Beer and Wine Festivals Are Looking to Attract Non-Drinking Attendees

Some major festivals offer sober hangout sections and mocktail bars to encourage designated drivers and increase attendance in general.

designated drivers at festivals
Photo: Alejandro Photography / Getty Images

America is packed with a seemingly ever-increasing number of beer, wine and other alcohol-centric festivals. For people who enjoy a good tipple, these events can be an almost overwhelming opportunity to try sometimes hundreds of different drinks in one setting. Meanwhile, for people who don't drink, spending an afternoon watching others indulge for hours on end probably only qualifies as a snooze fest. But as the New York Times recently profiled, plenty of major drinking-focused events are actually making a larger push to bring non-drinkers into the mix—admitting that making sure sober attendees have a good time is a win-win for everyone.

One of America's best known beer festivals kicks off tomorrow, the Great American Beer Festival, and though the organizers estimate that only a mere 300 guests of the 60,000 expected to attend won't be drinking, GABF does what it can to keep that minority happy. "It's pregnant women, spouses of brewers, designated drivers, people who want to have a nonalcoholic experience, health conscious people, men and women," Jada Petersen, a volunteer at the festival's designated drivers lounge told the NYT. "We have games set up, and I've seen card games break out. People tell jokes. I've seen people knit and chat. Last year they loved the adult coloring books." Non-drinkers are also offered complimentary food and beverage unique to their lounge—things like Bavarian pretzels and craft sodas.

The Oregon Brewers Festival—which estimates that out of its 70,000 attendees this past July, only 1,000 didn't drink—offered a similar experience, a "soda garden" that gave designated drivers and other teetotalers somewhere to hang out. Festival spokeswoman Chris Crabb explained the importance of attracting and maintaining a non-drinking crowd: "These people are provide a huge service in ensuring a safe ride home for their friends and loved ones," she told the Times. "All parties benefit by recognizing them."

Some events are even trying to include sober participants in the mix as much as possible. For instance, for the first time this year, the San Diego Bay Food and Wine Festival will be including an open-air mocktail bar as part of its Grand Tasting event. This area is described as being right in the middle of the action and will feature two "safe sangrias." The idea is that people who are choosing not to drink don't have to feel singled out for their decision. And let's be honest: Anything can be entertaining when you're drunk; making sure sober people are enjoying themselves is actually worth some additional effort.

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