Alcohol at a memorial? It depends.
Should you serve alcoholic beverages at a memorial? Like other facets of honoring a loved one’s life, there isn’t a right or wrong decision about serving wine, beer, or cocktails. Here are some things to consider when deciding whether to serve alcoholic beverages at a celebration of life.
PRO: Alcohol Creates a Relaxed Atmosphere
Alcohol can create a relaxed atmosphere, encouraging guests to share fond memories and stories and fostering community and connection. When the deceased is the only connection among attendees, alcoholic drinks may help mourners feel more comfortable talking to people they may not know well. Having a cocktail also provides a temporary escape from the intense grief.
CON: Alcohol Amplifies Emotions
Wine, beer, or spiked punch are social lubricants that can make starting conversations easier — which could turn into arguments. People grieving the loss of a loved one are already emotionally vulnerable. Drinking alcohol can intensify their sadness, anger, or depression. This heightened emotional state may lead to conflicts or inappropriate behavior, detracting from the event's purpose and causing distress among attendees.
PRO: Alcohol Feels Celebratory
A celebration of life is meant to honor someone’s personality, achievements, and joyful moments. For some, alcohol is a part of their social culture and is often associated with celebrations. Serving alcohol creates an environment where attendees can raise a glass in a toast, share laughter and fond memories, and celebrate the life and legacy of a loved one.
CON: Alcohol Can Divide Attendees
Some individuals may refrain from consuming alcohol for religious reasons, health issues, or sobriety commitments. Serving only alcohol may inadvertently exclude or isolate some attendees, causing discomfort or creating a divide between those who choose to drink and those who do not. While you can lessen potential discord by offering non-alcoholic beverages, it might be better to skip the alcohol at the memorial and privately invite some guests to a drink afterward.
PRO: Alcohol Invites Personal Touch
If your loved one enjoyed a chilled vodka martini or had a favorite beer, serving alcohol at the memorial service or celebration of life can be a way to honor their memory. You can include their favorite cocktail in your drink offerings (perhaps with a non-alcoholic option). You might even include their favorite mixology recipe in a program or other keepsake for guests to bring home. By incorporating something meaningful to the departed, attendees can feel a stronger connection and even a sense of closure.
CON: Alcohol Might Not Match Beliefs
If your loved one abstained due to personal, cultural, or religious reasons, it would be disrespectful to serve alcoholic beverages at their memorial. Different cultures and religions have varying views on alcohol consumption and its appropriateness in religious or solemn settings. Stick with non-alcoholic drinks and save the cocktails for a private gathering after the memorial.
Other Factors to Consider
Here are other things to consider when deciding whether to serve alcohol at a memorial service or life celebration.
Offering alcoholic beverages at a memorial can be expensive, even if you opt for lower-shelf names. You can share the cost with a cash bar for beer, wine, and spirits and free non-alcoholic options like coffee, tea, and water. Or provide drink tickets, two per adult, with the understanding that guests pay for additional drinks.
There may be inflated prices at a bar or restaurant, but you can reduce that if you host the service at home. Some venues allow you to buy your liquor and charge for uncorking. You’ll need to figure out how much you should buy. Also, ask about the return policy on opened, sealed containers. Some retailers and wholesalers allow you to return unused items with a receipt.
How Much Should You Buy?
You can estimate how much beer, wine, and liquor to buy using this handy calculating tool from Evite.com. Simply enter the number of legal-age guests, an approximation of their drinking habits (from light to heavy), the length of the memorial in hours, and which alcoholic beverages you want to serve.
Liability and Safety Concerns
Serving alcohol at a memorial or life celebration carries inherent risks, including impaired judgment, intoxicated driving, and accidents. Organizers, hosts, and facility managers can be liable for overserving guests or serving alcohol to minors. If not managed responsibly, alcohol consumption could lead to legal consequences, injuries, or other unfortunate incidents, tarnishing the event's intended purpose.
Check the alcohol policy at the venue before you book. Most national and state parks prohibit alcohol. Churches, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship may request only non-alcoholic beverages be served in their facilities or grounds.
Which Is Right for You?
The decision to serve alcohol at a memorial service or celebration of life is a personal one. While alcohol can facilitate social interactions, provide temporary relief, and honor your loved one’s preferences, it also presents risks such as emotional volatility, liability concerns, and the potential exclusion of certain individuals. To create a respectful and supportive environment, offer cocktails, mocktails, water, and coffee so guests can choose the right beverage.