Whether they’re giving up alcohol for good or just need a break right now, consumers are digging nonalcoholic beverages. And beverage experts are responding in kind, creating mixtures that are complex and satisfying to the palate, and come at a price that boosts nightly sales.
The first page of the beverage menu from one of our Sip Superlatives honorees, Rouge Tomate in New York City, is dedicated fully to nonalcoholic choices, from house-made cola, tonic, or lemonade soda to a creative list of mixed drinks incorporating fresh juices, shrubs, and other natural, high-end ingredients like pink salt spritz or bee pollen. Beverage director Cristian Molina likes providing a fun, diverse range of options for guests.
“People shouldn’t feel obligated to drink alcohol and, if they don’t drink alcohol, to only drink water,” he says.
Ken Pritz, beverage director at River Roast in Chicago, agrees. Pritz enjoys liberating non-drinking guests and enhancing their experiences at the restaurant with his menu of five seasonally inspired mocktail offerings. “Our goal is to offer an elevated cocktail experience for our guests, without the booze,” he says. “Having a selection of nonalcoholic beverages that have their own complex, unique flavor profiles can make their experience more enjoyable.”
Rebranding the mocktail menu to be called Temperance, Pritz originally built out the restaurant’s nonalcoholic beverage offerings in response to Dry January, a trend where people start the new year taking a break from alcohol.
Pritz’ approach to mocktail creation is essentially the same as his approach to cocktail creation, starting with a foundation based on historic families of cocktails. But it can be difficult not relying on a spirit as the backbone of a drink. “Finding a way to make a well-balanced drink without having that foundation can be tricky but also allows us to be more creative,” he says.
Pritz’ creativity shines in his use of ingredients like fresh juices, syrups, fruits, herbs, and—one of his favorites—shrubs, which are essentially fruit vinegars that date back to the Colonial era, he says. “I find that they bring the mocktail experience to another level. I definitely look forward to experimenting with them more and creating our own in-house.”
With Pritz’ favorite mocktail, Get Smashed, he brings together lemon, sage, hibiscus syrup, ginger shrub, and a local soda. “I had all of these syrups and shrubs left over from a previous event and had to find a use for them,” he says of his invention process. “I thought the flavors would work well, and the addition of an aromatic herb like sage just seemed like the right fit. Not only is it delicious, but it is very pleasing aesthetically.”
“Bars and restaurants are finally acknowledging that some people don’t drink,” says Sean O’Brien, mixologist at Coastal Provisions at Wild Dunes Resort in Isle of Palms, South Carolina. “They can attract these patrons by catering to their needs in a more serious fashion.”
By taking time to create well-balanced, exciting drink options for non-drinking guests, restaurants not only have the opportunity to make guests feel appreciated but also to increase check averages, as an almost-cocktail price per pour can start replacing the lower-priced water, soda, and iced tea options.