To drink or not to drink – are events inclusive enough for non-drinkers?

Jodi Spreadbury, Senior Mortgage & Protection adviser at The Mortgage Broker, shares her experiences of being alcohol free at recent events whilst pregnant, and asks if the industry is doing enough to make non-drinkers feel comfortable and accepted.

I’ve been in the mortgage industry for nearly 19 years (ouch, how has that happened?) and one of the main things I’ve enjoyed over the years is how social the industry is. Plenty of conferences, lunches, awards etc and a lot of these can be boozy!

Drinking is something I have never really thought too much about – I drink, I like a glass of wine or two, and when you’re given a glass of fizz on arrival, or wine on the table, I have really taken for granted that it is so easy for me to pick up.

What I had not appreciated until it affected me, was how challenging it is to get a non-alcoholic drink at an event. For most of 2023, I’ve been pregnant with my first child, and keeping it quiet at the beginning is really hard, especially when you get the “oh, why are you not drinking?” question. I found at the beginning it was easier to have a glass of wine in my hand, and just not drink it, as it saved me from answering questions I didn’t want to answer so early on.

Later in my pregnancy, with a really obvious bump, holding a glass of wine actually got me dirty looks rather than questions. I was thrilled to attend one event in particular where they had welcome drinks that included champagne, beer, a delicious alcohol free fruity cocktail, and alcohol free beer. I also attended one event where the welcome drinks were alcohol only, with no soft drink option, and it took me 3 attempts and almost a bit of a strop to get a glass of water (on a very warm day!), so it got me thinking…. I know a lot of industry friends who do not drink for various reasons, but how difficult do they find events?

I know there are many people who don’t drink by choice. One example is Jeffrey Krampah-Williams. He decided a few years ago to stop drinking but he still loves an event, and he is such a sociable person. In our previous discussions he’s commented on various events that you either get beer and wine, or water, and nothing much in between. However, whether it’s choice or any other reason for not drinking, should it be as difficult to get a soft drink as we have found it to be? I am sure many others will have had a similar experience.

How many of you have hosted a table, and thought to order soft drinks for your guests? We ask about dietary requirements, but does anyone think to ask in advance about drink preferences? If you’re a non-drinker, do you feel uncomfortable when asking for something else, like you’re a hinderance? But if you’d just grabbed a bottle of beer, you’re not inconveniencing your host?

Paul Adams has been very open about his alcohol issues in the past and has had a remarkable recovery story:

Everyone is different. I tend to be a sharer and so I am not phased when people ask why I am not drinking (and many people do ask, which I personally think is a good thing… I admire curious people). I just say that I am a very grateful recovering alcoholic and that me and alcohol had a big falling out a couple of years ago! Some people go onto ask more questions out of interest which is totally fine, others change the subject quickly with an awkward look of ‘I wish I never asked…’.


I think we are getting so much better at industry events now, with organisers thinking about non-drinkers in terms of the ‘arrival drinks’ and possibly a bit more work to do with table hosts, but because we talk about this more and we all have many DE&I initiatives going on around us, awareness and thoughtfulness in relation to alcohol and other issues at events is changing.


One thing I can say is this…when someone, unprompted, comes up to me at an event and hands me a non-alcoholic drink and says here you go Paul, I am deeply touched because that person has probably read or heard about my challenges, and it is there way of showing that they acknowledge it and care. Of course, that is NOT my expectation of anyone, it’s my personal battle, but it does happen more and more and when it does it touches me every single time!

Danielle Moore, Operations Director at AE3 Media has the following thoughts on this:

“AE3 Media hosts over 65 events for the mortgage industry every year and it is critical to make everyone feel welcome, included and comfortable on each occasion.

From an inclusivity point of view, offering alcohol-free options at our awards and dinners is not only helpful but necessary and also bolsters our commitment to improved behaviour at industry events.

We are working hard with venues to make sure we also provide interesting non-alcoholic options at drinks receptions that are not just orange juice but include mocktails, non-Secco and zero per cent beers. We are raising awareness of this to guests ahead of events and making sure table hosts offer choice and pre-order all types of drinks.

Some venues are harder to work with than others, but some are very accommodating. We were even able to work with suppliers to provide an alcohol-free port at the imla dinner with a cheese course.

There is still a long way to go but with more people choosing not to drink alongside our other diversity and inclusivity commitments to the industry, this one is really key for us.”

Whether someone doesn’t drink by choice, or just a short term circumstance such as my own experience, what is the first thing you ask them? I found being asked “why are you not drinking?” to be a bit of a weird question. No one asks “why ARE you drinking?”, so why would we ask why someone is not! I admire Paul’s open response to people and wonder how many people feel awkward at his response, but don’t realise that it was their intrusive question that got an honest answer in the first place.

As we all work so hard to promote our industry and how inclusive it is, should we all be considering what questions we are asking to our industry friends?