I haven't had an alcoholic drink in 10 years, and I don't miss it one bit (except maybe once in a while, after a hard day in the office). But it does make entertaining different, and slightly challenging. You don't quite realize just how much entertaining revolves around alcohol, until you stop revolving around alcohol. So here are my top 10 tips for sober entertaining that I've figured out after 10 years of sobriety:
Make it a family event. Whenever you include kids and family, it's a lot easier to avoid supplying alcohol. After all, no one should drink and then drive -- especially with kids in the car. Plus, kids always provide lots of entertainment that's even more funny and weird than watching people get drunk.
Do lunch. People don't freak out as much if there is no alcohol at a lunch event, and often they don't even expect any. So if you're planning a weekend picnic party and you think people might balk if there's no beer, do it over lunch instead of dinner.
Pack it in, pack it out. Sometimes -- let's say I'm having a dinner party for work or charity -- it's not appropriate to NOT serve alcohol. In that case, I always ask the caterer to take care of it. I don't want alcohol or the tools that go with it in my home, so I make sure they bring it all in and take it all away.
Allow people to go BYO. If I'm having people over for dinner and they say, "What can I bring?" I usually say that if you want to drink alcohol, bring your own because I don't serve it myself. Occasionally people do bring some, and I don't mind.
Use music, the great intoxicator. It's true -- I get much more buzzed from a good song, a great band, or a high-energy polka! It can really help make a party feel like a party to have a good soundtrack or live music. So invest some time into picking tunes that everyone will enjoy.
Make punch. It's one of the easiest and most fun things to make -- and I have three or four vintage punch bowls to serve it in. The typical recipe involves some sort of mix of fruit juices, ice, and sparkling bubbly fluids. Punch can make the dullest day seem festive. (Just don't spike it!) You can get some ideas by searching the Rodale Recipe Finder.
Find sober friends. There are a lot more sober people out there than you think, and it's great when you find each other. I mean if Keith Urban ever wants to come over to my house for dinner, I'm ready! (Nicole can come, too!)
Meet at a restaurant. If you have friends that really like to drink, and you don't feel like dealing with it, just meet them at a restaurant. They can drink as much as they like and you don't have to worry about cooking or doing dishes. You also don't have to tell them that drunk people are never as clever and funny as they think they are.
Give it away. Sometimes when you have a party, people bring bottles of wine or other spirits as a gift. I accept them graciously and then give them away at the end of the night -- as a thank you to the caterer, or to whomever's last to leave.
Make everyone comfortable. I am not a prohibitionist or a believer that no one should drink. As a hostess of any party or event, my job is to make everyone feel comfortable. I think a lot of people drink at parties to loosen up and feel less inhibited. But a good hostess can help make it easier for people to feel good -- by introducing them to people they don't know but might like or have something in common with, and by making sure no one is standing alone in a corner (unless they are talking on a cellphone). Most important, keep on laughing. I am thankful I discovered that laughing feels just as good (if not better) without the alcohol, and without making you feel bad or regret things the next day.
For more from Maria Rodale, go to Maria"s Farm Country Kitchen.