There have always been plenty of drink options for guests craving a bottle of beer, a glass of wine, or an easy cocktail garnished with a lemon slice or fresh mint. However, with more guests looking for sober options, some bars and restaurants are adding craft mocktails, non-alcoholic beer & wine, and other zero-proof mocktails to their drink menus.

In today's drinking landscape, virgin drink alternatives provide a welcome upgrade to the sugar-filled sodas and cocktail mixes available in the past. And for bars and restaurants, a mocktail drink menu can create an entirely new revenue stream by appealing to patrons who'd typically sip on tonic water or iced tea over an alcoholic mixed drink, according to Forbes. Here is a quick primer on the latest alcohol-free options, four reasons to add mocktails to your drink menu, and some simple yet delicious mocktail recipe ideas that any bar can use for its own menu.

What is a mocktail? Zero-proof cocktails & mocktails explained.

woman pouring bar shaker in clear glass stem glass on bar counter
Cocktails and mocktails are becoming popular options in different bars and restaurants. by Jakub Dziubak / Unsplash

A mocktail is an alcohol-free cocktail. Bartenders typically use alcohol-free spirits, fruit juices, extracts, infused syrups, coconut milk, teas, and other ingredients to create a booze-free beverage with a complex, nuanced flavor profile. As the number of Americans who drink alcohol declines—some estimates show 1 in 3 restaurant guests are lowering their alcohol consumption—the modern mocktail is having a moment.

Most bartenders already know the basic virgin drinks of classic cocktails like Virgin Mojitos or even a Virgin Mary. However, some of these virgin cocktails feel outdated for today's sober or sober-curious guests. That's why the term "zero-proof cocktail" is also being used for "mocktail" and "virgin cocktail."

“The word booze-free cocktail brings to mind a sugary virgin drink,” explained one anonymous guest at Atlanta's award-winning Bon Ton who regularly asks for booze-free options when dining out. “Modern zero-proof beverages have complex flavors, viscosity, etc. They require craft beyond simply pouring orange juice and lemon juice into a highball glass with simple syrup and tonic water. That's why I'm willing to pay cocktail prices for a non-alcoholic beverage.”

Many bars and restaurants are crafting their own individual mocktail menu or including “zero-proof” sections on their cocktail menu to convey that a refreshing beverage offers a more sophisticated drinking experience without any alcohol. And they are pricing them accordingly. It's not uncommon to see a $12 mocktail on today's menus.

Restaurants aren't only limited to putting mocktails on a drink menu. The beer industry has skyrocketed in recent years and is projected to grow to upwards of $40 billion in the next 10 years thanks to their alcohol-free drink options. Major beer giants like AB InBev and Heineken have specifically launched non-alcoholic mixed drink products, and independent brewers like Athletic Brewing offer a wide range of options for varying tastes. These booze-free beverages and wines are also growing quickly.

person holding juice cups
A mocktail can be a refreshing alternative to the typical boozy beverage. Photo by Lightscape / Unsplash

“We've seen increased demand from restaurants for everything in our portfolio—including wine, spirits, and ready-to-drink cocktails," says Sean Goldsmith, co-founder & CEO of The Zero Proof, which imports and distributes non-alcoholic beverages. “In particular, our premium wines like Oddbird Blanc de Blancs have been a standout. Adding an NA sparkling wine to the menu is easy and a crowd pleaser.”

For profit-conscious operators that are new to the non-alcoholic drink trend, it may be wise to start with single-serving “ready-to-drink” mocktails, like a spritz. Alcohol-free wines by the bottle are another option that allow you to provide booze-free options while preventing waste. For those who want to craft their own custom mocktails, a wide range of non-alcoholic spirits are available, and many distributors even sell ingredient kits, so bars can easily create non-alcoholic beverage alternatives to complex virgin cocktail drinks, like a phony Negroni.

