How restaurants can start a non-alcoholic beverage program

Image depicts a group of young people sitting in a booth. Many are looking at their phones and they are sipping mocktails.

Fancy non-alcoholic drinks are trending. The latest generation of mocktails and other non-alcoholic drinks have come a long way from the virgin pina coladas and sour N/A beers of the past. Today’s booze-free drinks need to be as complex and food-friendly as every other cocktail on the drinks list. Demand is on the rise, and what once looked like a passing fad is now clearly part of the future of restaurants.

Understanding why you need a real non-alcoholic beverage program is one thing. Creating a whole new menu is another. It may seem daunting, especially if you’re comparing yourself to places that jumped into the world of non-alcoholic drinks before you, but you can start small and build a program from there. If you’re ready to add some non-alcoholic drinks that will be worthy of pairing with your menu, these steps will get you on your way.

Image depicts three people cheersing non-alcoholic beverages.

Do some restaurant research

The non-alcoholic drinks trend has caught on more in some regions than others. A good first step is to survey restaurants and bars in your area to see what is being offered. If you notice several places feature a craft N/A beer, like Athletic, ask for an intro to the sales rep.

If you sample standout mocktails, make notes on what you like about them. If you notice that no one offers an alcohol-free sparkling wine, that means you can fill a gap when it comes to sober celebrations.

Read for inspiration

Over the last few years, many excellent books have been published on the topic of modern non-alcoholic cocktails. To get started, check out Good Drinks by Julia Bainbridge, Zero Proof by Elva Ramirez, or Free Spirit Cocktails by Camille Wilson. You may find recipes you want to put your own twist on, discover ingredients to try, or get other ideas and inspiration as you turn the pages.

Enlist chefs and bartenders

Drinks are like food: ingredients and creativity make a big difference. Talk to your bartenders, sommeliers, and cooks to get their ideas for mocktails. The more people that can contribute ideas, the better your list will ultimately be.

Image depicts a bartender making a mocktail.

Use what you have

People like their non-alcoholic drinks to pair well with their food. It helps if you use ingredients that harmonize in both drinks and dishes. Look to the kitchen and start by using what you have. Fruits and vegetables can be juiced for drinks. Fresh herbs can be muddled for cocktails and mocktails alike. Specialty vinegars, flavored sugars, and spices are all at home in drinks.

Think about variety

If possible, go beyond offering one or two juice-centered mocktails. Your regular drinks menu will give you a clue about how your non-alcoholic beverage menu should look. It’s best to offer nonalcoholic versions of wine, beer, spirits, and cocktails—since you don’t need a license for them, you can even expand your range of offerings. If you don’t know where to start, check out this extensive list of the best non-alcoholic spirits from Epicurious.

To maximize sales, try to offer some non-alcoholic beverage to match every part of the meal. It’s similar to what you already do with non-alcoholic drinks. People may want to start at the bar with a mocktail or N/A craft beer and then enjoy something wine-like with their meal.

There are an increasing number of alcohol-free wines, but there are other options in this category, too. Instead of wine, you could suggest kombucha or something like Proxies, a complex wine alternative that’s been embraced by top sommeliers. There are even exceptional N/A aperitifs on the market now that pair with dessert.

Image depicts a group of people dining at an outdoor restaurant, drinking non-alcoholic beverages.

Decide what you’ll call it

If you’re going to create non-alcoholic cocktails, put some thought into what you’ll call them. Mocktails is a common and well-known term but be warned that many people hate it. Other options include zero-proof, spirit-free, and N/A cocktails.

Put it on the menu, display it on the bar

Once you’ve gone to the effort of creating a new drinks list, don’t hide it. Some restaurants have a nonalcoholic menu but offer it only upon request instead of handing it over with the rest of the menus. Many people aren’t comfortable asking for something that isn’t obvious so be sure to put it out there.

Include the nonalcoholic drink options on your online menus, too. Many people research this specific thing in advance and choose a restaurant based on the availability of non-alcoholic drinks. Last but not least, put your bottles of N/A spirits on your bar with the other spirits you serve.

Whether you are just launching a non-alcoholic beverage program or looking to take an existing one to the next level, there are more options out there than ever. Guests will be grateful you took the time to make sure everyone feels included at your place.