What is the etiquette for not drinking?I
January 16, 2020 3:15 PM   Subscribe

How do I not drink?

After a life of drinking to a moderate to heavy to unhealthy level I am taking some time off, I have never not drank.

Most of my socializing takes place in bars, there is no issue with temptation, currently I do not want to drink at all. My question is about the bars.

How cool is it to sit at a nice cocktail bar with one or more friends while they are ordering drinks and just order ginger ale? Is this not cool? Am I taking up the space of a paying customer?
posted by Twinge to Society & Culture (40 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
It's perfectly fine to drink whatever you want at a bar. You are paying for the ginger ale too.
posted by chavenet at 3:19 PM on January 16, 2020 [49 favorites]

No, you're fine.

Just tip -- honestly, tip like you're drinking. Oftentimes, even (especially?) in nicer places, bartenders will outright comp almost any fizzy mixer out of gun. Tip anyway. I'm not drinking right now in order to kickstart some weight loss and focus on training, but some of my rides (I'm a cyclist) start at bars or breweries. Afterwards, I still hang out with my friends, and it's not at all weird.

Not-drinking is also WAY less weird in 2020 than it was even 10 years ago. You'll be fine.
posted by uberchet at 3:20 PM on January 16, 2020 [55 favorites]

I often do not drink while hanging with friends in a bar. I still buy a round for them and a soda for me and I still tip well. Never had a problem or a second look.
posted by AugustWest at 3:21 PM on January 16, 2020 [8 favorites]

Yeah, just tip. You're not a problem for them. You're the opposite of a problem. You're not going to be asking for some complicated mixed drink they never heard of or for something that has to be laboriously ground up in a blender. You're not going to be spending the evening screaming at the top of your lungs. You're very unlikely to fall over or barf or pass out and have to be hauled out at the end of the night. If on top of all those fantastic qualities you also tip? Please. They are grateful you are there.
posted by Don Pepino at 3:27 PM on January 16, 2020 [25 favorites]

It's absolutely no big deal. What can be a big deal is if you have the sort of friends who are disparaging, even in a joking way, about your not drinking. But that's a good way to learn which friends are worth keeping.
posted by pipeski at 3:30 PM on January 16, 2020 [9 favorites]

Your body, your drink choices. Today it's a soft drink or water. Nobody else's business why.
You really, really don't have to drink alcohol at a bar.
posted by TrishaU at 3:31 PM on January 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

It's fine -- consider how many groups have a designated driver, for instance.
(There are plenty of non-alcoholic cocktails, if you'd still like a complicated-looking beverage.)
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:32 PM on January 16, 2020 [9 favorites]

Agree with what everyone else has said, and I'd also just note that non-alcoholic cocktails, including at fancy, "craft" cocktail bars, are very much growing in popularity now. (There are even places devoted solely to "zero ABV" cocktails!) So you may have options these days that range well beyond ginger ale.

I'd further add that many bartenders themselves do not drink (you can read more about that phenomenon here), so they'll certainly be very understanding of customers who do not.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 3:33 PM on January 16, 2020 [12 favorites]

It's all fine as others have stated.

One drink I like to order when not drinking is Tonic and Bitters. Basically tonic water with 2 - 4 drops of Angostura or Orange bitters. Simple. Any bar in the world can make it.
posted by dobbs at 3:34 PM on January 16, 2020 [9 favorites]

When I went out and ordered soft drinks, I rarely had to pay. They always just assumed I was the designated driver. Not a big deal at all.
posted by Fukiyama at 3:37 PM on January 16, 2020 [5 favorites]

if your friends are more concerned with the contents of your glass than your company they're not really your friends.
posted by brujita at 3:45 PM on January 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

You're fine, just tip
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 3:47 PM on January 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

There are times I go to bars with friends, but just don’t feel the love for alcohol, so I just get whatever sounds good...tonic water, club soda, cola, whatever. No biggie. No pressure. Fun is had by all. The upside, too, is the refills are usually gratis.

