The Boozeless Bar Bonanza
Updated: Aug 7
The other day I put up a Twitter poll, hoping to get a sense from a few friends about a question I’ve been pondering for a while:
Over 100 people responded (especial thanks to Heather Roche for sharing the poll, at which point the response rate exploded).
The results were not what I expected. So here’s a write-up of my hypothesis, the data, and some possible conclusions.
I don’t drink, and wasn’t raised in an area where regular excessive drinking was much of a thing (due to geography and a lack of public transport as much as culture). So I’ve perhaps been over-alert to the ubiquity of alcohol at theatre events and in planning. Just a few examples:
Post-lockdown, anecdotal evidence indicates that some audience members view having one or more alcoholic drinks during the show, as they would if watching a stream at home, as an essential part of the experience.
A number of respected producers telling me (with good reason) that you had to have a bar, both for the profit margin but also for audience expectation.
In any form that needs the audience to loosen up a bit (e.g. comedy, interactive theatre) alcohol is often seen as a ‘lubricant’ for audience responsiveness.
One of the most common reasons people give for going to a show is ‘to have a good time’; for many people, that includes drinking.
Put plainly: I’ve barely ever been to a show (excluding those in places of worship) that hasn’t had a bar.
I admit that sometimes, I’d quite like to be in an alcohol-free space and enjoy a show. I don’t mind people being tipsy around me (even if some drunks are not as funny as they think), but equally it can make me feel like the odd one out, and some people view my not drinking as inherently judgemental (and then comment on it, making us both uncomfortable).
I am aware that for a wide range of groups - recovering alcoholics, Muslims, various forms of Christians and Hindus, teetotallers, pregnant people, children - an alcohol-free space is helpful.
Sometimes a show also wants to be alcohol-free, if it’s meant to be simulating a reasonably sombre/ritualistic environment. It’s also a bit of a bugger getting a license to sell alcohol. Not much of one, but a bit of one.
I thought that, however, most of my drinking friends would at least consider it a factor against the show. I am aware that I often do not understand what appear to be reasonably established rules around social drinking.
The data is, scientifically, garbage. My Twitter followers are mostly into the arts, tend towards the left-wing, and are also often people working in the sector who might go to shows for the show itself, not as part of a wider evening’s entertainment.
However, 114 people voted, which means that that effect is slightly smoothed-out by the volume of data.
Which surprised me, because:
85.1% - Yes [I would go]
6.1% - No
6.1% - Maybe
2.6% - Unlikely
The comments were almost all from people I know personally, generally affirming that for reasons of cost or personal reason-for-going-to-shows, they didn’t need alcohol at a show.
I suspect that there’s more to say, or other conclusions to draw from the data, so please do comment on Twitter if you have thoughts.
First: there does actually seem to be a reasonably widespread willingness to attend an alcohol-free show. Most people were a definite ‘yes’, and quite a few were ‘maybe’, or ‘unlikely’ - with a good enough show, the negative (no alcohol) would be balanced out.
Second: the assumption in theatre that your show should have a bar, in order to meet the needs and expectations of customers, may not in fact be true - at least with a broadly metropolitan audience. It is an add-on, and not part of the core experience.
Third: in some ways, the sheer dominance of ‘yes’ votes indicates that there might actually be demand for such a thing - certainly some comments indicated that for some people, theatre experiences that viewed alcohol as the default add-on were not entirely a pleasure. Perhaps other add-ons (dessert cafes?) might be more desirable.
Fourth: To put that in a positive way: the idea of a show with a clear social contract (‘we will be more or less sober during this event’) might have an appeal to some people. I would say this is reinforced by not-infrequent comments about drunk audience members post-pandemic.
To be absolutely clear: this is to suggest that some shows could have alcohol-free bars, broadening the range of options in theatre while not closing off others. While I’d hope that wouldn’t need clarifying, the internet does have a habit of thinking that “I like cats” means “I would like to barbecue a panda.” The existence of the sing-along Mamma Mia! musical does not mean Waiting For Godot has to follow the same rules.
Finally: I may, in fact, be able to experiment with a show without an alcoholic bar, without taking too much risk. Which means, in a little way, it can be a little more ‘me’, and a little more fitting for that show (an interactive event set in a community space).
This a thing I find quite nice.
And that’s a thing I’m rather grateful to the respondents for clarifying.