Whose idea was it to have an open bar at a lecture?
July 3, 2015 11:13 AM   Subscribe

I was watching a movie where a scene included an academic lecturing on her work. The event was a black tie affair and there was an open bar at the lecture. I suddenly realized that this is common in movies and I've actually been to something like that in real life. Why?

Why do these events have a prominent bar? What's the rationale behind boozing up your audience? Is the bar an incentive to attend an otherwise dull presentation? Is a bar standard equipment for every black tie event? Is the presence of the bar an admission that adults need alcohol to function with strangers? If an open bar is included because it always has been, who started that tradition?
posted by Monochrome to Society & Culture (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Museums, cultural institutions and city clubs have evening lecture and reading series with bars because by convention anything that happens after 5 pm in civilized locales has booze with it. Definitely a thing.

But more a weekday night after work thing more than black tie and cocktail gowns on Saturday, and a popularizing thing rather than scholarly. Nobody is presenting their important new results to colleagues; that's done at 11 am in a college lecture hall or hotel ballroom in a conference.
posted by MattD at 11:32 AM on July 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


A bar is absolutely mandatory at a black tie event. An academic lecturing at one (instead of in a separate event beforehand) is much more of an oddity.
posted by MsMolly at 11:33 AM on July 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


I'm not sure I'm following the question, because it seems like the answer is probably that "adults on average, and definitely academics, like to drink". Are you asking why people like to drink? Why special events often have alcohol (presumably not just a question about lectures)? Or why free alcohol incentivizes attendance (it very obviously does)? The alternatives would be (ii) cash bar, (iii) no bar. (iii) is pretty standard at normal academic conference keynotes, but surely one factor is that an open bar is expensive, and any conference that can afford it has something like an open bar at the conference party. I'd guess there's also class signifiers behind the expense of an open bar vs cash bar (just as with, e.g., weddings). I'm faculty at a relatively prestigious private school and nearly every faculty-oriented event of this kind, as well as things like the semesterly arts & sciences faculty meeting, regardless of attire, has free beer/wine (a full open bar is rare I'd say, but I don't go to donor-oriented events). Public schools tend not to be able to do this stuff, either because of expense or more restrictive laws.
posted by advil at 11:34 AM on July 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


Is the bar an incentive to attend an otherwise dull presentation? Yes.

Is a bar standard equipment for every black tie event? Yes.

Is the presence of the bar an admission that adults need alcohol to function with strangers? Yes.
posted by betweenthebars at 11:43 AM on July 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


I've been to a number of events like this. Often the recipient of a major award is asked to give a lecture about their work, and there's an accompanying open bar. Often these events are held or sponsored by a professional organization or sponsored by a company. The fanciest attire at such events I've been to have been retirement events, and either the retiree or colleagues strongly affected by the retiree's work have given lectures. In all cases the open bar was:
--to contribute to an atmosphere of celebration, goodwill, networking, and/or cohesion as members of a unit
--used an incentive to get people to attend
--an advertisement of either the organization or a company
--a proxy for the "power" or influence of the organization or company (i.e. a way to make people feel good they belonged to the organization)
--a way to loosen up people so that they donate (more) money to the organization
posted by barchan at 11:52 AM on July 3, 2015 [11 favorites]


Aside from whatever cultural conclusions you're looking for, I'd argue it's a way for the film production to pay for one location but have two scenes that accomplish different things: a lecture that conveys exposition or implies the character talking is intelligent/knowledgeable, then a bar scene where two or more characters interact after the lecture.

