Let's talk about alcohol at tech events - Technical.ly Philly

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May 2, 2016 10:13 am

Let’s talk about alcohol at tech events

Promoting alcohol consumption at your event is an inclusivity issue, argues Victor Yocco. Here are some tips for avoiding common pitfalls.

PhillyCHI held its first "BY-No," where attendees gathered over food instead of alcohol.

(Photo via Twitter)

“Free beer!” “Open bar!” “Come to happy hour!”

Tech meetups and events have a tendency to promote the availability and use of alcohol. This can be a large barrier to entry for those choosing to stay sober. Many people aren’t comfortable with the thought of attending an event where drinking alcohol is the norm.

I’ve been upfront about my struggle with alcohol use issues while working in our industry. However, reasons for abstaining go well beyond issues with alcohol abuse. Even those who are comfortable with others drinking express concern over having the “Why aren’t you drinking?” spotlight shone on them when they attend an event.

Guess what? It’s none of anyone’s business why. If you aren’t comfortable asking a colleague if they are pregnant, or on anti-psychotic medication, you shouldn’t feel comfortable asking a colleague why they aren’t drinking.

So what can we do?

We want to have events that bring tech people together. Nothing is better than making connections over the shared joy of our experiences working in this field. Here are suggestions event planners and attendees can focus on for creating a more inclusive feel to our events.

1. We can have dry events that are still fun.
  • There is no law stating alcohol must be served in order for people to attend a tech focused social event. PhillyCHI recently broke the mold and held its first BY-No. This was an alcohol-free social event where the organization sprung for dinner instead of drinks for those who attended. People socialized and networked all the same as would have happened if the event were held at a bar.
2. We can have events that don’t focus on alcohol use.
  • I believe alcohol and sober people can coexist. The important part is having a focus to your event that isn’t solely on alcohol. Think: softball leagues, trips to museums, horseback riding, whitewater rafting, game night. Notice that alcohol may be a part of any of these events, however it is not the focal point the way holding an event in a bar makes it.
3. We can explicitly acknowledge attendees might not drink alcohol.
  • There’s no reason to make it a mystery your event is friendly to those choosing to abstain. Here is an inclusive statement that can be added to the description of any event containing alcohol: Not everyone drinks alcohol. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Soft drinks, water and mocktails are available as well. Modify this as needed. The point is that people will see you understand not everyone attending your event is expected to drink alcohol.
4. We can choose to never ask why someone isn’t drinking.
  • It’s impossible to overstate the negative impact of asking people why they aren’t drinking. You remove any pretense of inclusion when someone at your event utters these words.

I hope these suggestions can help create the inclusive environment we all want the Philly tech scene to be.

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Victor Yocco

Victor Yocco is a Philadelphia-based UX researcher, author and speaker. He regularly writes and speaks on the application of psychology to design. His book on the application of psychology to design, Design for the Mind, is set for release in early summer 2016 and available for early access purchase at Manning Publications.

  • Thank you for this post. I try to avoid events with alcohol myself.

    • Thanks for commenting. Do you think there is anything that would make you more likely to attend an event, even if you knew alcohol would be available for some?

      • I try to avoid drunk people as much as I avoid alcohol, but if a friend was going, that would help. If the venue was big enough to allow space for something beyond drinking, that would be awesome. A cash bar but free soft drinks and food is nice. I also have low will power and drinking is bad for my diet and my desire to not have headaches.

  • ItSmellsLikePee

    Thanks. I agree with your suggestions here. Alcohol events get tedious.

    • I agree completely. Tedious is a great word to use when you see an ad for yet another “open bar” event.

  • Even as a drinker, I’ve been concerned about the impression some events leave & the emotional accessibility of some events.. I still want opportunities to drink, but can certainly handle a de-emphasizing.

    • Thanks for commenting on the post. I’m glad you note that de-emphasis doesn’t have to mean no drinking at all. I’m in favor of a solution that can be inclusive to everyone. Your comment highlights that our events can be very off-putting to those who might already feel excluded from a social setting or workplace. That’s exactly what I meant saying our highlighting of alcohol is a barrier to entry for some.

  • julie

    I usually prefer not to drink as alcohol makes me sleepy and I love that this issue is up for discussion. Yes/Agreed, let’s see Philly Tech do more without alcohol.

    • Thanks for commenting. I think it is important to keep in mind alcohol affects us all differently. This highlights the importance of having other non-alcoholic options available at events.

  • Brett Silver

    “We can choose to never ask why someone isn’t drinking.” – this is the key. Why people drink or don’t drink is their business. I would LOVE if this became a social norm not just at tech events but in all social situations.

    • Thanks. I strongly agree. It is all about “norms.” It is difficult to shift norms, but it can be done.

  • oldhead215

    What is the best resource to find out about local tech events?

    • pointweb

      Meetup.com

  • pointweb

    I just want to throw Stir Trek out there. It’s a dev conference held in May at a movie theater. We have sessions all day, and in the late afternoon, instead of retiring to a bar, we all get together and watch the summer blockbuster together. The first year was the Star Trek reboot (thus the name) and this year is the Mavel’s Civil War movie. It’s a GREAT time, and not a drop of alcohol. 1500 tickets sold out in a few days. You can attribute midwestern values, and maybe you’re right, but it is a good sized event with no booze, and it’s a lot of fun. It can happen.

    • Stir Trek sounds like a great event. I don’t see any reason an event without alcohol shouldn’t do well, midwestern values or not!

  • DirtAddsHP

    I dont see why someone would want to drink alcohol at a tech event. Booze is not known for creative thinking, if anything it gives someone liquid courage. And in the tech field, trying to act like you know a tech/protocol/code when you do not ends in disastrous situations.

    Id rather see a group passing a joint in a circle, at the very least the food will taste awesome. Unlike throwing up in the bathroom from one too many drinks.

    • I love the first part of your comment. Alcohol does not fuel creativity. I hear people attributing great accomplishments to alcohol use or abuse, and I really don’t agree.

  • Sherry

    It isn’t just alcohol. If you want to talk inclusive, it’s the food as well. Not being considerate of people’s dietary choices and restrictions alienate rather than promote a sense of well being and engagement. Our community is only as considerate and inclusive as we are.

    • I agree with you. We need to focus on all aspects of an event in order to address inclusion. My message is around alcohol, but I appreciate you bringing up the issue of food. We need to understand and account for diverse diets and dietary needs if we want diverse diverse communities.

  • Thank you all for reading and sharing. I appreciate you helping to take this conversation forward. Alcohol is a major inhibitor to inclusion. As are many other things. I hope to continue writing and speaking on the topic as much as possible.

  • Jana Velíšková

    Event organizers should put as much thought into non-alcoholic options as they do into their craft beer selection. I’d love to see non-alcoholic drinks beyond Coke and Sprite at events like flavored seltzers, craft local sodas, and, like you mentioned, mocktails.

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