After I gave up drinking, I didn’t really go to pubs. I met a few friends on occasion and went to the pub, but I didn’t really enjoy it. Sitting there while someone is getting slowly intoxicated isn’t really fun. It’s like (I imagine) sitting with someone who has taken methamphetamine or heroin. Socialising is about a meeting of minds. Taking drugs alter how our minds work. If you are taking a drug with someone then you can probably happily sit there with them as your brains are altered in much the same way, but when one person takes the drug and the other doesn’t, that ‘meeting of minds’ very quickly fades away. It’s incredibly tedious speaking to people who are intoxicated, and even after just a small number of drinks the differences can be seen.
It is also the case that when I stopped drinking (nearly decade ago) there wasn’t much in the way of alcohol-free drinks. Syrupy coke, orange juice from concentrate, or tap water was about the size of it. But in recent years things have changed. Most places have a selection of alcohol-free options, and I’ve been in three places in the last year or so that had alcohol free options on tap. So, I’ve started going in them more and more. Popping in for a drink before football, dropping in for a friend, and even (during problems with London transport) holing up for half an hour with a book just to break up a nightmare journey home from work.
Some people say you shouldn’t visit pubs if you stop drinking. What they say is ‘Go to a barbers enough times and eventually you’ll get a haircut’. I don’t go to the barber at all unless I want a haircut. It used to be that I used to go to pubs to drink alcohol. Now I go to pubs to be somewhere quiet and relaxing for a few moments, where I can have something nice and cool to drink. The key is that it all depends what you are going in there for. That is why I tend to avoid pubs in the evening when they busy up, I don’t like being places that are busy and noisy.
But pubs, bars and restaurants are all subject to human error. Since I have started drinking alcohol free beers when I am out, I have been accidentally served alcoholic on more than one occasion.
One time I was talking to someone and trying to order a drink at the same time. I asked the bar staff what alcohol free what alcohol-free drinks they had and she was rattling off a list and I agreed to something without really listening. I was drinking it tasted odd, and when I looked it was 2% (I think she must have told me what alcohol-free options they had, then started on the low alcohol). So that one was down to me.
Another time I was in a restaurant and I very specifically ordered a bottle of alcohol-free beer, and when I up I looked at the label purely because it was an unusual label, and saw it was 4.7%. So that was totally on them.
The fact is that human error happens, and if you’re are going out regularly (or even occasionally) then you can expect to end up with an alcoholic drink in your hand on occasion. It’s simple maths.
So, what can you do about this?
I have a simple set of Stand Operating Procedures (SOPs) I now go through when order alcohol free drinks in a pub or restaurant:
- Pay attention when you order. Pubs and restaurants can be noisy and chaotic. Make sure you can hear and be heard.
- If you order a bottle, always check the label.
- If you are ordering an alcohol-free beer on tap, make sure you watch them pull it from the right tap.
- Use your sense of taste. When you stop drinking the taste of alcohol quickly becomes very noticeable (and quite foul) so you’ll often taste the difference. But when a drink is very cold, if you are somewhere busy with people talking to you and lots going on, if you gulp it, it can be possible to miss it. So, when you first drink it, do so very consciously, and let the drink warm up in your mouth before you swallow it.
- If you have any concerns just stick to traditional soft drinks! I like alcohol free beer but most of the time I’m just as happy with a sparkling water.
Follow these 5 steps and you should be fine, particularly given that mistakes are rare in the first place.