Why restaurants need a non-alcoholic beverage program

Image depicts two people out of frame cheersing pink, non-alcoholic beverages.

Don’t be surprised to see continued demand for non-alcoholic drinks even after Dry January draws to a close. The sober-curious crowd is growing in numbers as generational norms around drinking shift and alcohol loses ground to marijuana. Boozeless cocktails are among the year’s biggest trends.

Almost half of the people who drink alcohol are actively trying to drink less, and 75% of them reach for booze-free beverages, according to the Food Institute. And that’s not even including the 40% of all American adults who do not drink alcohol at all. Increasingly, people want better options whether they are a designated driver, pregnant, training for an athletic event, or simply choosing not to drink on a given night.

Offering something appealing for everyone to sip has become a standard of hospitality. If you’re not convinced the time has come to put thoughtful, food friendly drinks on the menu, consider the following reasons to act now.

Delight abstainers

All guests appreciate raising a glass of something special with others in their group. People who don’t drink alcohol often feel ignored by restaurants and bars with nothing more to offer them than juice or soda. These choices feel like an afterthought compared to the more extensive and exciting drinks that populate a typical cocktail menu.

Putting a little time and effort into crafting (or buying) non-alcoholic drinks that rise to the level of your best house cocktails will go a long way toward delighting those who don’t, can’t, or would prefer not to have alcohol.

Image depicts a group of people cheersing green juices at a restaurant.

Show you care about community health

Offering a non-alcoholic drinks menu is just like providing guests with vegetarian, gluten-free, or allergy-friendly options on the food menu. It shows you support your community when it comes to their health goals. When you make it possible for those with health-related restrictions to enjoy the full experience of dining with you, it shows your commitment to not only health but also hospitality.

Get on-trend

The non-alcoholic drinks category is exploding. Sales of N/A beer, wine, and spirits increased by 24% in 2022 compared to 2021 at the online liquor store, Drizly. The Guardian announced that booze is out of fashion and alcohol-free bars have popped up in New York City. Adding alcohol-free drinks to your menu sends the message that you’re keeping up with the zeitgeist.

Image depicts three mojito mocktails sitting on a table.

Bring in more revenue

If a non-drinker dines with you and sees nothing that appeals to them on the beverage menu, they’re likely to have water. They’re disappointed, and you miss the opportunity to sell them something they want. Even if they purchase one non-alcoholic drink, that’s an improvement over buying nothing.

There’s major money to be made in the booze-less drinks space. Low and no-alcohol drinks are now a $10B business. Kingbird restaurant in Washington, DC, fetches $17 for mocktails such as the Free Spirit, which features Seedlip (an alcohol-free spirit), hibiscus-infused ginger beer, and basil. That’s $17 more than if someone has water with their meal.

Some guests will pass on paying $10 or more for a drink without the buzz, but plenty of other guests will be happy to pay a premium if what you’re offering is sufficiently flavorful and complex.

Earn loyalty

When guests know they can count on you to exceed their expectations, they become true fans. People who eschew alcohol return again and again to places that offer them something wonderful to sip with their meal, and they bring friends. They may even rack up bigger bar tabs in the future if they’re break from alcohol is temporary.

The reverse of this is also true. You can lose loyalty and potential regulars when you don’t offer booze-free drinks. John Seabrook, a New Yorker staff writer who has written about the trend, summed it up well when he said, “The first thing I do when I eat at a new restaurant is check the menu for non-alcoholic drinks. If they don’t have any, I don’t go back.”

Ultimately, a well-considered non-alcoholic drinks program is simply good hospitality. It’s about making everyone feel welcome and making sure no one feels like the odd person out. If offering exceptional hospitality is a high priority for your restaurant, booze-free beverages need to be as well.