How do I boost slumping January bar sales?

Dry January
Dry January can take a toll on bar sales if operators are unprepared. / Photo: Shutterstock


Dear Advice Guy,

January has always been slow, but Dry January has been catching on and it’s been impacting things more than usual, including some of my regulars. We are a neighborhood bar and are not doing a lot of food sales. Any ideas?


– - Owner


Many folks have been reducing their drinking for a variety of reasons: health, safety, drug interactions, addiction, budget and so on.While non-drinkers have historically felt pressure to drink, especially in social situations such as at bars, social movements such as Dry January have normalized temperance. It’s none of your or anyone else’s business why an adult might choose not to drink.

To be sure, a reduction in drinking can be tough for bar revenue—margins on alcoholic beverages are high and alcohol relaxes inhibitions, including inhibitions on having another drink, buying others a round, ordering some indulgent bar food, or striking up a conversation with another guest, creating the vibe.

My advice is that rather than bemoaning the decline, you do what you can to promote Dry January offerings. Heather Ransome, founder and CEO of Zero Proof Go says, “Dry January this year is going to be the biggest we've ever seen. A lot of it is based on the fact that we're just not drinking as much as we have been, and people are waking up to the fact that alcohol is not great for you in large quantities. I think part of that is the self-awareness movement. I think part of it is also the health-and-wellness movement. But the truth is that the younger generations aren't really big drinkers. So, if the restaurants don't jump on dry January and test out some of this programming, they're going to have a really rough 2024 as far as liquor, beer and wine sales are going. So, it's time to embrace it.”

Zero Proof Go offers support, education and promotion such as a “Happy Hour for All Crawl” for bars and restaurants. Ransome recommends a few strategies for operators new to the zero-proof space:

  • Test it out in Dry January when it’s top of mind with a simple program using ingredients you already have in house.
  • Visit a zero-proof bottle shop for ideas and products to go beyond simple mocktails.
  • Train staff and get them on board to help sell it.
  • “Build a marketing campaign around it. This is the hottest hashtag in January.”

Finally, Ransome says that resigning yourself to a decline in revenue is short sighted: “People will pay the same amount for a good mocktail as they will for a cocktail.”

More on zero-proof beverage lists here and here.