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Eating, Without Drinking Alcohol, in Restaurants

Tools to Stay Sober Around Alcohol

Photo by Taylor Davidson on Unsplash

Sit down in a restaurant and you may be given a Wine List along with a food menu.

And, on the food menu, there may be a list of special cocktails.

There may be a bar. In an upscale place, we may see waiters present and open wine bottles and do the little pour for the taste test. Accepted, glasses will be skillfully half-filled, and a stand with a bucket of ice will accompany white wine or champagne.

Eating in other places we may see a server carrying a tray of freshly poured beers. Or a tray of frozen drinks like daiquiris, so cheerful looking with fruit on the glass and little umbrellas.

A nearby table may all raise glasses in a toast to a celebrant.

Before we enter, we may see a sign for alcohol in the window. Maybe we’ll be offered seats at the bar if there’s a wait for a table.

It’s just business on the part of the restaurant. They’re trying to make money.

But the messages are clear that drinking alcohol is part of the experience of enjoying a meal. Take part! It’s here, and available, and good, and we’d like to tempt you with it in the same way we like to tempt you with ordering desserts!


Often, I find being seated, especially with a group, to be a bit challenging. For me, it may be difficult to focus on the menu with conversations going on, and the server may suddenly appear asking if anyone would like a drink before dinner. And, yes, sometimes drinks are ordered. I don’t live in a sober bubble. I’m in the real world.

When my focus becomes splintered while around alcohol, it can work on my subconscious. Not necessarily that I want to order a drink, but it can create an ill-defined sense of irritation.

Coupled with being confronted by the choices of what to order for the meal, my mind starts to work overtime. And then often come the questions about “what are you getting?”

Just then, the drinks arrive to the table.


Without some tools to stay sober, it can a challenge.

Here are some things I’ve learned:

If there’s a wine glass on the table, I turn it upside down. This signals the server that I won’t be ordering wine. When handed the menus, I immediately return the Wine List. I don’t need, I’m not going to use, and I don’t need to see it.

Another huge help for me is to look at the restaurant menu online before going out. Having a solid idea of what I may have makes it that much easier to relax and focus on the people that I’m with, the ambience, and the anticipation of a good meal.

I’ve found that it’s important to not arrive feeling extremely hungry. The urge to eat can be mistaken for an urge to consume alcohol. And when my stomach is empty for too long, I feel “off.” I’m easily triggered, and that’s the last thing I need in a setting where there is alcohol.

In sobriety, I’ve learned to show up when I make a plan or a commitment. I keep a caveat in mind, however. I know that if I feel in danger of taking a drink, I’ll do whatever I need to do to keep that from happening.

I can count on one hand the number of times that I’ve canceled a plan for that reason, but knowing that I can do that if need be is what gives me confidence that I’ll take proper care of myself.

Going out to eat can bring a lot of expectations that it’s supposed to be special, especially if going to a nice place and spending some money. And for many years, for me, that meant I would imbibe to mark the occasion. Perhaps I’d get a special cocktail to “live it up.”

I don’t metabolize fine wine or top-shelf liquor any better than I do rotgut whiskey or screw-top bottle wine.

And the reality is that it’s just another meal. Another will follow it soon. I hope I like it, and that we have a lovely time. One thing that would guarantee that won’t happen would be if I were to drink alcohol. I know from past experience where that takes me.

A tool I use in my mind is to think of alcohol as gasoline, since they are both deadly for me. One may be slow, the other would surely be quick, but here’s the question: would I drink a glass of gasoline? No? Why? Because it’s poison. For me, alcohol is poison. My body reacts to it as such, requiring ever more poison until it has done its job.

It may look fancy and not come out of a stinky hose at a gas station, but for me it’s the same thing.


Probably the most important consideration for me before going into any establishment that serves alcohol is to be sure that my mind and my heart are in the right place. Am I in any kind of vulnerable spot regarding alcohol? If so, I don’t go near it. But, I do want to participate in life and society with my family and my friends, and I’m grateful to be able to do so.

And, what’s wonderful is that a few simple tools make that possible. It all starts with being honest with myself about my relationship to alcohol at any given moment.

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