In 2019 we saw a rise in mocktails appearing on menus across the country. As an extension of the wellness movement, folks increasingly chose not to drink alcohol for health reasons – a movement known as “sober curious.” It’s become so popular that there is even a company called Seedlip, which produces non-alcoholic spirits from a variety of botanical ingredients.
Despite wanting to abstain from alcohol, many of these guests aren’t ready to give up on the cocktail experience in exchange for soft drinks or water. Creating craft mocktails for non-alcohol drinkers benefits both patrons and the restaurant; they get the experience of sipping on an expertly handcrafted beverage while you get a slightly higher check average.
Now that most states have loosened up their laws on serving alcohol with delivery and takeout to help restaurants recoup lost revenue, many restaurants have gotten creative with cocktail delivery, helping to bring another small part of the dine-in experience into guests’ homes. Keeping the mocktail crowd in mind for takeout and delivery orders will only give you more of a boost in revenue and create happier customers.
Keep reading to see how some restaurants are creating house mocktails that are just as popular and delicious as their alcoholic counterparts.
Note: The below article was written prior to the coronavirus pandemic causing many states to temporarily shut down in-house dining.
Restaurants That Are Finding Success With Mocktails and Other Non-Alcoholic Beverages
Ever since mocktails emerged as part of contemporary culinary vernacular, enterprising restaurateurs have jumped on the non-alcoholic beverage bandwagon. At five dollars apiece, a virgin Bloody Mary or berry-infused soda water can mean a 30% increase to a $30 dinner bill for two.
The Kimpton Cardinal Hotel’s Katharine Brasserie in Winston-Salem is one of the North Carolina city’s most popular gathering places. The building is the old R.J. Reynolds headquarters, which thrived back when three-martini lunches and tobacco ruled the day. These days, food and beverage director Michael Harris has mastered connecting guests with mocktails.
“In the last 10 years or so, non-alcoholic beverages have come a long way from strictly fizzy sodas and teas to the classic Shirley Temples with the ubiquitous, syrupy sweet maraschino cherries,” says Harris. “Ours work off the same scientific principles of balancing ingredients just like traditional, alcohol-based cocktails.”
Harris has two suggestions as to how restaurants can inspire orders – first that the push makes sense for the target demographic, and, second, that drinks reflect the restaurant. “The Katharine is a French brasserie, so it is a good fit for us to have a lemon lavender sparkling mocktail,” he says. “Provide your staff with a list of ingredients, explain any exotic elements, and then demonstrate how the bar staff prepares the drink. And, of course, include the tactile experience of a tasting.”
At Cindy’s in Chicago, spirit guide Nandini Khaund has a thought-provoking approach to creating mocktails.
“Ours are designed to complement the food from Cindy’s chef de cuisine Keith Potter’s menu, so I always weave in fresh garnishes that complement the season and that the beverage tell a story,” says Khaund, who features specialty coffees, tea, virgin cocktails, refreshing carbonated beverages and housemade herbal waters. “One of my favorites is the refreshing Reanimator non-alcoholic cocktail, made with activated charcoal, blueberry, ginger, demerara, and lime. The activated charcoal gives the drink an inky color and is known for detoxifying benefits.”
Oceane Galtie, food and beverage manager of Gaby Brasserie Française in Manhattan’s Sofitel Hotel has seen an uptick in the healthy beverage trend, specifically among business guests and families. In the case of the unpretentious Gaby Brasserie, it gives servers the chance to promote their Gaby’s De-Light menu.
“At Sofitel New York, it is a priority that children are well taken care of and part of that is making sure there are healthy alternatives to soft drinks plus our guests traveling on business and entertaining may not drink alcohol every day,” says Galtie. “Some of our favorite De-Light beverages include the Roland Garros, which we make with housemade cucumber and apple shrub, fresh lime juice and Perrier; and the Samba with pineapple and lime juice, Splenda and club soda.”
Learn more about food trends that boost revenue in our State of the Restaurant Industry Report.
Upstairs at The Kimberly Hotel sales and events director Jordana Maurer gives attentive consideration to guests who may be sober, pregnant, health-conscious, driving or waking up for an early meeting the next day.
“Non-alcoholic beverages are extremely popular as people become aware of healthful ingredients – ours are just as tasty and sophisticated, but better for you,” says Maurer. “We serve the Pennsylvania Dutch in a martini glass prepared with raspberry shrub, twist of lemon and Seedlip Spice 94, the first distilled non-alcoholic spirit, while our Electrolyte contains muddled watermelon, pineapple juice, a splash of lemon juice and club soda, garnished with a watermelon wedge.”
Don’t forget to use sophisticated glassware and unique garnishes in virgin cocktails, says Maurer, who trains servers to infuse the same level of service and quality as they do for alcoholic counterparts.
