Does alcohol have a place at Web events?

I read a recent post by Ryan Funduk that raises the issue surrounding drinking culture at events. I’m in two minds about this; on one hand I don’t see the problem, but on the other I remember the countless times that after-parties and evening events have done my head in.

I read a recent post by Ryan Funduk that raises the issue surrounding drinking culture at events. I’m in two minds about this; on one hand I don’t see the problem, but on the other I remember the countless times that after-parties and evening events have done my head in.

Disclaimer: A member of my family is an alcoholic and because of this I didn’t start drinking until I was 19 (that’s pretty late in the UK) as I saw what alcohol could do to someone. I spent my entire teenage life going through the “OMG WHY U NO DRINK?!” stuff and yes it’s hard, but (the right) people ultimately respect it. In the end I realised that the problem isn’t the act of drinking, it’s the reasons why and the ways how people do it.

I’m not going to write an essay but here is a small dump of my thoughts about the whole thing:

  • Drinking is part of the culture in many countries
    • People want the option to enjoy a drink over good conversation just as much as they would with a coffee or tea, particularly in Europe
    • We shouldn’t actively decry or deprive a social norm from people, that’s not our place
  • Under 18s in the UK (21 in the US) are unable to attend some events because of alcohol
    • How are we meant to draw in students?
  • Most local events happen in the evening, as do conference after-parties
    • Not many places are open late enough in the evening other than bars and pubs
    • Most drinking occurs normally in the evening, at least in the UK
    • It’s socially acceptable in the UK to head to the pub for a drink after work to relax and chat with co-workers and friends
  • The majority of people at events I’ve been at are not binge drinking
  • The worst event I ever saw for drinking-related badness was when a large company sponsored the bar for an event in Bristol last year
    • The company had NO control over who was buying drinks or how many they could buy
    • At one point the company actually went on the mic and said “We have loads of money left at the bar, go spend it”
    • After that people started buying bottles of champagne
    • One person was so wasted that they deliberately threw a glass of champagne over me for no reason (I wasn’t even talking to them)
      • I’m confident this person would have not been as wasted if the bar wasn’t free and limitless
  • Practically everyone I’ve seen who get’s too wasted at events is male and young (under 25)
    • Also, they are often a student or recent graduate who hasn’t grown out of the “alcohol equals fun” way of life
    • Older (25+) people seem to be much more responsible
  • The problem is that organisers actively fund a free bar, which is obviously going to encourage more drinking
    • Forcing people to pay for drinks always helps them be more responsible
    • If you want to allow free drinks then limit how many people can have them and how many are available in total
    • Letting people earn free drinks is a great way to control this, rather than just giving them out at the beginning
  • Some organisers feel that people won’t attend unless there is alcohol
    • Even worse, they feel that less people will attend if that alcohol isn’t free (or at least some of it)
  • I’ve never had a problem at events because I don’t want to drink
    • I rarely drink while in the US as I don’t like beer and I’m not massively keen on wine either
    • Ordering a water or fruit juice has rarely resulted in an “OMG Y U NO DRINK?!” response
    • When it has, that isn’t the kind of person that I would normally socialise with anyway
    • In fact, the only time you often get a bad response is when a guy orders a cocktail or wine instead of a presumably masculine beer
  • Drink isn’t the main problem for me, loud music and bad layout of the after-party venue are
    • I’d rather talk to a drunk person and hope they remember 1% of the conversation than lose my voice trying to shout over the top of music that would be better placed in a nightclub
    • Also, small rooms and low ceilings are horrible even without the music
  • Case in point, some friends and I took over a local meet-up for 1 event and it was one of, if not the most popular one to date (150+ attendees, for a smallish town)
    • We deliberately made the decision to have music but for it to be lyric-less background music that was only audible if the room was silent
    • We chose a venue with a bar but we barely put any money behind it and you had to use tokens (that we controlled) to earn a free drink
    • One person got wasted and fell down a step but they had only used one of our free drink tokens (they were ok)

Because of all this I actually came up with the idea of HTeaML with Kat Thompson, a series of tea and coffee-based events that focus on good conversation and a bit of fun at the same time. All without the alcohol. Now, it doesn’t stop people going for a drink later but it certain makes a stance that alcohol doesn’t have to be a part of all Web events.

I’m thinking of trialling this locally with a few tea shops. You can find out more on my blog post about the event.

So there are a few things we can actively do to help here:

  • Stop giving money to events that are using it to pay for a completely free and open bar (surely money should be doing something more useful anyway)
  • Actively scope out and support events that aren't hosted in bars and pubs and therefore can draw in a younger crowd
  • Offer organisers alternative ways of attracting attendees other than alcohol
  • Tell people to turn the friggin’ music down. It’s not a nightclub!

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