There aren’t many scenarios in your life when you will encounter a true open bar—your office holiday party maybe, some art and culture events if you run in those circles, a party at Kanye West’s house—which is what makes weddings so damn awesome. Not only are open bars the norm for weddings, but cash bars are actually looked down upon and tend to cause complaining (at least in the online wedding forums where I hang out). An open bar has its downsides, of course. Like college kids at their first frat party, people can be driven a little crazy by the sheer and profound access to booze, which is why we end up with train-wreck best man speeches and uncles doing that weird crouching/jumping Russian dance.
Weddings are organized like Mafia families—it is no mistake that The Godfather opens with a f’ing wedding—with concentric circles of lessening importance around the bride and groom (and Marlon Brando). The farther out you are, the less influence you have on the outcome, and thus the more potentially drunk and selfish you can be. It’s not big news when your cousin hits on your friend from fourth grade; but when the maid of honor does it, it won’t escape notice.
Of course, you never want to cross the line from drunk to special-day-ruiner. Anyone can fuck up a wedding by punching someone out on the dance floor or trying to sleep with the groom.
Every wedding has essentially the same structure, no matter how many anarchist stickers the bride and/or groom have on their laptop:
- Rehearsal dinner the night before
- Getting-ready rituals for the wedding party
This schedule is your playing field. Here’s how to play it, based on your role.
Since folks in the wedding party participate in every wedding event—including perhaps gathering bachelor and/or stag ideas, planning a bachelor or bachelorette party—the strategy here is pacing, hydration, and grabbing rest when you can. Unlike other wedding jobs, being a member of the WP means you are central to the celebration. You must both have fun and be highly visible during fun—dicey territory, if ever there were any.
Overall strategy: Stick to drinks that convey celebration, and avoid drinking when unnecessary (like after the rehearsal dinner back at your hotel or whatever).
Rehearsal dinner: Two or three glasses of champagne—enough to give you confidence and be social, but not enough to make shots at the local dive bar seem like a good idea.
Getting-ready rituals: One glass of champagne if the bride or groom offers a toast. Otherwise, leave your flask at home and drink coffee, water, and power-chew some good-old B12.
Ceremony/vows: Should be obvious, but don’t try and sneak anything while standing beside the bride and groom. I have heard stories of groomsmen taking swigs before they escort someone down the aisle. Bad idea. Remember, you are visible (and likely being recorded) and wearing nice clothes.
Reception: Home stretch! You can open up the throttle a little here: People expect shoeless bridesmaids and headband-tie-wearing groomsmen on the dance floor. I find gin and tonics to be a good wedding drink—slightly hydrating, and the sugar in the tonic will give you the energy you need to represent during “Bust a Move.” Have one glass of wine with dinner and then switch to G&Ts. Pace it about one an hour. And do I need to say it? Match each drink with a glass of water or two. Again, do whatever it takes to avoid shots. Please.
Oddly, the familial roles are switched at weddings: The younger generation wants to show everyone that they are no longer the awkward kids everyone remembers from weddings past; the older generation, on the other hand, wants to show the kids that they don’t have a monopoly on fun. The basic strategies: If you are under forty, you drink less; if you are over forty, you get to drink more.
Rehearsal dinner: If you are a younger member of the extended family, come out strong here with your “I’m an adult” move. If cocktails are available, go for a gin martini straight up with a twist. Don’t order anything with a straw, for god’s sake. But stick to that and one glass of wine—you don’t want to overplay your hand. If you are in the older generation, stick to two glasses of wine or beer—you aren’t as young as you used to be, and you need all the energy you have for that Russian crouch dance you love bringing out.
Preceremony and ceremony: Nothing—you are gonna have to kiss grandma’s cheek, and you don’t want to be smelling like bourbon. And grandma—people are gonna be kissing your cheek, so you don’t want to be smelling like bourbon eith— . . . Actually, scratch that. Grandma gets at least two fingers of Scotch before the ceremony.
Reception: Seeing your family members on the dance floor is one of the great joys and necessary horrors of life. The drinking strategy for extended family ensures that it happens. Younger generation: Shadow the wedding party and drink gin and tonics with them—THROW OUT THE STRAW, and keep your eye out for college friends trying to hit on you. Older generation: Do shots with the college friends, and then switch to white wine and water. If you are the Marlon Brando of your family and need to hold court somewhere quiet, then you drink super-expensive Scotch, obviously.
Reprinted with permission from You Suck at Drinking © 2015 Matthew Latkiewicz, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. You can purchase You Suck at Drinking at your local bookstore, or purchase through our affiliate links with Amazon and IndieBound.
Matthew Latkiewicz is a monthly columnist for New York Magazine’s Grub Street, where his articles are among the site’s most read, commented upon, and shared. He has also written a wine column for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, called “Stained Teeth,” and created the entertainment site, You Will Not Believe. Through this website, he currently hosts the popular podcast “Not About Wine.”