Christopher Becker, St. Regis Aspen Resort’s director of food and beverage, says non-alcoholic drinks can also fill in for desserts and serve as a flavor compliment to a meal.
“Be creative for today’s discerning guests and don’t be afraid to cross-utilize ingredients,” says Becker. “The ginger syrup you’re using for the cool Sidecar variation you’re doing will work just as well in a non-alcoholic mule, for example.”
Becker advises it’s easy to miss a fundamental part of the taste profile after removing a distinctive spirit, so he gravitates toward herb-based savory sodas.
“There’s something really fun about drinking a carbonated beverage with complex flavor balances and no real sweetness to speak of, which ends up having a refreshing result rather than a tooth pain-inducing result like a lot of mocktails out there,” says Becker. “I rather enjoy a grapefruit and rosemary spritzer during warmer months, definitely a nice beverage on a warm and sultry afternoon.”
At Departure Restaurant & Lounge, senior restaurant manager Samantha Azarow crafts a number of mocktails that pair with food to create a synergy with the menu, but she has always been drawn to tea in particular.
“Specialty blends and various leaves are exciting, but to me it’s also what one can do with tea, so I make tea extracts to flavor sodas, blend various types to create specialty hot and iced offerings, and make tea syrups to add complexity to non-alcoholic cocktails,” says Azarow. “The world of tea is so expansive and because Departure has a culinary program deeply rooted in Asian cuisine, tea lends to our story.”
Non-Alcoholic and Low-Alcohol Beer Trends
Sometimes you just need a cold beer, and non-alcohol (NA) drinkers may also be looking to satisfy that craving.
While these “near beers” – brews light in color, alcohol and flavor that could not exceed 0.5 percent alcohol by volume – declined in popularity after Prohibition was repealed, non-alcoholic (NA) beer has always remained a niche share in the beverage market.
That being said, while the process and ingredients (barley, hops, and water) are essentially the same, save for the removal of alcohol through a low-temperature, low-pressure distillation, NA drinkers have taken issue with the lack of flavor and variety available in most commercially available NA beers.
“A lot of the big commercial NA brands are a very simple lager, so when you take the alcohol out there’s not much substance left,” says Jeff Musial, manager at Vendome Wine and Spirits in Arcadia, California. “I’d be very interested to try an IPA or stout-style [NA beer].”
“There are so many times when people who don’t drink alcohol don’t feel part of the social situation, and we wanted to change that,” says Jeff Stevens, founder of Wellbeing Brewing
Luckily, a few NA craft brewers are changing that. Whether you are a brewery or have one close by that can supply you, it’s worth testing out with your customers to gauge interest.
Bravus Brewing Company – Newport Beach, CA
Philip Brandes, founder of Bravus Brewing Company, a dedicated NA brewery, describes tasting his first NA beer with a homebrewer friend, who had decided to go sober.
“I had never tasted [NA beer] before and when I did, immediately spit it out. I asked him if there were any IPAs or stouts on the market and he sadly said no,” says Brandes. “It was at that point I told him I would solve that problem for him, provided he taught me how to home brew.”
Brandes focuses on creating non-alcoholic IPA- and stout-style brews, citing 21st Amendment’s Down to Earth and Golden Road’s Wolf Pup as flavor inspiration. Bravus currently has an IPA and oatmeal stout in stock, and a beer named CaliforN/A Red in the works.
Wellbeing Brewing – Maryland Heights, MO
Jeff Stevens founded Wellbeing Brewing, an independent brewery in Missouri, so that non-drinkers could participate in the social aspects of beer drinking without side effects.
“The reason we started this was to brew a beer that would be able to include everyone when they are out drinking,” says Stevens. “There are so many times when people who don’t drink alcohol don’t feel part of the social situation, and we wanted to change that.”
According to Stevens, the most difficult part of creating non-alcoholic beer was getting the flavor “just right.” He explains that, unlike other NA breweries, Wellbeing fully brews their beer and then removes the alcohol with a vacuum distillation process.
“It took us a long time to find the right technology from the brewing university in Munich to gently remove the alcohol from finished craft beer,” says Stevens, who currently produces a Heavenly Body NA golden wheat and Hellraiser NA dark amber. Wellbeing plans to produce a mandarin orange wheat beer for summer and a coffee stout for fall.
Stevens notes that his beers, which have only 68 calories each, have passed the ultimate test: Three cicerones tasted Wellbeing’s beer and mistook them for traditional wheat beers, something that bodes well for the future of the market as a whole.
“We like to think of non-alcoholic craft beer as more [in terms of] an occasion than a consumer. There are just so many times in life when you are in an alcohol drinking occasion and don’t want alcohol but want to fully participate,” Stevens says. “There are the obvious ones, pregnant women and drivers, but it rapidly expands to business lunches, [athletes] in training, early next mornings, company happy hour, taking a week off, night off, or [those who] just don’t drink.”