5 Tips for Alcohol-Free Profits

When you look over your beverage menu, what aren’t your offering? If you don’t already have a signature alcohol-free cocktail on your menu, then you’re missing out on profits. Alcohol-free drinks generally have a bad stigma — they’re too sweet, they’re catered to women, they’re not innovative enough — but those are false stereotypes. Alcohol-free drinks are much more than that, as well as a great alternative to the sodas, iced-teas and lemonades on your menu. Kathy Casey, president of Kathy Casey Food Studios & Liquid Kitchen, and Robert Plotkin, NCB contributing editor and author of "Secrets Revealed of America's Greatest Cocktails," share some tips on adding alcohol-free drinks to your menu that also can help your bottom line.

1. Pay attention to language. Avoid terminology, such as mocktail or non-alcoholic, which are "loaded with negative connotations,” Plotkin says. You don’t want to imply to your guest that the drink is missing something, further disconnecting consumers and staff.

2. Create a signature alcohol-free cocktail. Plotkin explains that “an operation can only have one signature drink; it’s their claim to fame.” What’s more, he advises beverage directors to make the staff love the signature drink, having it available to them throughout the day. If the staff becomes a fan, then when they’re greeting a table, it’ll be one of the first things they recommend.

3. Don’t rely on standard products. Think about using açaí and blueberry, both of which are antioxidants. Casey suggests making housemade sodas or carbonated-infused water that people can buy for the table. Remember, “skinny” drinks also are on trend. Alcohol-free drinks with housemade juices, fresh syrups and purees, will attract guests seeking healthy options.

4. Presentation counts. Guests “don’t want to look like they’re not having something sophisticated,” Casey says, so she recommends using Martini glasses, hand-cut ice cubes and making your own whips and foams. Also, consider adding a “wow” factor with well-conceived garnishes and drink design to appeal to a wide-spectrum of consumers.

5. Think about profits. “Operators are missing out on very low-hanging fruit,” Casey says about bars and clubs who aren’t working on their alcohol-free program. Alcohol-free drinks can range from $4 to $8 depending on your concept and the ingredients you use. Compared with a $14 cocktail, alcohol-free drinks can bring in even more profits for your business because of profit margins. However, remember that “you can’t just charge an unlimited amount of money for specialty drinks,” Plotkin says, because it will turn customers off.

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