Serving alcohol at social events

AdaCamp was a two-day unconference dedicated to increasing women’s participation in open technology and culture. This page is part of the AdaCamp Toolkit, which helps you take AdaCamp’s tools and practices and apply them to your own event. You can re-use the text of this page under the Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike license with credit to Sara Smollett and the AdaCamp Toolkit.

AdaCamp did not include any alcohol-centric events, but alcoholic drinks were available at social events such as some of the receptions and dinners.

Alcohol and increased harassment risk

This section incorporates material from the Geek Feminism wiki under the Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike licence.

Intoxication (usually drunkenness) both genuinely lowers inhibitions and provides people with an excuse for acting badly even if they genuinely knew better. Additionally, intoxication affects people’s ability to defend themselves, and some intoxicants including alcohol cause amnesia. Further, women, in particular, may be deliberately invited/coerced into drinking a lot of alcohol especially to make them more vulnerable. Recognize that some attendees may feel unsafe or unwelcome at events with alcohol.

Given this risk, decide whether you want to have alcohol available at your event. If you do have alcohol, make it clear to attendees that the anti-harassment policy applies to the entire event, including when alcohol is served. Additionally, make sure attendees know that/when alcohol will be available so they can prepare accordingly. At the event, make sure there are an appropriate number of sober staff on hand to assist with any problems if they arise. Make sure to clearly identify the staff members at the beginning of the event.

People who may be excluded from alcohol-centric events

Alcohol-centric events may exclude:

  • People under the legal drinking age in the place the event is held, and people attending with children if their children are legally unable to be in the location where alcohol is served.
  • People who do not drink (e.g., due to pregnancy, for medical reasons, for religious reasons, because they have a history of alcoholism, etc.) may be uncomfortable at such events, especially if they feel pressured to drink.
  • People who are uncomfortable around people who are drinking, especially people who have negative past experiences with alcohol and abuse.

When serving alcohol

It is possible for most adults to safely drink alcohol in moderation. There is also a difference between having alcohol available at a social event and having an alcohol-centric social event. Here are some tips, should you choose to have alcohol available:


  • Review local requirements and best practices regarding staff training, security presence, and alcohol service licensing. Even if licensing requirements do not apply to your private event, having trained service staff may be useful.
  • Have alcohol served by staff who are not themselves drinking.
  • If serving alcohol at an event under your control, issue drink tickets or otherwise limit the number of drinks available per person.
  • Have food and non-alcoholic drinks available whenever alcohol is served. Make sure you have a variety of non-caffeinated and sugar-free beverages as well.
  • Offer the non-alcoholic drinks for free.
  • Have an equal amount of “fancy” non-alcoholic drinks that are displayed prominently in the same manner as alcoholic drinks.
  • Offer self-service water.
  • Don’t allow people to be pressured to drink, or to feel ostracized for choosing not to drink.
  • Don’t have drinking contests or otherwise encourage binge drinking.
  • Make sure no one is driving intoxicated. If this is a concern, assist with alternate arrangements: include information about public transportation, have designated drivers, or be prepared to pay for taxis if necessary.
  • If someone becomes severely intoxicated at your event, treat it as a health and safety issue. Have your staff arrange for transfer to medical care if necessary, and otherwise arrange for their transportation to their accommodation if possible. Avoid leaving them in the care of their drinking companions.


The Ada Initiative would like to thank our advisor Sara Smollett, lead author of this document, for this invaluable contribution to the AdaCamp Toolkit.