The Mocktail Menu: Why Bother?

The Kitchen and its sister bar Upstairs located on Pearl Street in Boulder, Colorado offers three creative, well-crafted mocktails on their cocktail menu.  Pictured from left to right, the Thyme-Ade (club soda, lime juice and thyme simple syrup), the Apple Mojito (apple cider, mint, lime juice, and simple syrup), and the Kitchen Rickey (fresh-squeezed lime juice, blood orange bitters and ginger ale).

Who goes to a bar and doesn’t drink?

If you own a bar or nightclub, you know that alcohol is your bestseller.  It always has been.  Most people who come to your establishment plan to drink upon arrival.  

However, several exceptions do exist.  When the occasion calls for it, nondrinkers will put aside their own inclinations and come out to celebrate a friend’s birthday, a colleague’s last day, or any number of other bar-hosted events. 

Some such “nondrinkers” are of the perennial sort.  They’re not drinking this time.  They won’t be drinking next time they come in either.  Folks that fit into this category are those who have struggled with addiction in the past and those who abstain from alcohol for religious reasons. 

On the other hand, you have the temporarily-not-drinking variety.  This subset includes the designated drivers, the pregnant women, the marathon trainers, and the under-agers.  In a matter of months, these part-time teetotalers may be ordering rounds of shots and downing twelve dollar martinis, but their drinking is tabled for the time being.  Self-control is being put to the test; don’t make these patrons feel like second-class citizens by ignoring their desires for non-alcoholic beverages (NABs).   

Why offer non-alcoholic beverages?

We live in a day and age of gluten and peanut allergies, vegetarianism and veganism.  Restaurants have updated their menus to accommodate all diners.  The goal is to make all feel welcome and provided for. 

The same goes for the drink menu.  Jason Hein is the General Manager and Bar Manager at The Kitchen and its sister bar Upstairs in Boulder, Colorado.  Hein says they have a robust nonalcoholic drink menu because “you want something for everyone.  We live in a unique place in Boulder with how health-conscious the athletes are here while training for an event.  Many still like to dine out but without the carbohydrates and calorie intake of alcoholic drinks.  One of our philosophies is whatever your dietary restrictions may be, we’ll accommodate them.”

The motivation behind his non-alcoholic drink menu isn’t profit-driven, says Hein,  but the profit margin on well-crafted mocktails can be even higher than their alcohol-infused cousins.  If you’re running a full-service bar, you already have all the ingredients for virgin versions.  Hein says they sell at least 100 nonalcoholic cocktails a week.  At five dollars per, Upstairs makes more on drinks like the Thyme-Ade than it would doling out 100 free tap waters to the same clientele.  Plus, Hein sees the same people come back and order the same mocktail time and again.  

What to offer on your mocktail menu?

Jason Hein suggests you put the same attention to detail into your non-alcoholic drink menu as you do into your cocktail list.  At Upstairs, they change the menu seasonally.  Each time, they involve a number of staff in brainstorming, test tasting, and eventually collaborating on the final products.  He says leaving it up to the customers to ask for a nonalcoholic concoction would show a lack of creativity on their part. 

Instead, they use the same fresh ingredients, such as fresh-squeezed, organic juices and craft ginger beers and club sodas.  The mocktails are adorned with a garnish and served in the same glassware as the cocktails.  This attention to mixology and presentation goes a long way with customers.  Hein says, “if we’re putting time into crafting cocktails, it’s nice to include a few non-alcoholic drinks that can showcase what we do.”

Where will we see the mocktail trend go next?

Even more than non-alcoholic cocktails, bars tend to offer non-alcoholic or “near” beer options.  At Kitchen and Upstairs in Boulder, CO, Jason Hein says they carry Kaliber Beer, which has a .05% alcohol content, but it’s by no means as big a seller as their mocktails are. 

As far as low to no-alcohol wines go, Hein says they’ve had Martinelli’s sparkling cider on the menu in years past, but it’s more of a grape juice.  He’s curious but skeptical about the future of nonalcoholic wines at bars.  Heine pays close attention to what other places in the business are doing, and he’s not seeing low-alcohol wine offerings anywhere. 

One pregnant patron is hoping Hein is wrong and the trend towards non-alcoholic wine offerings shifts in her favor.  Shannon of Denver, Colorado says, “At home, if my friends come over and sip wine in front of me, I pour a glass of ARIEL [non-alcoholic wine] and feel more like part of the party.  But I’ve never been able to order it out.  I can’t wait for the day when it shows up on bar menus.  In the winter, I’m much less interested in ordering a cold near beer or a mocktail on ice than I am inclined to cozy up to the bar with a glass of red -- faux or not.”

Most wine makers sell a low, nonalcoholic, or alcohol-removed vintage, and like non-alcoholic cocktails, they can sell at a slightly higher profit margin than the spiked varieties.  If the goal is to accommodate all, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before we see non-alcoholic wines popping up on bar menus.  Speaking of pop-ups…

Brillig Dry Bar pop-up has arrived in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Owner Nic Sims describes it as a “bar-like convivial atmosphere with snacks and drinks and conversation, without it being a bar.”  Redemption Bar in East London serves up non-alcoholic drinks and the slogan “Spoil Yourself Without Spoiling Yourself.”  Redemption has been around for a few years now and several other dry bars are populating the English nightlife scene.  It remains to be seen if the dry bar is the wave of the future in the U.S., but these mocktail havens are evidence that carefully crafted nonalcoholic drinks have an audience and are here to stay.  Make your mocktail menu now!  

The 2016 Bartending & Mixology Track at the Nightclub & Bar Show, in partnership with the United States Bartenders’ Guild, provides additional tools and tips for bartenders and managers. Register today to learn from industry experts. 

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