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sober socials

How to set up sober socials

The sun is shining and the world is opening up again post-pandemic, and we know that our Club Soda community members have been looking for sober socials to attend over the summer months. At Club Soda, we’re focusing our efforts on some pretty big future plans, so we’re no longer hosting our own sober socials. We have, however, got lots of knowledge and experience in hosting events, festivals, talks, and much more, so we thought we’d share some advice with you if you’re thinking of starting up a group in your local area.

Why set up sober socials?

Setting up a social group can generally be an enriching thing to do, especially if you know that you’re able to help support others. As we know from our amazing Club Soda community, having a support system that helps us to overcome challenges with support and understanding is the key to lasting change. For some, connecting in person is a much more effective way to feel like a part of the tribe.

We know of many events in and around the London area. If you’re in a more rural area, however, you might not have the same opportunities to engage with other people who are in the same headspace as you. Setting up sober socials could be a great way to get people together who might be more scattered and don’t usually have a communal place to congregate. Having sober socials to attend could be the focal point as far as connection and geographic location to share personal experiences and meet like-minded people.

The most important reason to set up events that people can attend without worrying about having to partake in alcohol is just that: taking away the anxiety around socialising with alcohol. As we know, there are many people who choose not to drink, many who have cut down or quit drinking and just aren’t comfortable around alcohol. It’s important to keep socialising if you’ve changed your drinking habits as human connection is a source of joy, happiness, and energy for all humans. Socialising sober is important to learn from others’ experiences, test your triggers, and build confidence in your alcohol-free habits.

How to get started

Firstly, good planning and forethought cannot be underestimated. Sober socials can be a lot of effort, so it’s important to plan out ideas, think through potential hiccups, and be prepared for all the eventualities. That’s not to say it’s too much effort – creating an environment where you and your peers can feel safe and understood, all while having a really good time, is priceless. It is important to think carefully about what it is you’re aiming to achieve so that when it comes to the event itself, you can relax and enjoy it as much as everyone else.

Here are a few things to consider when you’re starting out:

  • How much time will planning your sober social take? Doing the event or series of events may only take an evening a month, but don’t forget to allocate enough time for all the additional things like marketing, answering questions and emails, contacting venues and so on might take.
  • Do some research to establish whether there’s demand for a group such as this in your immediate vicinity. Do you need to expand your geographic area or change locations to a larger community where you’ll get more interaction?
  • Can you co-host with others? There may be people in your community who are willing to help you set up a sober social. Two heads really can be better than one, especially if they have a skill set that is different from yours and could share some key responsibilities. It’s super useful to have two people running events as one can be the host with the most while the other can be checking that more vulnerable people are doing ok.

Hosting your sober socials

Finding a venue for your event will need some thought. A boozy pub is not a good choice, and while outdoor activities are great, you’ll need a backup in case it rains. An exhibition or gallery with a stop at a cafe for cake or afternoon tea avoids the issue of alcohol altogether.

Club Soda team member and Queers Without Beers event organiser Josh Kelly suggests that somewhere that serves food like a restaurant or cafe is a great idea as food can be the focal point, as long as it’s moderately priced and available to all. ‘If you’re hosting your event at a restaurant, choose lunchtime instead of dinner as there will most likely be drinking going on in the evening and this can be super triggering for some attendees’.

It’s great to find a venue where you can explain your objective, get them on board with your ideas, and help to promote the venue as well as the event so that you’re setting yourself up for a great long-term relationship with the venue. It’s also really important to explain to them that this is an alcohol-free group, so please don’t pass around the wine list!

If you are choosing a restaurant for your event, then it’s important that they have a great selection of alcohol-free drinks. We know that not many venues have AF beer on draught, but a fridge full of low and no alcohol options is preferable so that you’re catering to everyone’s tastes. A cafe, restaurant, or bar that is as inclusive as possible, offering gluten-free and vegan options, ensures that you’ve covered all bases and that everyone will feel comfortable and happy.

A few really important things to do – don’t skip this bit!

Hosting a sober social will be great fun, but you’re also bringing together potentially vulnerable people. There are a few important things to consider implementing which will ensure that everyone, including you, has a great time.

It’s important that in all communications you make it clear that this is a dry event. There is nothing more triggering or distressing than someone who reeks of alcohol turning up to a sober event. While it’s important not to demonise that person, you will need to ask them to leave in order to keep the rest of the group safe. This is a worst-case scenario that can be avoided by being very clear about your non-drinking policy.

