As societal attitudes toward alcohol consumption evolve, a new phenomenon is taking the culinary world by storm—the surge of functional mocktails at full-service restaurants. Catering toward the growing demand for alcohol-free alternatives, these creative concoctions offer more than just a refreshing taste. With carefully crafted blends of natural ingredients, herbs, and spices, functional mocktails provide a wealth of health benefits while still delivering a delightful sensory experience.
“For me, I think the request I hear more and more frequently anywhere I go is, ‘what non-alcoholic options do you have?’” says Lindsey Farris-Felty, corporate beverage director at Asheville, North Carolina-based Tupelo Honey.
“When guests ask this question, they’re not asking about what brands of soda you have; they want to know ‘what’s something delicious and unique I can enjoy if I don’t want to imbibe?’ We have had non-alcoholic craft beverages on our menu for years now, and we’ve always had a positive response to the selections,” she continues. For example, the brand’s Turmeric Ginger Tonic, which is loaded with turmeric, black pepper, ginger, honey, and lime juice, has been on the menu since 2018.
Embracing the rise of sobriety and mindful drinking, more operators and mixologists are experimenting with creative mocktail recipes, pushing the boundaries of taste and innovation. These alcohol-free elixirs are no longer the mere afterthought; they are becoming the star attraction, challenging conventional notions of indulgence and socializing.
“Now that we’ve been expanding these options over the last couple of years, with a house-made ginger beer and even a non-alcoholic Bee’s Knees, our guests are even more thrilled to have options,” Farris-Felty notes, referring to The Buzz-Free Bee’s Knees, an NA cocktail Tupelo Honey launched in the spring made with Lyre’s Pink London Spirit Non-alcoholic Gin, lemon, and honey, and served up with a lemon twist.
Beyond offering a haven for non-drinkers and designated drivers, the rise of functional mocktails also reflects a cultural shift toward wellness and conscious living. Rooted in fresh produce and inventive techniques, many of these vibrant beverages boast medicinal properties, promoting relaxation, digestion, and overall well-being.
“I think that the idea of functional cocktails speaks to a desire many people have—especially since Covid—to take better care of themselves and live their lives to the fullest,” Farris-Felty says. “I’m hopeful that the better-for-you movement has staying power. Right now it’s looking like it’s here to stay. I enjoy having more thoughtful ingredients and products available to me as a consumer, and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to do the same for our guests.”
Bubbies Fine Foods, for example, released six briney cocktails featuring the company’s Horseradish, and brine from its Kosher Dill Pickles and Bread & Butter Chips. The fermented ingredients offer gut-health benefits, while the sour, salty, and sometimes sweet flavor profile offers consumers a unique imbibing experience. The brand’s Pickled Whiskey Sour swaps out the egg white for Bread & Butter brine, while its Dill Pickle and Lime Mojito is served frozen or over ice, and its Sweet & Spicy Pickled Whiskey Sour balances honey with Sriracha and cayenne.
Veylinx, an insights platform which uses behavioral research to measure consumer purchasing habits, tested the fast-growing non-alcoholic canned cocktails market to learn who is buying these drinks and why. The study also measured demand for versions enhanced with functional benefits like mood boosters, detoxifiers and CBD.
“Driven by younger consumers, the non-alcoholic beer, wine, and cocktails category is surging in popularity. People trying to cut down their drinking are finding more and more alternatives on retail shelves and in bars and restaurants,” said Anouar El Haji, CEO of Veylinx. “Our research found that they’re willing to pay premium prices for non-alcoholic versions of ready-to-drink cocktails. The rise of the ‘sober curious’ movement gives brands countless opportunities for growth in this segment.”
Among the canned non-alcoholic cocktails tested, CBD and mood-boost versions performed best in the study, while natural detox and zero-calorie variations lagged behind. Adding CBD to a $12 four-pack of non-alcoholic canned cocktails increases demand by 13 percent.
Meanwhile, Portland, Oregon-based Bistro Alder offers a robust mocktail menu in its 1920s French-inspired space. Just Peachy is made with kombucha, fresh peach, lemon, and orange juice. And for the adventurous sipper, diners can try the Lactobacillus Lemonade made with slow fermented lemons, simple syrup, and lactobacillus culture, known for its probiotic health benefits.
Alcoholic cocktails with natural and organic ingredients added to boost health benefits are also a key part of the rising functional beverage movement. Tupelo Honey’s Acai of Relief, for example, is an Acai-bowl inspired frozen cocktail with acai, blueberry, apple, pineapple, and lemon.
However, experts like Farris-Felty caution against labeling any cocktails as truly ‘functional.’ “After all, they do contain alcohol, and I’m a bartender—not a nutritionist,” she notes.
“I think it’s important to remember that you can’t make health claims about a cocktail. Sure, our Acai of Relief is like an acai fruit smoothie…but it’s still made with rum,” she continues. “Really, you shouldn’t make health claims about any of the drinks on your menu, and I think you should be wary and do your own research about any products in the market claiming health benefits.”
Chris Cain, co-chair of Foley & Lardner’s transactions practice, agrees with Farris-Felty. “Avoid making unwarrented, undocumented ‘health benefits’ or similar claims,” he warns. Yet, he estimates the adaptogen beverage market will reach over $13 billion by 2026.
Farris-Felty keeps a physical notebook and on-going note on her phone to jot down inspiration for drinks from daily life, which is how the Acai of Relief was born. Her love of smoothie sours and latest obsession with acai bowls, coupled with a love for any kind of frozen treat, spurred the indulgent, refreshing concoction. “An acai bowl is something I can feel a little better about indulging in,” she says. “In the same weekend, I had indulged in both an incredible smoothie sour and an acai bowl, piled high with all the toppings, and that’s when the idea came to me…why not spike an acai bowl?”
Restaurant operators should also consider how to walk the line between what flavors or drinks may be trending, and what works and is aligned with your brand. “Sometimes, what’s popular doesn’t necessarily fit with who you are and what you want to do. Happily, this better-for-you movement we’re seeing is aligned with my goals for our beverage program,” she says.
Supply chain is another consideration. Farris-Felty focused on ingredients Tupelo Honey either already had in-house to cross-utilize, or ingredients she knew were readily available through the brand’s suppliers. And with nearly 30 locations across 17 states, it’s even more important to ensure products can be sourced in all markets to roll something out company-wide.
“I think providing the option to a guest to have something a little more on the healthy side of life, rather than something chock full of sugar or a bunch of artificial flavors and ingredients, is a worthy endeavor. I certainly feel good about what goes into our cocktails,” Farris-Felty adds.