Don't Be That Guy: How to Drink at a Wedding


It’s summer, so chances are strong you’re about to go to a wedding. Or you’ve already been to a wedding. Or you have no weddings to go to and are really, really lonely, which is sad and I’d truly love to help, but there’s only room to help so many people at one time. The people I am aiming to help right now are those who will be drinking at weddings.

I have been to approximately 1,100 weddings during my adult life, and have consumed alcohol at almost all of them (advice on attending a dry wedding: don’t, unless it’s your brother's or something, because small talk with strangers and casual acquaintances necessitates performance-enhancing substances). I have consumed all of this alcohol without so much as a hint of fisticuffs, police intervention, or friends telling me “you ruined my wedding," which makes me one of the country’s foremost experts on wedding drinking. Maybe even one of the fivemost.

Follow these simple, time-tested steps and you too can stroll confidently into the post-wedding hotel brunch as fellow attendees glance up at you and say... nothing, because you did not horribly embarrass yourself, which is the first goal here. The second goal is to have fun out there. It’s all quite similar to youth soccer in that respect.

Here’s how you’re going to play it.


Before the ceremony: preparation is key

The one major thing you need to do pre-ceremony is suss out the open bar situation. Well, you should get a gift and get your suit dry cleaned and a bunch of other crap, but as far as your drinking future goes, this is a big piece to the puzzle. Are we talking full-tilt open bar? Hour of cocktails and then a cash bar? A few kegs of homebrew off in the corner and seven cases of expired wine coolers? Do some recon and know what you’re getting into. Note: recon does NOT mean contacting the happy couple and demanding to know what sort of booze they’ll be providing you. Have some tact. Work through backchannels. In this case, “backchannels” constitute your meathead friend who is in the wedding party and definitely asked these questions already.

As for day-of concerns, lay a good base at breakfast (eggs and carbs in whatever permutation you prefer) and drink plenty of fluids. In this instance, fluids should not include Bloody Marys. Save it for the main event. Do feel free to get a flask ready if your intel has uncovered a somewhat restrictive booze situation, but in most cases it’ll prove unnecessary. Besides, nothing tastes grosser than a metallic swig of lukewarm whiskey that’s been slowly heating against your thigh as you tried to impress the one single bridesmaid with your "Cupid Shuffle" prowess.

Straighten that tie. Freshen that breath. Frantically scribble out a check because you waited until the last minute and the only stuff left on the wedding registry was three napkin rings and a zester. It’s wedding time!


Cocktail hour: setting yourself up for success

Whew, was that a great ceremony or WHAT? You read over that wedding program 500 times to really absorb it, and two people made out while everyone else applauded. But it’s all over now, and it's cocktail time.

There’s nothing wrong with coming out of the gate strong here -- just don’t go TOO strong. This is not the time to go double Scotch on the rocks if the only whiskey you ever consume tastes like cinnamon. Get something that’s as potent as you’re comfortable with, and feel okay about drinking it at a brisk pace as you try to figure out where to best strategically position yourself for optimal access to the trays of bacon-wrapped scallops.

Also, when you get that first drink, quickly ascertain the following from the bartender: 1) is the bar open during dinner, and 2) what time do they shut down, which are both vital pieces of information. Tip a little more generously on that first one in case you’re trying to land one last drink just as they’re starting to close the bar.

Fantastic. You have your drink. People are mingling. Have you tried the crab cakes with that aioli stuff? They’re awesome. Get one. Go forth. Be social. Knock back that first drink and then relax your pace a little, timing it so you just scored a full one as they’re herding everyone into the dining room for the more structured portions of the evening, because this is where things can get dicey.


Dinner time: the danger zone

Nice work on getting that drink because, even if the bar IS open during dinner (not the norm, but not unheard of), you don’t want to be that guy who’s always running up to the bar right in the middle of the father-daughter dance or the best man’s cripplingly awkward toast where he spends 10 minutes on an anecdote centered around the groom’s EX girlfriend and oh my God what is he doing will someone cut him off? Wait, is he crying? Yes, he’s now crying.