And, yeah, tip.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:50 PM on January 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

Increasingly often, nice cocktail bars will offer nice non-alcoholic cocktails. If they have a craft cocktail list, do look it over and see if they have any non-alcoholic options listed. They'll be more expensive than a soda and less expensive than alcohol and if you order them by name, the rest of your party may not even realize that you haven't just ordered a fancy cocktail.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:01 PM on January 16, 2020 [5 favorites]

I haven't had a drink since the end of November. When I go to a bar, I order club soda, plain or with a splash of pineapple juice. I tip like I'm ordering a beer, and I enjoy my refreshing beverage. No one has said anything to me about my drink choice.
posted by coppermoss at 4:03 PM on January 16, 2020 [4 favorites]

Nthing that it's fine, tip your bartender and ask for whatever you feel like. Mocktails and other zero alcohol (or trivial content) drinks are perfectly fine. Bartenders (at least my friends and those I've known) care more that you're not an asshole, which LOTS of paying customers are.

When I have taken time off drinking I find that it's hardest when I'm at a celebration or something where there are shots or rounds being bought. You have to be real clear about it, for instance that it's a choice and not because times are tight, or people will think they're doing you a favor by surprising you with a drink.

Another thing (though I'm not sure how healthy this is): Not drinking frees up money to buy food. If you were going to have 3 beers at $5 each, that's a nice appetizer to share. Treat yourself to something different rather than just subtracting something from your life.

On that note, I've also started tracking when I skip drinks and "crediting" myself a little anything-I-want money as a sort of incentive to drink less, or at least less automatically. I just use a counter app and up it by a couple bucks when I've made the frugal choice.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 4:05 PM on January 16, 2020 [6 favorites]

I sometimes go out with friends who drink more than I do, and I have learned to get a non-alcoholic something for my second drink rather than trying to keep pace with my pals. I once apologized to a bartender for ordering water, and the bartender was like, no, this is healthy, I get it, it's totally fine.

Also, yeah, tip like you bought a more expensive drink as a courtesy, and you're good.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:06 PM on January 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

I don't drink alcohol, so when I'm at a bar with friends I just have a Coke and tip the bartender as normal. No bartender has ever batted an eyelash.
posted by thomas j wise at 4:06 PM on January 16, 2020 [4 favorites]

I went through this last year and felt anxious about it being weird even while knowing it would not be weird (if that makes sense). In a year’s worth of doing this, only one bartender was a jerk about it (lots of eye rolling). I met a lot of bartenders who wanted to chat about being sober (which wasn’t exactly what I was doing but they were still fun to chat with), a couple volunteered to make me special drinks, and everyone else just acts like it’s normal...because it is. I mostly ordered fizzy water, lemonade if available (sometimes with a couple shakes of bitters, which has slight alcohol), nonalcoholic cocktails (most of which were overly sweet and gross), and tea or coffee in the couple bars that had those (i wish this was more of a thing!)

It was way more awkward dealing with the handful of well-meaning friends who were hyper focused on it (but what will you drink? Did you find something to order? Should I ask the bartender? Are you ok? Are you bored? Wait are you drinking now? What about now? But it’s my birthday! Do you want a sip of my beer?)
posted by sallybrown at 4:13 PM on January 16, 2020 [6 favorites]

bartenders have seen the whole lifecycle
posted by thelonius at 4:30 PM on January 16, 2020 [11 favorites]

A friend of mine goes with us to the bar every week and drinks nothing but water since he can't actually consume anything offered in the bar (food allergies + never liked alcohol anyway). So far nobody there seems bothered by it. I think if you're paying for ginger ale, you're fine.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:33 PM on January 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

The most complicated part of going to bars as a non-drinker is remembering to bring cash with me so I can tip, since most bars don't charge for club soda and even if they do, it takes a lot of club soda to hit a $10 credit card minimum.
posted by Basil Stag Hare at 4:38 PM on January 16, 2020 [6 favorites]

Seconding all the above. I do this all the time. It’s ok, I promise. Tipping is good. The world of nonalcoholic drinks is expanding in exciting ways if you are so inclined. Sometimes I have asked bartenders to create something nonalcoholic for me if the bar isn’t too busy, and they’ve professed to enjoy the challenge.
posted by ferret branca at 4:47 PM on January 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

Seltzer with bitters, or "bits and bubs", is another 0-cal option that looks and tastes like a drink, and is still stupid easy for the bartender. Some bitters have a small amount of alcohol but it's negligible.
posted by condour75 at 4:49 PM on January 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

I do this all the time. Everybody's pretty much covered it already. It's normal, just tip.

