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Eating at Restaurants While Sober

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Eating out with friends or family can be a major early recovery challenge. Even bar-free restaurants may still serve drinks, and, if they do, a waiter will almost always ask you if you want to see a drink menu. Furthermore, well-meaning family and friends may inadvertently pressure you at a time when you are still quite vulnerable.

Can you actually eat at a restaurant and stay sober? Absolutely! But you will need to put in some thought and effort before you go out. According to the National Institutes of Health’s Rethinking Drinking website, it’s important to prepare strategies for when you know you’ll be around alcohol. With the right preparations, you can safely enjoy a meal out without breaking your sobriety. Read on for tips on dining out while sober.


Alcohol Is Everywhere

The first step in successfully dining out as a sober person is to remember that you can’t completely avoid the presence of alcohol. As a newly sober person, you are aware that alcohol is pretty much everywhere you go. You likely can’t completely avoid the immediate presence of, the suggestion of or the topic of alcoholic beverages. Sometimes, you may need to remind yourself that alcohol may pop up in the most unexpected of places.

In an article for the Chicago Tribune, one woman described the constant presence and pressures of alcohol for a newly sober person. “I could get wine at my hair salon,” she said after she quit drinking in 2017. “There was free alcohol at work events and children’s birthday parties. Even my gym had a bar,” she noted.

Even some fast food and family-style chain restaurants are now beginning to serve alcohol. In 2018, Waffle House started offering beer to patrons. Even earlier than this, USA Today reported that establishments like Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Shake Shack and Chipotle began serving alcoholic beverages in certain parts of the country.

There really is no avoiding the presence of alcohol, even at places known as “child friendly” or for having a “family atmosphere.” Knowing that alcohol is everywhere, and learning to expect it in the least expected of places, is an important strategy in saying no.


Expect Others to Drink

While you have decided to forgo alcohol, you can’t expect everyone around you to do likewise. In fact, most adult Americans drink alcohol at least occasionally. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 66% of adults aged 18 and over consumed alcohol in 2018. Covering data from the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reported that 69.5% of American adults, aged 18 and over, admitted to alcohol consumption in the previous year.

Whether a restaurant has an in-house bar or there’s alcohol at a nearby table, chances are that you will be around other people who are drinking. Even if no one at your table is consuming alcohol, if drinks are available at an eatery, you can generally expect to be asked by the waiter if you want to see a wine list or to hear a pairing suggestion. One way to politely combat this is to respond with another question. Try asking the waiter, “What alcohol-free beverages can you recommend?”

Whether you’re dining out with friends, family or even alone, prepare yourself mentally to expect the presence of alcohol. Knowing what to expect ahead of time should help you feel stronger and more confident about saying no.

If you’re not feeling confident, you might want to view the restaurant’s food and non-alcoholic menus before you go out. This way, you can decide what to order before you even leave the house. Deciding ahead of time may help you feel less vulnerable to temptation and pressure.


Ask Friends for Support

Wouldn’t it be great if everyone dining out with you would agree to a restaurant that doesn’t serve alcohol? In an ideal world, you would never again have to set foot in a place that serves drinks. Unfortunately, this scenario is not very realistic. Most people have friends, family and coworkers who drink, but it’s something that, as time goes on, you won’t even notice. They often say others only notice if they themselves have an issue with substances. If you find that people in your life are not supportive of your newfound sobriety, understand that spending less time with them may be healthier for you in the long run.

Big occasions and holidays often pose especially challenging situations for newly sober individuals. Going out to eat for special events like birthday parties, graduations and promotions usually involves alcohol, even if only some of the guests are drinking.

How do you enlist the support of your friends when it’s time to go out to eat? Both drinking and non-drinking friends should want to support you in your sobriety journey, but you may need to talk to them individually to help them understand your situation and to enlist their help.


Asking for Specific Help

When it comes to asking for help, you may need some specific ideas on who to ask and what to say. Here are some ideas to help you approach friends, family, coworkers or others about your recovery and how it relates to dining out.