The speech thing brings up an important point though: you do NOT want to be caught booze-less during the speeches/dances/having-to-pay-attention portions of dinner, which is why it’s essential to start these proceedings off with a full drink in hand. But treat that drink as a precious resource: there will probably be wine with dinner, maybe a Champagne toast or whatever, but it’s never a sure thing exactly how freely it’ll be flowing. Sometimes servers are refilling wine glasses every five seconds (which is dangerous). Sometimes they’re nowhere to be found and your glass is empty and the father of the bride just pulled out what appears to be a stack of 37 notecards as he mentions he has “a few stories about Ashley’s childhood” (an entirely different kind of dangerous). The idea during dinner is to keep the fun juice flowing at a crisp but responsible pace without running completely dry, and that bonus drink allows you the flex to make sure this happens no matter what.

Also, dinner’s the one time in the evening when you’re going to have a whole bunch of water sitting right in front of you. Take advantage of this. It’ll pay off in the later rounds.

Would you look at that? Cake’s being eaten, first dances have happened and, huzzah, the bar is back open. The DJ just played some Stevie Wonder and the “fun” aunt is really working the dance floor. Things are about to get weird. Not necessarily with the crazy aunt. But maybe!

iStock/Jodi Jacobson

The dance floor: hitting your stride

Now that the wedding’s in full on “party” mode, the temptation will be there to up your drinking accordingly, and this is where many folks take a wrong turn to disasterville. If you’ve done it right up to this point, you should be feeling great: social but not sloppy, alive but not annoying. Don’t push yourself over the edge into the land of regrets and awkward apologies to your friend’s new father-in-law about that shattered bay window. You’re just looking to maintain at this point. Repeat: maintain.

Basically, the idea is you’re taking your foot off the booze pedal just a bit at this point. This can be accomplished in a few ways. Personally, I’ll often switch to light beer here (even though I’m one of those card-carrying “beer snob” types) because it goes down easy, keeps me going without taking me to weird places, and the bottle doubles as an excellent fake microphone for when the DJ finally honors my repeated requests to play “Build Me Up Buttercup.” But if you don’t want to switch to a lighter drink, just slow your pace a bit further.

A word about mixing: I’ve personally never been big on the theory that mixing different kinds of alcohols gets you in trouble... I think that’s just an excuse people use when they over-served themselves in general and want to pretend it was the result of some mythic chemical reaction: “Oh, this always happens when I drink sangria before Manhattans.” Odds are, if you’re hurting, you had too much to drink, period. You could have stuck with Zima all night, and it wouldn't have made any difference.

But hey, if you’re one of those folks who really values sticking to one spirit all night, go for it, just be mindful of your pacing as the evening wears on.

Welp, Donna Summer just started imploring everyone to dance the last dance, so things appear to be wrapping up. Hey, the bar’s closed -- did you remember to get that last drink? If you’ve done things properly, it shouldn’t matter much either way. You’re feeling alert, on top of your game, with just the right amount of buzz still percolating between your ears, ready for whatever comes next. And because it’s only 11pm and you’re dealing with a potent combination of single people looking to get laid and young parents who have a sitter for the first time in six months, there’s definitely going to be a next.


The after-party: all bets are off

Wedding after-parties take various forms. Sometimes the bride and groom went above and beyond and actually set something up at a nearby establishment. Sometimes there’s a perfectly good hotel bar at the ready. Sometimes you have to run out for a bag of ice and a 30-pack to throw into someone’s hotel bathtub. Regardless, you should be in fine shape to seize the rest of the evening.

And seize it you will, because this is where the advice more or less stops. The older relatives have (probably) gone to bed. The pictures have been taken. The wedding is done. As long as you don’t pull a fire alarm or headbutt a bartender, no one’s particularly going to care what you do from here on out. Except you, that is. So yeah, if you’ve been dying to throw back a round of shots all night, go nuts (your predicament the next morning’s on you). If you want to be social, have one or two more at a leisurely pace and call it a night, there’s nothing wrong with that. If you want to ditch the after-party altogether because, much to your surprise, all that Cupid Shuffling worked and that bridesmaid (or groomsman!) is giving you the look, then well played, sir. No one’s going to miss you.

The point is, you made it to the land of post-wedding possibilities with your wits and dignity intact, fulfilling your obligations both to the couple (to not ruin their wedding) and to yourself (to not get taken out of the game before your time). And really, that’s all anyone can ask for.

Thrillist Deputy Editor Matt Lynch also has advice for drinking at work functions and baptisms. Ask him for it: @MLynchChi.