I can't think of the last tech event I've been to where there wasn't some form of alcohol readily available. At literally every conference I've been to, software vendors will try to lure you to learn more about their products - "come join us at our FREE happy hour after the sessions."
It's not only the conferences where this happens; the cool startups will advertise a fully-stocked bar in the office as a hook to convince people to join and stay longer in the office, working longer hours. I distinctly remember at one of my first jobs out of school, my coworkers starting cracking beers at 4:30, before settling into their evening work session.
I want to be clear; I'm not opposed to alcohol. You are an adult and can make your own decisions. I think beer is quite tasty and it's even better when someone else pays for it. With that being said, I think we need to take another look at this "default" way of holding events.
We are holding our first event shortly and I've heard a variety of comments on our stance regarding alcohol, like "are you doing this to save money because you're a startup?"
The rest of this post lays out reasoning for why we will not serve alcohol at events that we organize with the broader community.
In-person interactions are in rare form, we should cherish it
The internet has created more efficient ways to connect with others and engage in community, but after a quick observation, something appears to be very wrong.
If you visit Nextdoor, you will see neighbors engaged in harsh discussion in a public forum. If you visit Twitter, you will see more of the same. Facebook is another culprit. The list goes on and on.
More and more of our daily conversation happens online. It gives us this false sense of community, without the real-world interaction.
Nowadays, it's like in-person interactions are the exception, not the norm. If meeting up in real-life is a rare event, shouldn't we be cherishing this time we connect with others in-person instead of masking it over with alcohol?
Alcohol is a crutch for poor event design
Next, I think alcohol smooths over poor event/meetup design. I'm not going to pretend like I'm an event-planner (it's actually one of my least favorite things to do because I'm not very organized), but I've been to far too many meetups where it's really awkward and I want to insta-go-home.
There's nothing like trying to walk up to a group of people huddled in a circle and awkwardly introduce yourself. I'm extroverted, but you need to be a next-level extrovert to barge into a group of people to introduce yourself. Does this group already know each other? Did they just meet? Will I look like an idiot? These are all the things that run through my mind as I walk up to a group of people.
I think alcohol is a crutch that temporarily smooths over poorly organized events. Instead of masking things over with booze, I'd prefer to learn and discover what makes a great event.
Here's another thing to think about - I meet up with people I don't know for coffee on a regular basis. You may too. If you don't need to have alcohol to grease the wheels for coffee-shop discussion, you probably don't need it for other events either.
If you feel the need to have booze to start conversation with others, the event was poorly designed.
Some people don't drink
Another reality is that there are many people who don't drink. Why isolate a non-trivial number of people by having an event at a bar or only serving booze at events? This doesn't make a lot of sense to me.
"Let us walk you up to this line, but don't you dare cross it"
Additionally, there have been stories about people saying and doing stupid things at conferences, meetups, and other tech events. This is typically a byproduct of someone drinking too much and not acting like a responsible adult.
It seems like the best way to prevent this behavior as an event organizer is by removing the fuel (alcohol) that stokes the fire of stupidity.
As an event organizer, I know little about the people showing up to our events. I try to set the tone and establish some guardrails, but that's the most that I can do. I'd prefer to create an environment where the probability of nefarious activity occurring is as close to zero as it gets.
In conclusion, this is why we don't serve alcohol at our events. If you have opposing viewpoints, please contact me. I'm open to hearing them and having a discussion, but I doubt I will change my mind.