If all the characters left the lecture to go to a real bar to have this scene, then that's a whole other location to scout, rent, move the trucks, setup cameras, arrange the star trailers, and so on. Setup a fake bar in the corner? You just saved the production a hundred thousand dollars.
posted by bluecore at 11:56 AM on July 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


Was she supposed to be getting an award or something like that? It seems odd to have just a lecture with a bar and no reason for a celebration or fund-raising or something related. What was the film?
But, yes, black-tie events have bars and waiters and all that stuff.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:04 PM on July 3, 2015


In all cases the open bar was:
--to contribute to an atmosphere of celebration, goodwill, networking, and/or cohesion as members of a unit
--used an incentive to get people to attend
--an advertisement of either the organization or a company
--a proxy for the "power" or influence of the organization or company (i.e. a way to make people feel good they belonged to the organization)
--a way to loosen up people so that they donate (more) money to the organization


You couldn't ask for a much better summary of the good effects an open bar produces than barchan's here, and the mechanism by which alcohol achieves these highly desirable ends was illuminated in a very unexpected way by a study published earlier this year:
A little injection of the so-called 'love' hormone, oxytocin, can sober up drunken rats, reversing their clumsy alcohol-induced behaviors, scientists report.

In the new study, Michael Bowen of the University of Sydney’s School of Psychology and his colleagues infused oxytocin into the brains of rats. When the team members combined the hormone with an intoxicating dose of alcohol, they noticed the rats didn’t show the lack of coordination typical with that level of alcohol consumption.

"In the rat equivalent of a sobriety test, the rats given alcohol and oxytocin passed with flying colors, while those given alcohol without oxytocin were seriously impaired," said Bowen.
. . .
Oxytocin worked so well that "we can't tell from their behavior that the rats are actually drunk,” Bowen said in a statement. "It's a truly remarkable effect."

The effects of both alcohol and oxytocin originate in the brain. Oxytocin is produced by a structure called the hypothalamus, and then travels to the pituitary gland, which releases it into the bloodstream. But, while still in the brain, it prevents any present alcohol from accessing specific sites that provide fine motor control (so-called delta subunit GABA-A receptors), therefore decreasing alcohol's intoxicating effects, the researchers found.
It's a small step from this to realize that in a potentially demanding social situation, your brain will mobilize its own resources of oxytocin to prevent you from embarrassing yourself, and that this has the side effect of making you more receptive and empathetic.

In short, an open bar makes them love you.
posted by jamjam at 12:45 PM on July 3, 2015 [11 favorites]


I like going to lectures, especially ones where I can enjoy a glass of wine while I listen - it's an interesting evening out. I have been to numerous special events featuring a lecture or lecture series, at which bar service was available. These weren't black tie/open bar, but I can presume that this sort of educational entertainment appeals to a wide spectrum of intelligent people, including those that run in more affluent circles.

Your question being specific to lectures is a bit odd and judgemental about consuming booze. Art exhibit openings often involve a bar. Weddings more often than not involve a bar. Going out on a date often involves going for a drink. Watching sporting events often involves drinking. Any of these events can be and are enjoyed without drinking if a person chooses. Some may use it as a crutch to loosen themselves up, true. But many people simply like to have a drink now and then, and it is customary to consume them in adult social gatherings. Drinking is considered an additional attraction to attend in any adult gathering.
posted by lizbunny at 5:54 PM on July 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


I am an academic who gives public lectures fairly often. If I'm giving a nighttime talk on a university campus, there's usually no bar. Ditto if it's at a bookstore. But if it's at a non-academic lecture venue, there often is one; if people have paid to see the lecture, there usually is one.

From the speaker's point of view, I can say that it's always better if there's a bar. People are in a more festive mood. They're more willing to go where you want to take them with the lecture. They laugh more at your jokes.
posted by escabeche at 6:56 PM on July 3, 2015


I put on these events. A bar is highly recommended for public events, and absolutely necessary for fundraising events. It's not about getting people drunk; the presence of a bar, even if you don't drink, sends the message 'we're here to be social and have a good time, even while learning something. We want you to relax and be comfortable. You're not on the clock. Sit back and enjoy. Linger a while, and talk to people you don't know before and after the event. We want you to like it here and come back here again.'
posted by Miko at 12:30 PM on July 4, 2015


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