Event Managers Need to Pay Attention to the Sober-Curious Movement

Is 2020 the year your events go alcohol-light? Here’s what event professionals should know about sober events.

What is sober-curious?

The sober-curious movement is growing. People who are sober-curious explore an alcohol-free lifestyle or practice “mindful drinking” to prioritize health and maintain more control of their life. This parallels Dry January, where participants commit to avoiding alcohol for a month (and they’re in good company: Up to 23% of Americans planned to participate in 2019). As of 2018, 70% of US adults said that they drank in the past year, with 55% reporting alcohol use in the past month. This leaves a large – and growing – portion of the population who lives a dry lifestyle.

Driven by younger generations (especially Gen Z), consumer alcohol use is declining for a variety of reasons. Generational perceptions of alcohol use are shifting, and more people are bucking the mainstream when choosing how to fuel their social endeavors. In response, alcohol-free drink options are expanding and bars that serve elaborate mocktails are springing up across the country. (For the record, the kind of sobriety we’re talking about here is avoiding alcohol specifically, not cannabis or other substances, which are a whole different conversation.)

What does this mean for the event industry?

Alcohol has long been a common ingredient in events – when was the last time you went to a sales kick-off, celebratory product launch, or networking session that didn’t include free-flowing booze? The sober-curious movement is an indication of a larger shift in society. These cultural changes include two prominent priorities that you should already be including in your event plans: wellness and inclusion. 

In addition to the growing alcohol-free population, event attendees prioritize their health now more than ever before. The wellness movement is already huge ($4 trillion huge), and we’re seeing healthy initiatives that include everything from mid-event fun runs to plant-based catering menus. The sober-curious lifestyle is deeply rooted in the desire to stay healthy, so we expect to see increasing attendee demand for healthier drink options. 

Inclusion is another major consideration that significantly intersects with the alcohol-free movement. Simply put, you should make sure that every attendee feels welcome at your events. There are entire populations who can’t drink or choose not to drink: anyone under 21, pregnant or nursing women, people taking certain medications, practitioners of some religions, and individuals living with illness, to name just a few. And though the sober-curious movement is gaining steam right now, you should remember there are many people for whom the mere presence of alcohol is a no-go. Re-evaluating your event’s drinking policy should be a regular practice in the event planning cycle, especially when considering attendee satisfaction. 

But wait – there are more benefits. Avoiding alcohol could save your program thousands of dollars in liquor licenses and permits alone, not to mention extra costs around security and monitors, waitstaff and bartenders, and shuttles or rideshares for tipsy guests.

Are you saying I shouldn’t have alcohol at my events?

In a word, no! You should, however, be aware of the growing sober-curious movement, factor in the already-vital wellness and inclusion initiatives, and draw your own conclusions based on what makes sense for your brand, the audience, and the specific event. 

One easy way to adjust to this sober-curious trend in events is to offer more zero-proof and low-alcohol drink options and make them as exciting and flavorful as the other beverages. You could give attendees the choice between an alcohol-free offsite event and a similar one at a bar, or consider holding traditionally booze-focused networking events earlier in the day when heavy drinking is less likely so it’s easier for sober attendees to make social connections. You don’t have to go completely alcohol-free – instead, focus on making sure nondrinkers aren’t missing out on the fun.

Curious what else we think event professionals should pay attention to? Check out our thought leadership posts!

Image Credit: La Croix Instagram

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