This could be someone’s first event after giving up drinking, so one organiser needs to be aware of those who may be struggling. It could be helpful to some for an organiser to meet them outside 15 minutes before so that they know someone’s face, know what’s happening next, and have someone to walk into the event with them. Offering to do this in your initial contact with attendees could reassure potential guests.

To make sure you’re being as inclusive of everyone as possible, don’t split the bill. Allow everyone to pay for what they had, as they may have had to make choices according to their budget, and try to leave a tip for the venue.

When creating your event, be clear about when the event begins and also when it ends. It might be difficult for some to attend sober socials and be around other people without drinking. If people are only just coping, don’t let the event drag on beyond their comfort zone. Remember, one hour of socialising in a restaurant or bar without drinking is a huge step and you don’t want to be the reason someone felt discomfort.

On this note, it’s helpful to be the person who leaves last. Often, people will have questions, or will feel like you’re their cue to do things. Being there until the last person leaves means that you’ve taken responsibility for your event, and know that everyone left feeling safe and happy.

It’s vital to remember that, while this is a supportive, friendly group, this is not self-help. Don’t give advice unless solicited, as you’re not an alcohol counsellor and you’re not responsible for people once they’ve left the event. Trying to ‘fix’ others’ problems can make the whole event overwhelming and take away the fun for you and for everyone else. Remember, you’re a member of the group – make sure it’s a good thing for you, too!

Last minute checks before your event

In the fortnight leading up to your event, you might want to tick these off your sober social planning list, for good practice:

  • liaise with the venue to make sure they know you’re coming, know how many attendees to cater for, pre-order food choices, and ask that they stock the fridge with lots of lovely AF options. Don’t be shy to ask them to brief their staff that this is an alcohol-free event – better to be confident than have to deal with a triggered guest.
  • make sure the space where you’re holding your event is appropriate for your group. For example, if the table booked is next to the bar, perhaps ask to be moved? Also if the space is too big it can make the event feel sterile, whereas if it’s too small, you might be encroaching on people’s personal space!
  • send a confirmation email to everyone attending so that they’re clear on where, when, and how this event will take place. Confirm food orders if this is applicable, and make sure your contact details, or those of a greeter, are available for anyone who may be vulnerable or showing up alone.
  • It’s useful to note in this email whether the venue serves alcohol or not so that people are forewarned and forearmed. It’s also important to point out at this juncture that this is a dry event, and if you’re drinking, you will be asked to leave.

Tips and tricks for a successful event

Josh Kelly suggests that to keep things from getting quiet, you should try some social cues and engagement activities during your social event.

‘It’s important to have questions you can pose to your peers that aren’t drink-related’ says Josh. ‘People will naturally gravitate towards sharing their drinking habits – whether they’ve cut down or quit, how long they’ve been alcohol-free, etc – but this focuses the group’s attention on alcohol. While this is completely normal as it’s what everyone at the event has in common, you haven’t quit alcohol to talk about alcohol all the time! Find other things that you have in common to build relationships that are about more than booze’.

If you’re a group of organisers who are responsible for the event then allocate one person to be a mingler. Scan the room and look for those who may not be talking and try to engage them. This is especially important if one person is monopolising the conversation – it’s your responsibility to make sure everyone has their chance to talk, share, and engage.

Some tricks you can try are:

  • asking everyone to change seats.
  • asking the group to introduce themselves to the person both to their left then to their right.
  • ask a question to the group and go round collating answers. Josh is an expert at asking questions (and does so often in Club Soda team meetings) but it’s important not to make it feel like a clinical, forced exercise. Be creative with your questions – ask what people’s superpowers would be, ask about dream travel destinations…the less formal, the better!

How to market your sober socials

When it comes to marketing your sober socials, Club Soda is here for it! We love to see people getting together in real-life, and we’re here to help promote your events via our website and social media channels.

Did you know that you can add your event to our Events page on our website? Here, we list all events going on in the Club Soda community, whether our events such as our Wednesday workshops, or events run by our friends and members.

We can also share your events on our Facebook page. But to do this, you need to have set up a Facebook event – this is because of the way Facebook does event sharing.

We’ve created a useful document to help you to upload your sober socials onto our website and Facebook page. If you have any questions or issues, please contact cheers@joinclubsoda.com and one of the team will get back to you.

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