Orange fruit near a mocktail Negroni drink.
Most people don't know that you can craft a Negroni without alcohol. Photo by Vlady Nykulyak / Unsplash

If some ingredients seem like a necessity for certain drinks, restaurants and bars can even create their own ingredients for these mocktails. For example, if a cocktail recipe calls for an orange liqueur, you can create an excellent substitute by mixing orange juice, orange zest, and sugar, then mixing it alongside some sparkling water with lime. Always keep in mind that bar patrons are paying for a certain element of craft and sophistication that should go into every drink. Don't be afraid to experiment with nuanced flavors. Later in the blog, we've included some tips for mocktail recipes that use ginger beer and lime juice.

Let guests know you serve mocktails

Bar sign with neon letterings.
A bar will always offer an inviting experience for patrons. Photo by Alex Knight / Unsplash

The number of guests looking for non-alcoholic mixed drinks options is booming, so be sure to let people know you're ready to serve them.

  • Create a section of your bar menu for sober options
  • Add a zero-proof option to your specials and call it out on the specials menu
  • Mix up your best-looking beverage and post a beauty shot to your Instagram
  • Train your servers to proactively mention non-alcoholic options at the first table touch when they are taking beverage orders
  • Offer promotions and discounts for mocktails linked to different types of holidays and events, such as Dry January or Sober October, or even a designated-driver discount

4 reasons to serve non-alcoholic drinks at your bar

Bartender in bar restaurant pouring drink into a glass.
There's a special thrill to pouring a fresh mocktail into a glass. Photo by Dinuka Lankaloka / Unsplash

1. Attract new guests to an inclusive environment

Serving mocktails are a great way to reach different guests looking to mix up their nightlife routine. Since these guests aren't looking for that bottle-service experience, a zero-proof menu proves your bar will welcome anyone. And when you improve your overall guest experience, you build an atmosphere that resonates beyond the drinking experience itself.

2. Drive profit with an unmet need

Waiter in a bar restaurant serving drinks and mocktails for patrons.
Serve some mocktails to see a new type of profit for your bar. Photo by Kate Townsend / Unsplash

Just like with premium cocktails that require a bit more finesse to make, bartenders can create their own higher quality mocktails with a complex taste that goes beyond the typical Shirley Temple. Since these types of mocktails require a bit more effort to make, you can also charge a bit more than typical craft cocktails. If one in three of your guests aren't drinking booze, but your only options to serve them are Coca-Cola products, that means you're seriously missing out on some potential profit. By converting a $2 club soda water into a $6 alcohol-free beer or $11 zero-proof mocktail, you've significantly boosted your profit potential.

Of course, creating a wide variation of complex zero-proof options with a range of flavor profiles isn't easy. But if you're looking to make the most out of your different drink options, try menu engineering for maximizing your bar profits. All it takes is a bit of cost analysis and a worksheet that you can download for free.

3. Gain more content for marketing & social media

Clear jar glass filled with a mocktail juice drink.
Some mocktails are just asking to be shared on social media. Photo by BENCE BOROS / Unsplash

With your mocktail menu creating such an inviting atmosphere in your bar, you can also get a strong boost to your social media pages as well. Thanks to the growing popularity of mocktails that don't look like a glass of iced tea with a dash of orange juice, more patrons are eager to post their beverages on Instagram or Facebook. And when these satisfied guests tag your bar on social media sites, you'll have a great opportunity to have new guests discover your business as a result.

Get some mocktails on your bar menu that coordinate with specific events like the Super Bowl. That way, when people are thinking about heading to a bar and watching the game, you're bar will be the first to come to mind. After glancing at your delicious mocktail menu, the designated driver will feel so much happier heading to a spot with fun drink options catered to their sobriety. Just be sure to send a marketing email to your guest mailing list before special events to let them know what's on the menu. Don't have a customer database for your bar or restaurant? All you need is a reliable bar POS system that can help you automate the easy-to-miss details.