I will give you a dollar, though, if you actually say "I'd like a rum and Coke, hold the rum". I always joke about it but never actually follow through.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:23 PM on January 16, 2020

Thanks everyone, back to the bar I go!
posted by Twinge at 5:32 PM on January 16, 2020 [6 favorites]

If the bars serve food: My nondrinking friend sometimes orders snacks for the table and man do we all love her for that! And it gives her a reason to tip.
posted by kapers at 5:46 PM on January 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

A couple of my favorite local breweries/brewpubs do a craft soda of some kind (usually root beer or ginger beer, but there's a local sarsaparilla that's amazing). Obviously ordering that isn't at all weird!

Other bars don't mind if I order something that's a mixer -- ginger beer, or a cranberry juice. It all works out. As a lifelong non-drinker (alcoholism in the family), it took me a while to feel non-awkwardly okay in bars, but I'm okay now. If I can be okay, I'm betting so can you.
posted by humbug at 6:23 PM on January 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

Note for context: there's a dynamic for peer pressure drinking in early college years, but it flips away really suddenly once you get a bit older, then nobody cares.
posted by ovvl at 7:30 PM on January 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

In my bartending days, if someone was with drinking folks and ordered a soda, I never charged them for it and I honestly didn't expect or want a tip. Sounds like the tip aspect is contrary to everyone else's advice, so I'd defer to that, but nthing that it's 100% not weird or awkward.
posted by Pax at 7:31 PM on January 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

I do this all the time, and no one ever says anything. On nights when I feel like just ordering a soda might make me stand out, I'll order an orange juice and seltzer, on cranberry and seltzer. So I'm still having a mixed drink, just not with alcohol.
posted by Mchelly at 8:50 PM on January 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

Nthing bitters and soda. Delicious, feels like a cocktail.

Another favorite on mine is club soda with three limes and 2 cherries (so refreshing and tasty!)

it took a second but hanging out with drinking people and not drinking starts to feel like a super power after a bit. I wish I had known about bits & bubs sooner

posted by wowenthusiast at 9:35 PM on January 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

Like other said it's fine. I'll add the warning that it is really easy to OD on caffeine if your alternate of choice has it. I drink Coke usually and have to remind myself to switch to water after a few hours or I'll be twitchy as hell.

I will give you a dollar, though, if you actually say "I'd like a rum and Coke, hold the rum". I always joke about it but never actually follow through.

The classic virgin Cuba Libre.
posted by Mitheral at 11:35 PM on January 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

Just shrug and say something like, "Yep, it's my turn to be the designated driver tonight!" and then "double club soda..... and keep 'em coming!!" and just tip well and everything will be fine.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 12:56 AM on January 17, 2020

it's not a big deal, tip normally, and don't hesitate to summarily unload any friends who give you a hard time about it more than once as a stupid joke, because IME they will never stop and are not joking.
posted by poffin boffin at 3:57 AM on January 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

This isn’t your problem to solve. And the business owner has decided it’s not enough of a problem to need the obvious solution: a cover charge. You’re good.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 5:00 AM on January 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

I've not stopped drinking, but lately when hanging out at bars I've just been ordering something good to drink, sometimes simple as soda water but if a place has a good bloody mary, guess what, a bloody mary is just as good, arguably better without the vodka. Don't have a drinking problem or anything, it just seems fruitless to drink only enough alcohol to feel a buzz, since for me that buzz is basically just sleepiness and a desire to go home anyway. I do accept anything bought for me, would be rude or slightly unsocial otherwise, but nobody's ever given a shit that I'm not drinking overpriced small quantities of alcohol.
posted by GoblinHoney at 8:17 AM on January 17, 2020

Nthing bitters and club soda as a satisfying nonalcoholic drink to have at a bar.

You'll inevitably have some folks who see that you're not drinking alcohol and just want to talk talk talk* about it with you. Practice shrugging politely.

*I'm a drinker but very occasionally just don't feel like it. I was once interrogated by a person who started out with "designated driver?" and when I said "nah, just don't feel like drinking tonight" moved on to "in recovery?" "pregnant?" "on antibiotics?" "antidepressants?" Uhhh, no...and WTF.
posted by desuetude at 9:29 AM on January 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

Thanks everyone! I went to my usual bar on Friday, asked my usual bartender if it's ok if I'm not drinking for a while, he brought me a water and said "I love you" and then didn't charge me for anything I drank all evening AND didn't charge my partner for her cocktails either. So, I guess it's fine *grin*.
posted by Twinge at 8:39 AM on January 20, 2020 [5 favorites]

Tonic and Bitters

Tonic with a slice of lemon is nice & refreshing too.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 7:54 PM on January 20, 2020

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