Operators, Don’t Be Afraid of Dry January

Standard cocktail or zero-proof? Image: Maksym Fesenko / Shutterstock

In case you’ve not already tired of being reminded of it, we’ve entered a new year.

That means it’s January. And that means it’s officially Dry January.

There are two ways to look at Dry January: with scorn or with savvy. In other words, will you view it through a lens of obstacle or opportunity?

Up until the past couple of years, the first option was understandable and even justifiable. If people refrain from consuming alcohol for the first 31 days of the year, bar and restaurant bottom lines can take quite a hit. Not a great start to a new year.

But it’s a new day, and I don’t mean that solely in a literal sense.

The rising interest in moderation, intermittent abstinence from alcohol, and outright sobriety doesn’t necessarily spell doom for bars, restaurants and nightclubs. That is, if owners and operators encourage their bar teams to approach zero-proof drinks with the same enthusiasm as low- and full-proof counterparts.

I’ve written this sentiment in various ways over the past couple of years: Expecting guests who have chosen to forgo drinking alcohol to be satisfied with soda, juice, coffee, tea or water isn’t a winning mindset.

If every element of your operation delivers a high-quality guest experience except for one—beverage, in this case—the experience will either be forgettable or memorable for the wrong reason. We all know that with today’s expectations of excellent, personalized service that one misstep can neutralize an otherwise amazing visit.

Give this a read: Mock Cocktails, Real Money: Zero-proof Drinks Bring Big Dollars

So, with that in mind, treat intermittently sober, sober-curious and sober guests the same as your alcohol-consuming guests. Make them feel welcome by not treating them as a challenge—rise to the occasion and make them feel comfortable.

One reason some guests reject the standard alcohol-free beverages—soda and juice, for example—is because they’re seen as sugary and therefore unhealthy. And another reason is that drinking a soda, juice or water can make some guests feel as though they’re standing out, and not in a good way.

With advent of alcohol-free spirits like Seedlip, Ceder’s, Stryyk and Ritual, your bar team can create a selection of drinks that show thought went into the zero-proof section of your menu. Complete the experience with housemade syrups, tinctures and bitters; eclectic glassware; attractive garnishes; and thoughtful, social media-worthy presentations, and sober guests will feel welcomed and respected.

A past criticism of no-ABV drinks has been that the time a bar team, particularly a busy one, has to take to make them isn’t worth the presumed lower prices they must carry. The reality is that Seedlip, for example, is a premium product and featuring it in zero-proof beverages can allow for premium prices. Add Instagrammable (and therefore taggable) glassware and presentations and prices in line with standard cocktails are justifiable.

Dry January—and zero-proof drinks from here and out—is a marketing and promotions opportunity for savvy operators. Operators can attract guests and test the waters of alcohol-free drinks with limited-time menu offerings. They can also go much deeper.

Give this a read: First-ever Booze-free Bar Competition Proves Need for Zero-proof Cocktails

In August of last year, we shared the launch of the Pin Project, a tool that leverages the incredible popularity of pins to subtly signal that the wearer has chosen to not consume alcohol. This month, the Pin Project has partnered with Seedlip to celebrate Dry January.


A post shared by The Pin (@thep.in) on

The Pin Project x Seedlip consists of pop-ups around the country to open up discussions about zero-proof drinks, bar culture and lifestyles. Guests can receive a limited-edition Mover & Shake Pin Project x Seedlip pin and enjoy no-ABV Seedlip drinks crafted by respected bar professionals at revered bars: True Laurel in San Francisco, Navy Strength in Seattle, the Normandie Club in Los Angeles, and Lost Lake in Chicago. Similar collaborations can conceivably be executed throughout the year, and wise operators can get on board.

Yes, hundreds of thousands of people resolve to work out, eat clean and abstain from alcohol in January. With adjustments to food menus and a positive approach to zero-proof beverages, your bar or restaurant can be the place healthier guests recharge their batteries. Dry January is the perfect time to fill out your zero-proof menu and establish your bar or restaurant as zero-proof-friendly.

Putting real thought into your zero-proof menu can pay monetary and guest loyalty dividends. There’s no longer a reason to fear Dry January.

Looking for Dry January Inspiration and zero-proof drink tips? Give these profiles a follow: Seedlip, the Pin Project, and the Mocktail Project. You’ll also have the opportunity to learn about low- and no-ABV drinks from bar pros at the 35th anniversary celebration of the Nightclub & Bar Show. Plan to attend “The New Normal in Drinking” and “The Rise of Zero-proof & Low-ABV Drinks” to learn more.

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