  1. Choose people you trust. While everyone should care about your recovery, sadly, not everyone will. When you’re deciding whose help to enlist, think about the people you trust the most. Who has made you feel most cared about and loved? Who do you feel safe to express yourself to? Who do you think will offer the most support? These are the people you need to ask. You may be surprised by who first springs to mind. Perhaps you feel safer talking to a coworker than you do your brother or to a cousin rather than your spouse. Don’t worry about who you think is supposed to offer help; focus on who you think actually will. There also may come a time when you realize some people in your life are just not healthy for your recovery. In these situations, separating from them may be in order. While it could be temporary until you get a solid footing in your recovery, it’s also important to not feel guilty about this. You’ve worked hard to get where you are, and the most important thing is for keep moving forward.
  1. Tell them your situation. Begin by being completely honest about your sobriety. Most people are happy to support someone in recovery and will immediately jump on board with encouragement. Some may even decide not to drink whenever they are in your presence. However, bear in mind that this will not always be the case, and you still need to be prepared for it to happen.
  1. Express your feelings. Along with sharing the practical side of your situation, you should share your feelings about the presence of alcohol. Generally, when someone understands the emotions behind your situation, it becomes easier for them to be empathetic towards you. According to a study called “The Science of Empathy,” reported by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, empathy helps other people notice your emotions and understand your perspective. You can tell a friend or loved one what upsets you or what is most challenging. You can also describe your mental, emotional or physical response to being in the presence of alcohol. All of these details may help them understand your situation better and be more prepared to offer aid.
  1. Excuse yourself early. If you are concerned that you may not be strong enough to say no to alcohol being served at an event, you may wish to excuse yourself ahead of time. You can politely offer your thanks for the invitation and apologies in advance while still tentatively planning to attend. Most people will understand why you might want to give short notice of your decision if they are aware that you are newly sober and want to stay strong. Excusing yourself ahead of time also gives you an easier out should you attend the event but decide to leave partway through. Leaving in the middle of a meal is embarrassing, and some people may find it rude, but if you tell them ahead of time that it might happen, you should deal with far less opposition.


Practice Saying No

There are two kinds of social pressure according to Rethinking Drinking. These are direct social pressure and indirect social pressure.

For the most part, you are probably already aware of, and starting to prepare for, the indirect social pressure that you will face. This will be the actual presence of alcohol, such as the restaurant having a bar or those at your table consuming alcohol.

The direct pressure may be a more difficult challenge. Direct social pressure regarding alcohol comes when someone specifically asks you if you would like a drink. This question may come from someone at your table, the waiter, a bartender or even a stranger who wants to buy you a drink.

Practicing saying no to direct social pressure can give you a huge boost of confidence when it comes to refusing alcohol. Practice saying no with any family, friends or coworkers you can enlist. The more you practice, the more prepared you will be for those direct questions. The more you say no, the easier it gets.


Avoid Foods Containing Alcohol

Foods that contain alcohol may not be a major concern for you, but it’s still something to consider. Alcohol Problems and Solutions warns that a surprising number of foods have alcohol in them. A few include:

  • Various baked goods
  • Extracts and flavorings
  • Flavored jams and jellies
  • Beer batters and sauces
  • Dessert glazes
  • Flavored chocolates
  • Cheeses and spreads

Dishes that use alcohol in the cooking process, but where the liquor is mostly cooked out, typically still retain the flavors of alcohol. Even flavorings that are designed to mimic alcohol can be problematic for some because the taste reminds them of alcohol.

Some cold foods, particularly desserts like cakes, tiramisus, trifles and mousses, may even contain straight alcohol. Others may use alcohol flavorings that contain some minor traces of alcohol.

While most menus will show this information for foods that contain alcohol, some will not. It’s important to ask the waiter questions or research a restaurant ahead of time if you are not sure whether a particular food contains alcohol or not.


The Choice Is Yours

It’s common among those in recovery, whatever the disorder, to use negative phrasing toward themselves. Wording like, “I’m not allowed to drink” or, “I can’t be trusted with alcohol” can be self-deprecating, rather than helpful.

Instead, keep reminding yourself that your recovery journey is a choice that you have made for your health and well-being. Use positive affirmations and confident statements like “I am choosing not to drink,” or,”I am not the kind of person who needs a drink.”

Putting the power back in your hands will help you say no to both direct and indirect social pressure. Remembering that the choice is yours, and that it’s a choice you made for positive reasons should help you feel more confident in saying no to alcohol when you eat at restaurants while sober.

For more information about eating out while in recovery, or to learn more about alcohol and substance use disorders, get in touch with Granite Recovery Centers today. Our friendly staff is happy to be of assistance to you on your sobriety journey.