We’re here to bring clarity to current issues so companies don’t fall prey to the “Assume and Doom.”

While most social listening/analytics quantifies large ideas and metrics, Quester social narratives go underneath the numbers to explain consumer behaviors, emotions, and motivations.  We focus on the deep “why,” offering insight into implications, directions, and whitespaces. Because all consumer decisions are influenced by narratives—what they hear, read, watch, and discuss; social listening or analytics may not fully explain, analyze, or break down how these narratives affect consumer behavior.

While sometimes these assumptions will be an easy “true” or “false,” in most cases, as is common with human behavior, we’re predicting there will be a lot of nuances. Issues like these generally are not black-and-white.

The quotes you see in these articles are pulled from the various social platforms from which we analyzed the narratives and are representative of many thousands of discussions about the themes, not as “one-off” quotes from a qualitative study.

Author

  • As SVP of Strategy, Brett is future-focused by offering clients consulting about Brand and Innovation Strategy, always focused on building muscular brands and organic growth.

    Brett is always quick to drop a movie or TV quote, a historical anecdote, or music lyrics to any situation. He’s happy to give you travel or eating tips to many domestic and global destinations, as well as advice on being a girl dad.

    As a client of Quester for over 10 years before joining the team, Brett’s favorite thing about Quester is our desire to never settle, we’re always looking for better ways to solve problems, and to offer our clients the art and science that tells story behind the story—because human behavior is rarely linear and can’t be explained with data points.


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