You don’t get too many chances in life to take advantage of a truly open bar, one where you can order pretty much anything and know that it will cost you nothing more than a tip for the bartender at the end of the night. There’s your office holiday party, maybe; art openings and cultural events if you run in those circles; a party at a rich person’s house if you run in those circles; and, of course, wedding receptions. You have probably been invited to at least a couple of weddings this summer. Lucky you! Weddings are beautiful celebrations! But be careful: Profound and unlimited access to celebratory booze can drive people a little nutty, which is why we end up with train-wreck best man speeches and uncles doing that weird crouching-jumping Russian dance.
Unlike some potentially perilous drinking situations, the wedding reception does not discriminate by age: A 21-year-old second cousin is just as likely to go overboard as the 65-year-old aunt who wants to cut loose for the night. (In fact, Jack-and-gingers might very well be the one drink that does both these people in.) But acceptable drink quotas aren’t mandated by your relationship to the couple outside of the wedding; they are mandated by your role in the wedding.
It’s no mistake that The Godfather opens with a wedding: Wedding parties are organized like mafia families, concentric circles of lessening importance surrounding Marlon Brando the bride and groom. The further out you are, the less influence you have on the day’s outcome. It’s not big news when your cousin hits on the groom’s best friend from fourth grade; but when the married maid of honor does it, everyone is aghast. To help guide you through this summer wedding season, the drink training and performance team here at Sloshed has worked out drinking plans for every role at the wedding.
Where do you fall?Illustration: Jen Cotton
First, three ground rules that apply to all people, at all weddings:
• The bride and groom, as well as their parents, can drink as much as they want. As the saying goes: It’s their party, they can do the crouching Russian dance if they want to.
• As a guest, you never want to be that person who ruins the big day. Regardless of your role, you will really mess things up if you punch someone on the dancefloor or try to sleep with the groom. Be buzzed, not belligerent.
• If there is a cash bar, you’re on your own. Any couple that makes people pay for drinks at their wedding deserves whatever they get.
With that in mind, let’s get to it. Every wedding has essentially the same structure, no matter how many anarchist stickers the bride and groom have on their laptops: Rehearsal dinner, getting-ready rituals on the day of the wedding, the ceremony, and the reception.
This schedule is your playing field. Here’s how to play it.
The Wedding Party
If you’re in the wedding party, you must have fun and remain central to the celebration while being highly visible to everyone — dicey territory if ever there was some. Your mandates are pacing, hydration, and grabbing rest whenever it’s available.
Rehearsal Dinner: Two or three glasses of Champagne — you want to be social; you don’t want to end your night doing shots at the local dive bar.
Getting Ready: One glass of Champagne, if the bride or groom offers a toast. You may be tempted to sneak a flask here; resist that temptation and sneak some B12 vitamins instead. Everyone will be better for it.
Ceremony: This should be obvious, but I have heard stories of groomsmen taking swigs before they escort someone down the aisle. Bad idea. Remember, you are very visible and also probably wearing nice clothes.
Reception: Open up the throttle a little here: people expect shoeless bridesmaids and headband-tie wearing groomsmen on the dance floor. Gin-and-tonics are a good wedding drink — slightly hydrating and the sugar in the tonic gives you the energy you need to represent during “Bust a Move.” Have some wine with the food and try to stick to a one-drink-per-hour pace. (Do what you can to avoid shots.)
So, your little brother (or whoever) is the groom, but you’re not actually in the wedding. Unless you have some deep-seated feud with your family, you’re close enough to the couple that you may as well be in the wedding itself.
Rehearsal Dinner: Stick to wine with dinner; buy the bride or groom one drink of the good stuff when the opportunity presents itself at the end of the night.
Getting Ready: Stay dry.
Reception: You’ll be seeing a good deal of your parents tonight. Drink what it takes to let them know they raised someone who can have fun, but don’t give the family a bad name. Ask your mom or dad to dance at some point; they’ll get a kick out of it.
Close Friend of the Couple
This is the best person to be at a wedding: You know the couple, and your other friends are at the wedding, but you probably don’t know the family too well, if at all. As long as you don’t get in the way of the wedding, there’s no reason the nuptials should obstruct your goals of having a good time with your other friends, or meeting that hot cousin who keeps looking your way.
Rehearsal Dinner: Wine at the dinner, two nice cocktails when you meet people at the bar later. Keep your drinking mellow and your conversation focused.
Getting Ready: Fill your flask with better-than-average hooch and sip, slowly.
Ceremony: Put the flask away. Drinking during the actual ceremony probably means you should skip the reception and head to Betty Ford instead.
Reception: Line up shots of tequila with your friends at the bar, toast to their health and your friendship, and shoot ‘em back. Invite the hot cousin to join and do another round in honor of the bride and groom. Then: beer, wine, and dancing for the rest of the night.
This spot is sort of the exact opposite of close friends; you know all the family members present (even if you haven’t seen them in ten years), but you don’t recognize anyone else. This dynamic makes twentysomething family members want to prove they aren’t as awkward as they were when they were 12, and it makes fortysomething members want to prove to the twentysomethings that they don’t have a monopoly on all the fun. So: Both groups should drink what a thirtysomething would.
Rehearsal Dinner: Show your class by ordering a martini, straight, with a twist. Stick to that and a glass of wine — you don’t want to overplay your hand.
Getting Ready: Nothing. You will be kissing your grandma’s cheek today; she doesn’t need to smell your bourbon breath. Unless of course your grandma offered you that bourbon. Come to think of it, just drink whatever she drinks.
Reception: Drink whatever it takes to ensure that you will enjoy watching your own parents hit the dance floor, but stay sober enough to know that you shouldn’t join them. This probably means a cocktail or two and a couple glasses of Champagne.
Childhood Friend or Acquaintance
Wow, you really showed up. What a … pleasant … surprise? Okay, you were probably only invited so you’d send a gift, but a long-unseen childhood friend can often be the hero of the wedding: You bring a new element to the mix, but aren’t a complete stranger.
All events: Don’t ruin the potential to impress by becoming sloppy. Drink the same thing, over the course of the whole wedding (except, naturally, the ceremony). Old-fashioneds are a good bet, provided you don’t have to supply your own bitters. Carry a glass of whatever it is with you at all times, but don’t actually drink too much from it.
Guest of the Above/Miscellany
Every wedding has its strangers, the people who don’t really belong there, but are there for one reason or another. Enjoy the merriment, but keep it in check. In fact, spend most of your time asking other people if you can get a drink for them and you’ll quickly make yourself welcome.
As always, your own results may vary — some weddings are super casual, designed for debauchery; at others, the bride sings a Christina Aguilera song while walking down the aisle. The point is it’s their day, not yours. Have as much fun as you can, but not so much that anyone will be forced to focus on you instead of the couple. Except maybe that hot cousin.
Matthew Latkiewicz writes about drinking and other subjects at You Will Not Believe. His work has appeared in McSweeney’s, Wired, Time.com, Boing Boing, and Gastronomica. Follow him on Twitter.
Earlier: How to Make the Perfect Summer Drink Out of Anything