A story about the limited drink choices in high end restaurants for non-drinkers and my first foray into challenging the status-quo.
It was my first weekend away with my drinking buddies since I'd quit the booze. I was 8 weeks alcohol free and I had no idea how I was going to fare. We had restaurants booked, we were sharing an apartment, and all the memories of past (mostly) un-memorable catch ups, booze sodden weekends and wild nights played havoc on my resolve. I knew I couldn't cave, but I needed a plan, a strategy, to keep me on track.
There is divided opinion on the merits of alcohol-free alternatives. Some feel it could simply be a segue way back to the real thing, however I can confidently attest that for me, and many others, that is not the case. I love my alcohol free ( AF) adult alternatives. So much so in fact that I have created my alter ego @sober_sommelier where I recommend a variety of them to my followers. I love drinking Champagne, Red Wine or Gin, and most of all, I love that I don't get the buzz, the fog or the next day blues. So, armed with my case of AF Champers I met my friends with minimal trepidation, I was ready to have some real, present, AF fun!
On our first day we had booked a fancy restaurant ( Ricky's in Noosa). My first real test. I called ahead to check I could BYO my AF Champagne.
We paraded into the waterfront restaurant, my two friends and I, shiny and gleaming from a morning swim and sun, me coffee high and the girls giggly on a few pre-lunch champagnes. But despite my bravado on the phone earlier, when I had requested to BYO my non-alcoholic wine, I felt self-conscious as we walked in. The person who had answered my call that morning had told me it was not possible for me to BYO, because they stocked alcohol-free drinks (aka water, coke, sprite). I was told if my wine was considered a 'rare' wine then I could bring it, but alcohol-free? That was a flat no ( although I clarified that they didn't stock that either!?). Turns out you can take alcoholic wine as a BYO but not non-alcoholic wine. It didn't make any sense.
So where from here I asked? I didn't want to cancel and disappoint my friends but I also felt it was unfair, narrow-minded and excluding. So, as a last resort, I pulled the big guns. "I'm an alcoholic' I stated boldly, " And I want to enjoy my expensive lunch at your restaurant with my non-alcoholic wine, surely there is something you can do to help me"?
Yes, I dropped the A bomb, it just slipped out really, because I'm still not entirely sure about labels, but regardless, it worked! After a brief silence my adversary swapped his tone of frustration to one more conciliatory, "Well, perhaps we can get one in for you? I shall have to see if we can send someone out".
I knew I had been a little bolshy over the phone, hence my sheepish demeanour as we walked in. I felt all eyes on me, I'm sure they weren't, but I admit, there was a degree of shame. But surprisingly it was also mingled with a touch of pride. Hell yes! I'm the Alcoholic in the room and I'm not afraid to say it, (well, over the phone).
As we took our seats the waitress came to the table and confirmed that there was a pre-ordered bottle of Champagne ready to go. The girls ordered a 'real' bottle and she returned with two ice buckets, one filled with Veuve and the other, my go-to Edenvale ( at this stage the only AF brand stocked in the high street bottle shop).
The lunch was amazing, the service impeccable and the experience of drinking as much as my friends, from the same kind of bottle and glass gave us all a sense of connection that had previously been diluted for me by too much booze. My friends drank less and, although they were tipsy, there were no dramatic stumbles, mishaps or lost wallet/sunglasses/keys. My experiment had worked, and we were all the better for it! I felt included, giddy and, most of all, not marginalised for not drinking.
The next restaurant, on day 2 was easier. I had done it once, I could do it again, this time face to face. I walked into Bistro C and asked if it would be OK if I brought my own non-alcoholic wine because "I don’t drink". "Poor you" said the waiter, apologetically. The wonderful thing is, at this stage I didn’t feel poor at all. I felt alive, empowered, vibrant and sober, in the best possible way. There were no shades of hungover remorse and no slithers of shame or regret from the day before.
The waiter took my number, explaining that he would need to check with the manager. "No drama" I say, just let me know. "At Ricky’s they arranged for one to be purchased" I added, as a casual aside.
The lunch at Bistro C was as awesome as ever, made even more special with my best friends and my favourite AF Champagne, served chilled in an ice bucket at the table, just how I like it.
As I drive home after a beautiful weekend I contemplate my future plans for world domination – Alcohol Free for all! @sober_sommelier is the beginning of a quest to encourage venues to start stocking up on quality AF alternatives. So if you're with me join the movement, you don't need to throw the A word around willy nilly but never, ever, be afraid to ask.
A huge thanks to the folk at Ricky's and Bistro C for coming to the AF Party!