Wellness Shabbat Hosting Series | Hospitality for sober guests and those who choose not to drink
As the JOFEE Fellow for OneTable, I have spent the past year learning about how Judaism’s food and hospitality values, from seasonal eating to ethical sourcing, has a lot to say about what we eat, how we eat, and how we welcome guests. I think about every person at my table when preparing to host Shabbat. Where will they sit? How far are they traveling, and how can I make them feel nourished, relaxed, and at ease in my home once they arrive?
Since my partner got sober almost three years ago, I’ve become attuned to the ways in which sober individuals, or anyone choosing not to drink for any reason, can feel alienated at Shabbat. All too often, we find that the only option for non-drinking individuals is water or drink mixers like seltzer. More often than not, he’ll be offered a plastic cup while I get a beautiful glass of wine or a unique cocktail glass. Accommodating those who don’t drink alcohol is not only easy, but upholds the Jewish value of Hachnasat Orachim, welcoming guests.
TLDR: All you need to do is give all your guests the same level of care and consideration.
Offer a drink that’s good with or without alcohol
When planning my Shabbat dinners, I usually know that guests will bring wine, so I don’t worry about that. I always offer another drink option, whether it’s a large batch of iced tea in summer or hot spiced cider in winter. Having a custom drink (maybe a mocktail?) I made that is pre-prepared to offer guests when they walk in the door is a simple hosting trick that makes me feel like Martha Stewart. Put it in a large carafe or pitcher with glasses nearby.
You can even offer optional alcohol for those who want to partake and add a splash, but everyone can have the same drink regardless of if they’re drinking! This also allows non-drinkers to take their drink and not have to call attention to the fact that they’re not drinking. Potentially similarly, consider if your friend is pregnant, but not sharing that yet, they might prefer to pour their own drink and blend in.
Don’t go sweet
Many times the non-alcoholic option for non-drinkers is a soda or juice. The amount of sugar in these drinks can coat the palate and wash out the flavors of dinner, while wine and beer are more “grown-up” flavors that complement a meal. Please don’t patronize your non-drinkers. Try offering a tea-based drink, mocktail, complex ginger beer, or well-crafted non-alcoholic cider. The drink tasting process is as much of an experience for your non-drinking guests as your drinking guests.
Keep it even
If you consulted an expert at the wine store and selected a perfect varietal to pair with your meal (yay, you!), then show the same care for those who are not drinking. My partner is in the restaurant industry, and since most of his sober friends are as well, I could never get away with serving anything less complex and interesting for them as drinking guests. If you’re having simple pizza and beer, pick up some craft root beer and La Croix. Everyone’s got a can and no one will feel left out! I mentioned it before, but don’t give one person a lovely cocktail glass and the other person a sippy cup. Keep it equal— use the same or equal glasses!
An important note about rituals: pretty much all Jewish ceremonies and celebrations involve the fruit of the vine, and Shabbat dinner is no exception. But ritual doesn’t exist for the sake of itself, it exists to accomplish something, almost like an ancient form of technology. That’s the magic of kiddush, from the Hebrew word for holy — our ability to demarcate time, to say that this Friday night, this Shabbat dinner, this exact moment, which has never occurred before and never will again, is special. Cheers to that.
According to the Torah, through the blessing of the fruit of the vine, one acknowledges two of God’s greatest gifts: creation of the world and the exodus from Egypt. Kiddush also creates a moment to express gratitude for Shabbat. It is composed of two blessings: to bless the fruit of the vine and to sanctify the day. In Judaism, the fruit of the vine represents joy. By taking a moment to bless the juice (or whatever beverage we happen to be holding in hand), we acknowledge joy as a value onto itself, not as it serves something else.