First and foremost, we’re going to ditch that word.
They’re no longer ‘mocktails’. Instead, top-level bartenders are opting for ‘zero-proof’ or ‘soft’ cocktails. Perhaps the new nomenclature is intended to avoid images of slushy, neon-pink virgin daiquiris. Perhaps we are looking at a grassroots rebranding effort, or perhaps these previously ‘juvenile’ options are growing up after all. Whatever the semantics may reveal, the booze-free movement is catching on. In 2018 and now into 2019, zero-proof cocktails are taking the bar scene by storm.
Gone are the days where non-alcoholic options are limited to Shirley Temples and Diet Cokes. More and more, craft-focused bars are rolling out creative, cutting-edge, zero-proof selections for the non-imbibing patrons.
Of course, to a lot of us, the immediate question is Where’s the fun in that?! Or, more succinctly: Why? Well, there’s no short supply of answers.
As with most trends, the zero-proof cocktail seems to be youth-driven. According to USA Today, 45% of millennials would entirely give up alcohol to improve their health. In a more macro sense, we can all agree that consumers are shifting to a health-focused approach. Looking beyond the hard data, there are a few types of patrons we can pinpoint as potential soft-cocktail drinkers.
You’ve got restaurant hoppers and foodies. If you’re planning on stopping in four or five different restaurants throughout your night, longevity in one’s approach needs to be considered. That is to say, stumbling out of Restaurant Number ‘1’ on your list may not be the best gameplan.
What’s more, picture this: A group of young professionals sits down for a nice lunch on a Tuesday. They want to eat, drink, and be merry. But this isn’t Mad Men -- getting three Old Fashioneds deep and heading back to the office probably isn’t the best look. As fine-dining restaurants look more and more to lunch service, zero-proof is shining bright (yes, like a diamond).
As a diner, it’s important to feel special. You want to feel considered. Whether it’s a designated driver situation, an expectant mother, or anything in between, there are plenty of reasons for a diner to opt-out of the booze. And If you’re a non-imbibing guest, stuck between still and sparkling, the last thing you feel is “considered”. So when Restaurant ‘A’ offers a full selection of elegant, non-boozy ‘cocktails’, and Restaurant ‘B’ hits you with the ol’ soda-gun, it’s not much of a choice at all.
We want to give our guests the most complete and best experience possible. We want every single guest to feel welcome. We want them to feel special. The hospitality behind the zero-proof idea is just that -- our guests, drunk or not, deserve to get the full experience that we have to offer. These days, getting an alcohol-free option doesn’t need to feel like a trade-off.
5 years ago, crafting an innovative, on-trend drink without the booze might have been a tall order (excuse the pun). But today, there’s no short supply of ingredients out there. One of the fastest-growing examples comes in the form of a company called Seedlip. Seedlip was founded on the principle of “What to Drink When You’re Not Drinking”. The company produces a range of craft-distilled, but non-alcoholic, ‘spirits’ that are great go-to’s for getting into the zero-proof game. That being said, non-alcoholic beverages are obviously not a new invention. Since...forever, hundreds of delicious, booze-free ‘libations’ have existed in various forms around the globe. From ginger juice to hibiscus tea, these ingredients can give diners something exciting, without the ‘intimidation’ factor that some booze-heavy cocktail choices present.
And as much as we hate to use the line -- don’t take our word for it! Fine-dining spots around the globe are presenting strong, innovative zero-proof programs. Famed Eleven Madison Park now features a ‘soft cocktails’ section on their list. The classic American Bar in London also offers similar options. Looking at the menus of these two heavy-hitters, we can see that the zero-proof drinks are every bit as innovative and exciting as their boozy cousins.
Even the big boys are getting in on the craze -- Heineken has just released its first non-alcoholic beer. And as most folks would tell you, once the big business starts getting a whiff of these types of trends, that means it’s already time for us to step on the gas.
And before you say it, we hear you -- all that is fine and good, but as restaurateurs, we’re running businesses. The profit margins on alcohol are key to a successful restaurant. Don’t worry -- zero-proof has you covered there, too.
The economics of the trend are solutions-based -- if a diner spends their evening drinking water and iced tea, that’s a decent slice of profit margin you’re missing out on. Because we are so used to it, we may not even notice the problem, but the fact is: The water-only crowd takes a toll on our check averages. Soft cocktails are generally priced more modestly than their boozy alternatives, but they certainly return more than a glass of water. If a guest orders an $8 zero-proof option over a glass of sparkling water, and we take that approach over a few lunch services...things really start to add up.
From tiny, craft bars, to multimillion dollar companies, the zero-proof movement is growing to all parts of our booze-driven world, and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. As hospitality professionals, it’s our duty to cater to the needs of our guests, while also keeping ourselves afloat. Well… from where we’re standing, the soft cocktail looks to be a tasty, mutually beneficial arrangement.
So, let’s get wasted -- or not!