For many people – and many restaurants – food and drinks go together. And when we say “drinks,” we mean alcohol. Restaurants that want to offer a complete dining experience have bars that are stocked with the latest spirits and manned by the most knowledgeable and skilled bartenders. However, word on the culinary street is that there is a trend afoot that might alter the food-drink synergy. Right now nonalcoholic drinks and cocktails are all the rage.
Not Everyone Drinks
For various reasons, more and more people are on the wagon. Pregnant women, designated drivers, AA graduates, health-conscious consumers, etc., tend to shun alcohol, while many people are now more open about the fact that they just don’t like it. In Europe, the non-alcoholic-beverage trend took the continent by storm a few years ago, while in the United States the no-booze locomotive is just starting to gain steam. As Duane Stanford, editor of the trade publication Beverage Digest, say, “It’s a small but definitely growing segment of the market. It’s definitely a trend.”
Surveys show that the amount of alcohol consumed in the United States in 2016 was significantly lower than the previous year, following the UK’s lead, where drinking rates among British adults are at their lowest since 2005. A recent survey found that in the UK, the proportion of people who drank alcohol at least once a week decreased from 64.2% to 56.9% last year, while the trend is particularly noticeable among young people: more than 25% of 16- to 24-year-olds do not drink.
So, although it’s not time to fire the bartender and sweep away the array of bottles that adorn your bar, it is time to begin featuring zero-proof drinks and acknowledge the fact that the way people drink has changed, and that more patrons than ever will start asking for no-alcoholic beverages (or “no ABV”).
Alternatives to Alcohol
With major cities like Los Angeles, London, and New York embracing the non-alcohol trend, other options have cropped up. Seedlip touts itself as “the world’s first alcohol-free spirit” created to solve “the dilemma of ‘What to drink when you’re not drinking.’” According to the Seedlip website, the spirit is “based on the distilled non-alcoholic remedies from The Art of Distillation written in 1651 by John French, now being repurposed to pioneer a new category of drinks.” Seedlip is an alcohol-free, sugar-free, sweetener-free beverage, which contains zero calories.
A New York Times article, entitled, “Drinks at High-End Hotel Bars — Hold the Booze,” quotes Seedlip’s founder, Ben Branson, who says that he created the new product because he doesn’t drink, but likes the bar scene and he “had a hard time finding a drink to enjoy at many of the bars” he went to. He says that he got tired of drinking ginger ale or club soda every time he went out and started exploring the possibility of creating a spirit, based on the nonalcoholic tinctures and extracts that he read about in The Art of Distillation. After months of experimentation, he ended up with two blends: Garden 108, made from peas, hay, spearmint, rosemary and thyme; and Spice 94 that includes allspice, cardamom, oak, lemon and grapefruit. Both versions offer something that has previously not existed in spirits: a non-alcoholic drink that works like its boozy brother (but without the resultant inebriation).
There is also a whole slew of mixed cocktails, called “mocktails” that mimic old favorites like Moscow Mule, Margaritas and Paloma Fizz, sans the alcohol. Using many commonly used cocktail mixers already stocked in the bar such as tonic water, lime juice, orange juice, sparkling water, lemon juice, ginger ale, and garnishes such as maraschino cherries, olives, mint and various spices, bartenders are mixing up interesting, hydrating and fanciful mixed drinks that are leaving their customers satisfied — albeit without experiencing a hangover the next day.
Tea is the New Tonic
For Paul Benjamin — founder of the rare-tea company Benjamin & Blum — creating something special for nondrinkers meant focusing on presentation as well as flavor. His teas come in beautiful bottles and, according to Benjamin, they offer the Western version of the East Asian tradition of combining tea with nice meals. “Tea goes extremely well with food,” he says. “And it works well as a palate cleanser at the end of a meal.” These cold-brewed, rare teas are designed to be served like a white wine: slightly chilled and in the appropriate wine glass. As far Benjamin is concerned, the goal in restaurants should be to make nondrinkers feel as welcome as drinkers. “People who are taking a night off from alcohol don’t want to sacrifice spending time with their friends,” but still want to have “something complex, considered and delicious.”
The Health Trend Continues
The wave of non-alcoholic drinks that is hitting the market can also be viewed as part of the overall health trend that has had a big impact on restaurants in the last few years. Consumers are looking for something that’s better for them, even if it’s more expensive. “I think customers are looking for elevated, grown-up drinks that happen to have no alcohol in them,” Branson says. “I’ve certainly noticed in the last 14 months that bartenders and restaurants are putting more effort into their nonalcoholic beverage programs.”
Seedlip is capitalizing on the shift among savvy consumers: a growing aversion to sugar, and a renewed focus on health, which often means cutting back on alcohol. Health-conscious diners continue to educate themselves on the pros and cons of what they consume, and the latest lesson is related to the health benefits of reducing one’s alcohol intake. The facts that liquor is high in calories, and causes the body’s metabolic process to slow down, are the primary reasons behind the latest consumer trend.
Non-Alcoholic Business Boosters
Bartenders – a.k.a. mixologists – who are recognizing the no-ABV trend, are not just satisfied to pass off just any old no-proof drinks to their non-imbibing customers. They are taking the time and making the effort to create cocktails that are as intricate and thoughtfully produced as “real” drinks. When a group goes out for drinks, restaurant owners and bartenders should ensure that everyone can order something exciting and unique, even customers ordering non-alcoholic beverages. And, a spirit like Seedlip, offers bartenders a chance to show off their skills as they create drinks that are as fun and complex as regular cocktails. If bars and restaurants are all about socializing and having a good time, the idea is to ensure that all diners have the ability to participate in that experience and feel that there is something on the drink menu for them.
For restaurants and bars, offering high-quality, interesting non-alcoholic drinks can be a good business practice as catering to non-drinkers can be quite profitable. Customers who drink water are not enjoying the full restaurant/bar experience; nor is the food establishment making any money on them. And, during lunchtime, when more and more people are resisting the lure of alcohol because of its effect on the rest of the workday, there’s money to be made by introducing no-ABVs.
Give Your Customers What They Want
With more and more adults opting for non-alcoholic drinks, it’s time to recognize that the no-ABV trend is here to stay. Seedlip sales have increased tenfold in the last year, testament to the fact that there is a sea change taking place in the hospitality industry. Bars and restaurants are waking up to the fact that people are searching for healthier options in food and drink and are offering a variety of mocktails that consumers are gravitating towards. Similar to how vegetarianism impacted food producers and restaurants 20 years ago, this latest drinking trend is leaving its mark on the beverage industry. And the bottom line is, as a business owner, the time and effort it takes to create an outstanding list of non-alcoholic drinks is going to be financially worth it.