The Skinny on Skinny Drinks

The Look Better Naked Margarita that Bar Chef Adam Seger created for Nacional 27 in Chicago, which brings Partida Reposada, Partida Organic Agave Nectar and organic acai juice together with egg whites, lime juice and muddled rosemary, was perhaps the first drinks to solidify the notion that a real cocktail can be indulgent yet not fattening and — gasp — even good for you.

Today, so-called “skinny drinks” are all the rage. Among the under-200-calorie “Spa-tinis” at Morton’s The Steakhouse is the Antioxidant Me, highlighting ABSOLUT Berri Acai, Monin Superfruit Puree and POM Pomegranate Juice, while at Columbia Sussex properties, a 10-drink menu of low-cal sips includes The Stone Sour, which comes in at 111 calories thanks to Finest Call Lite sour mix. ReBar in Phoenix offers five “Naked” cocktails; the Redberry Rapture contains 100 calories and involves muddled raspberries and blueberries, Ciroc Red Berry, fresh lime juice, Sprite Zero and club soda. The Skinny Sexy Sailor at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar ranks at 99 calories, involving Sailor Jerry Rum, black iced tea and fresh lemon juice. P.F. Chang’s, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, O’Charley’s and Morton’s each showcase drinks involving the inherently low-cal TY-KU Soju and TY-KU Liqueur.


Spa-tinis at Morton’s The Steakhouse.

These are just a few of the skinny cocktails gracing drink menus lately, and Beam’s acquisition of the Skinnygirl brand expands the low-cal trend’s position in RTD occasions. While thin is in this summer, there’s more to the trend than meets the eye. For savvy bar operators, skinny drinks transcend summer-fad status; there are multiple, ongoing benefits to mixing thin. Consider:

The drinks side of the chain restaurant business may have dodged a bullet when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration excluded alcohol beverages from the calorie-count requirement in the new menu labeling regulations going into effect later this year. But guests really didn’t give us a pass on this. The demand for skinny cocktails demonstrates their interest in the calorie counts of their favorite quaffs, so the onus is on all bar operators to know that information and be prepared to share it. Doing so puts us in a better (i.e., proactive) position as an industry when the food police target alcohol on their next wave of regulations (and you know that they will). If we are voluntarily and visibly providing low-cal alternatives, could nutrition labeling for adult beverages be less likely to be required down the line? Good question.

The popularity of skinny drinks tells us something very important about how today’s patrons are thinking about imbibing when out for the evening: They want to indulge, but yearn to do so conservatively and not just in terms of spending. Yes, give me a Martini, but make it low-cal, so I feel better about the indulgence. Throw in an ingredient high in antioxidants, and the patron perceives the libation as being healthy — major bonus! Given the current economic trend, it’s likely that any way to make a patron feel “good” about the indulgence of a cocktail — or a glass of beer or wine — makes the decision to have one that much easier. So, I don’t see the demand for skinny sips disappearing as the mercury rises and would warn against removing these trimmed tipples from menus come fall. In fact, the holiday season is a perfect time to tap into that conservative-indulgence desire once again by showcasing your skinny offerings.

Responsible service is an underlying benefit of skinny sips. The higher the alcohol content, the higher the calories; one way to cut calories is to reduce the alcohol content by using a lower-proof spirit or fewer ounces of spirit. Talk about a win-win!

And, at a time when we’re all chasing higher margins, the real beauty of low-cal cocktails is that they can be priced at the same level as their full-calorie counterparts; today’s patrons will spend on a drink with perceived health benefits. If made with lower proof or a smaller measure of spirits, skinny drinks can deliver a higher or at least equal profit margin to full-cal drinks, depending on other ingredients involved. Win-win-win!

Thin is in, and it’s not a passing fad. It speaks to today’s patron’s mindset — their desire for guiltless indulgences — and also to your profit and responsible-service objectives. If you’re not offering low-cal options, give it some serious consideration, and if you’re already doing so, be sure to think thin well into Q4 and beyond. NCB

Suggested Articles

General Counsel, Jessica Shraybman, shares her advice for clients looking to negotiate terms with their landlords.

More than ever, we need Congress to help our independent restaurants which are proven to be a foundation of the U.S. economy.

The list has extended to several states and even more counties as COVID-19 cases rise.