While drinking doesn’t have the stigma of smoking in public, there is a camp of people that for personal or religious reasons choose not to drink. That’s not a problem, it just means more for those that do!
How do you handle it when you don’t know your partner’s view on drinking and you are headed to a place with creative cocktails and a wonderful wine list? Even further, how do you handle it if you know they don’t drink?
Grace is the first word that comes to mind in this situation and it has to go both ways. Hopefully, you have the grace to not tipple if your partner would not appreciate it. On the other side, if you do choose to have an adult beverage, they will hopefully have the grace to not be offended, although you might get a look.
The strategy here is different for a smaller group, perhaps two to four diners versus a larger group. In a smaller group, I’ll ask if my partner will be having a cocktail or if they’d like to have some wine with dinner. If they are open, then feel free to order, matching your consumption with theirs. If they are a one and done drinker – you can go one more than them, but no more. If they are a heavy drinker, feel free to tap the brakes whenever you want. If you are a heavy drinker and they aren’t, you can hit the bar after dinner.
If my dining partner doesn’t drink, I’ll usually ask if it is religious or personal. Mostly because I am curious and it has led to some interesting conversations about their life or their religion. If there are just two at the meal, then I wouldn’t drink. If there are 4, it is possible to ask if they mind if you do, but preferably you don’t want to be the only one with a drink. Most business people that chose not to drink have been in this situation many times and it is usually not an issue to proceed, with their permission.
In a larger group, as long as a few people are imbibing, then it is perfectly okay for a few to pass. I generally wouldn’t ask why someone passes on a cocktail in a larger group at the risk of offending or embarrassing them. That move only works in a more intimate setting.
There are many reasons people chose not to drink, perhaps a family issue, health concerns or just an early morning and a desire to be fresh. There are a number of religious groups that you might do business with that do not drink on a religious basis, Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, and Muslims among others. There are others that discourage it, like Buddhism, Hinduism and certain Christian sects. While even that prohibition is not universal, you will find most do comply. That means when doing business in areas with a concentration, like Utah for Mormons or the middle east for Muslims – you should plan on not drinking unless invited to do so.
Have some grace, make your partner comfortable and everyone can have a good time.