4. Keep your brand relevant to guests

selective focus photo of line of clear drinking glasses
Serve some cheer in a glass, all without the alcohol. Photo by Trevor Gerzen / Unsplash

There's nothing like stepping into a themed bar and seeing all the fun little ways they've matched their branding to their drinks. By approaching zero-proof mocktails with the same sense of creativity, your custom drinks will help sober and sober-curious guests fit in alongside other patrons without feeling like a total outsider. You can use your non-alcoholic drinks to reference different pop culture trends and direct some extra excitement to your own brand.

If you're not a bar with a unique theme and branding, you can still have fun with your branding when it comes to mocktails. For example, a sports bar can craft a drink that pokes fun at itself with zero-proof drinks like, “pretend this has alcohol” or a “I wish this was real beer.” It'll let guests feel like they have a good time at the bar without needing to hide their drinks.

Clear drinking glass with red liquid and sliced lemon.
Who said mocktails need to look or taste like boring? Photo by Rirri / Unsplash

Most bars have a hard time crafting new mocktails that don't taste like someone tried to add vinegar with grapefruit juice. You thankfully don't need to concoct any science experiments when planning out new and interesting drinks for the sober curious. With these mocktail recipe ideas, your bartenders can use simple ingredients like ginger beer or pomegranate juice to make sure patrons finish their drink feeling satisfied.

As always, we highly recommend you add your own variations to these mocktail recipes. See where you can add a sprig of smoked rosemary, a piece of candied ginger, or any other garnish to make your own mocktails stand out. Sometimes a little maraschino cherry will go a long way.

Ginger ale mocktails

brown mug with iced ginger beverage
Ginger offers a great flavor for any mocktail. Photo by Alex Plesovskich / Unsplash

While most mocktails get a bad rep for lacking interesting flavor, using a ginger-base in your drink can bring out that nuanced taste every patron craves in a mocktail. If mixed with the right ingredients, ginger ale and ginger beer both add a sweet yet spicy flavor profile. For example, mix your preferred ginger beverage with grenadine syrup and a cherry to get sweet, red variation of the classic Shirley Temple. Honey can also be used as another simple yet delicious ingredient to compliment that tangy ginger flavoring. Your tastebuds will be your greatest asset when crafting these types of mocktails.

If you want to add some variation to your mocktails for your bar menu, you can always experiment and turn that ginger mocktail into a hot toddy variation. Simply add some apple cider, hot water, and a cinnamon stick to see how many guests would try that mocktail just to stay warm.

Fresh lime juice and club soda mocktails

Bartender pouring lime juice mocktail into a glass.
A fresh lime mocktail can go a long way, especially on a hot summer day. Photo by Caramel / Unsplash

Lime juice and club soda will always be a classic drink that the sober can order so they aren't standing around with a glass of water. Even though these ingredients are cheap and ubiquitous enough to just throw into a glass and hand to patron, there are some fun yet simple ways to turn that lime and soda water into a dynamic drinking experience. For some nuanced flavor profiles, use cranberry juice or other juices with interesting flavors that patrons typically wouldn't normally see. A fancy mocktail drink with a dash of yuzu juice will always stand out as a fun drink to try out.

Don't hesitate to use your cocktail shaker for these types of mocktail drinks as well. Again, since mocktails don't have the kick of alcohol, emphasize the experience of receiving the beverage itself. Guests love hearing the exciting sound of their drink mixed together then poured out into a glass. Just remember to give your cocktail shaker a good rinse after each pour to let mocktail drinkers know their beverage isn't tainted with any leftover booze from the previous cocktail.

Bar point-of-sale system used by bartenders to serve patrons different cocktail and mocktail orders.
The right point-of-sale system in your bar can make a big difference.

Depending on your bar's branding and overall drinking experience, you can even place little fun decorations on top of your mocktail drinks to spruce up that drinking. These decorations can be the classic cocktail umbrella, a tiny rubber ducky that comes in different colors, or even a little piece of milk chocolate as a little dessert. And once you've closed for the night, use your point-of-sale system to see which mocktail beverages sold the most. With an array of tools to help your bar analyze different sales data information, SpotOn's bar point-of-sale system can become your greatest ally in crafting great drinks, an even better drinking experience, and growth in profits.

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