July 13, 2016

I find increasingly that my customers are seeking sober options. There are tonnes of mocktail recipes available to bars, yet they limit their menu for unknown reasons.

Whilst the vast majority of patrons are looking at the cocktail menu with childlike glee, I observe more and more people skipping each chapter in search of the small print – The Mocktails.

Renovating your bar doesn’t just come from its appearance but the simple things – including your menu and service and keeping it updated with customers’ desires.

Why People Are Switching To Mocktails

Bars, Don't Forget Your Non-Alcoholic Options Too

There has been a change over the last five years as the health benefits and negatives of alcohol have been widely published and discussed. More and more charities are supporting fund raising by having ‘sober’ months and increasingly, the more health conscious of us are looking for alternatives to high sugar, high alcohol drinks.

Food intolerances, diet choices and calories are playing a more important part in our menu choices.

Many bartenders are comfortable with this, but lots are not.

I hear of bartenders mocking the non-drinkers and those with dietary requirements as ‘in the wrong place’ or by suggesting they ‘stick to water’.

The truth is, bars, pubs, restaurants and especially clubs should be offering a much better selection of soft drinks and non-alcoholic choices.

Let me explain.

Firstly, as socially responsible businesses we should be promoting choice. As a customer, you may wish to drink alcohol all night, you may wish to drink sober all night, more likely however, is that you may wish to flip between the two options.

As our venues invest heavily in menus aimed at classic alcohol based drinks, we forget the softer options. Not only do these options often bring as much return in profit for the retailer – if not more, they don’t bring with them the plethora of problems that alcohol can.

People feeling the ‘spin’ of booze can often be responsible for smashed glasses, trips and falls, crime and of course, trouble! Sober drinkers are far less likely to be.

Non-Alcohol Choices: Where Are They?

Bars, Don't Forget Your Non-Alcoholic Options Too

One of the major problems with non-alcohol choices are in fact, the choices. They are so limited that many non-drinkers even refuse to go out.

They know they have a better selection of drinks at home in the fridge than the soda, pop, coffee or chemically treated orange drink on offer in their local bar.

Take a tour around the supermarkets. The range of juices, sparkling alternatives and cordials is just as interesting as the spirit section. As the world food sections expand, they bring with them new options we have never seen before.

My local supermarket sells beetroot and carrot juice, coconut water and peanut milk.

Nearly all supermarkets now stock very good alcohol-free wines and sparkling wines. The choices are easy to obtain, but they need a bartender with vision.

The rise in juice bars and the healthy drinks market is a good indicator of the trend. Coconut water has come from nowhere as the latest fad drink. With a net worth of over £100 million in the U.K. alone and a growth of 60% in the last three years, you cannot deny its impact. But have you seen it for sale in a bar?

To lead by example for a moment, the team I work with offer a good selection of sober options. We embrace the guest who says ‘I’m not drinking’ and list of a range of alternatives.

Our cocktail menu offers over 50% of our alcohol-based cocktails as alcohol-free options. We don’t offer a separate mocktail section as I don’t see why we should split the consumers into tribes.

If you both want a Porn Star martini – you can have one, instead of vanilla vodka we can use vanilla syrup and for the passion fruit liquor, we add passion fruit puree. A shot of non-alcoholic sparkling wine on the side completes the drink.

They look the same and taste pretty similar, and both are equally as challenging to get right. This is surely the skill a bartender wants to showcase.

Many bartenders feel that unless you worship the spirits, you are really here just passing time, but actually a great mocktail is a wonderful thing.

If you can create or offer something that gets someone excited purely about its taste, as opposed to its ability to get them drunk, then you’re doing a great job.

Bartending is all about pleasing your guests and for me, I am thrilled to see the reaction when I offer to make them something specifically for them. Most customers almost shriek with joy at the offer of non-alcoholic sparkling wine. After all, if you are out celebrating, you want to feel part of the joy, not standing on the edge of it, with a warm diet Cola in hand!

For too long, the big boys have owned the ‘soft drinks’ section in bars and pubs.

Giving away fridges and publicity materials in exchange for ensuring their brands take vast swathes of your menu and display space. I urge you to take a fresh look at this, to consider that this is the time to offer an alternative.

Be brave, and give your customer a choice that no other local venue is offering. It isn’t just the designated driver you’re catering for, it’s people with health issues, pregnant women, the calorie conscious and those whose beliefs forbid alcohol.

This makes up a huge amount of the paying public, all still looking to enjoy their night out socialising. They have money, they want a good time and they are asking you to provide it.

Whatever you decide, as a bartender and mixologist, I’m asking you to look again at what you offer. Read your menu from the perspective of someone who isn’t looking for booze. Don’t make them feel like they are missing out, make them feel embraced and welcome. It will pay dividends to your business.

Lastly, and even though I have used the word countless times, isn’t it time we got rid of the ‘Mocktail’? The very word has connotations of the negative. We are not mocking anyone, nor pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes.

We want our guests to feel they are part of something special, whether it has alcohol or not. Let’s ditch the ‘Mocktail’ and offer the ‘Alcohol-free cocktail’!

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