When I first decided that alcohol and I might need to break up, I thought I would give moderation a try, as many people do. I would look at my schedule and evaluate which events or parties I would be attending, then decide which ones I would skip the drink. I’ve been an entrepreneur for over 21 years and have owned and operated a coworking shared workspace for over 6 years. Networking over drinks is a major part of building a business. In fact, you could say it’s just part of the job.

Before heading out to an event, I would have good intentions and commit to myself that I was not going to drink. I would be in the right mindset and happy about my decision to not drink. Then I would walk into the event, head to the bar, and ask what alcohol-free options they had. Most times I was met with a “diet coke-coke-sprite-water” answer, sometimes not even water was available. I would immediately feel defeated and my entire resolve would melt away and I would have a “forget about it” moment and instead opt for a glass of red wine. This would happen over and over again.

Eventually, I figured out that my life was worth kicking alcohol to the curb and I got over my apprehension and chose whichever alcohol-free option was available. But these experiences highlighted the issue of what I call alcohol-free accessibility in the workplace. I began to think about what could be done to make it easier for anyone who doesn’t want to drink, for any reason, on any given night. How could businesses, networking groups, and coworking spaces make it easier on their non-drinking employees and guests?

The “Happy Hour” Conundrum Companies Face

For many industries and professions, it’s an expectation of the job that you drink to network, connect with clients, or get the sale. Deals are made in the bar and, if you’re not there, then you could be hurting your chances at getting the business.

Many workspaces have a keg of beer on tap in the break room, Friday happy hours where employees are highly encouraged to attend, a bar cart that makes the round at 4 p.m. on a weeknight, or company successes being celebrated with champagne or shots. Drinking can be an integral part of networking events, team builders, and strategy sessions.

So how do we change this environment to accommodate those of us who are sober?

How do we make the workplace more inclusive of our non-drinking coworkers? If you’re in charge of the community events at your business or coworking space, thoughtfulness around alcohol can go a long way at making your employees and guests feel included in the celebration versus feeling like they were an afterthought.

Why Companies Should Be More Inclusive

It doesn’t take much to make an event more inclusive of those that don’t drink. It can be as simple as having some tasty drink alternatives rather than just soda or water, like flavored sparkling water or fancy juice mixes. There are a ton of great alcohol-free drink options now, including uniquely flavored sparkling waters, juices, kombucha, and zero-proof cocktails, commonly known as mocktails.

Kara Sowles talks about this in her presentation “Alcohol and Inclusivity in Tech” given at Zapproved for their Ally Talks series. She recommends you provide “an equal number and quality of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drink options” at all events and in the workplace and you display them prominently alongside the alcoholic drink options while also mentioning these options in all promotion of the event beforehand.  

Stanford University is leading the way with their Alcohol Policy and Education guidelines where they coined the term Equally Attractive Non-Alcoholic Beverage (EANAB). EANABs are required at all Stanford parties giving non-drinkers thoughtful options. EANABs even have a definition in the Urban Dictionary, which defines EANABs as “an attractive and enjoyable beverage that is on par with the alcoholic beverages being served and may be substituted without the drinker feeling left out of the celebration.”

Besides providing an equal number of attractive alcohol-free drink options, here are some other ideas.

  • Consider doing away with the term “Happy Hour” and renaming those types of events to “Meet & Greets” or simply Networking.
  • Alcohol does not need to be present at every event or activity you host. Lunches, workshops, or even yoga or another exercise class are great alternative team builders.
  • Remember that not all people drink alcohol. Use a one to one ratio when planning events that will have alcohol present and offer one non-alcoholic beverage for every alcoholic option.
  • Put a limit on the amount of alcohol served. Possibly use a drink ticket system. Everyone gets two drink tickets that can be used for an alcoholic or non-alcoholic option.
  • When serving a signature cocktail for an event, create a booze-free option of the same caliber.
  • Prominently promote all alcohol and alcohol-free options ahead of time and at the event, side-by-side so your non-drinking employees and guests will know that they have choices.
  • Have an alcohol use policy for your company or coworking space along with community and event guidelines that address use and safety concerns ahead of time. Communicate and enforce this policy and discourage a binge drinking culture.

Events are meant to build community and network, not get people drunk. Remember: Alcohol doesn’t actually build community, people do. That’s why you shouldn’t be afraid to create just as many events that aren’t focused on alcohol or drinking. Your sober and non-sober employees will both appreciate that.