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The bar scene’s new look

It’s not all about the booze.
mocktail glass

In my late 20s, there was a wedding boom. It felt like every other weekend, my friends and I were going out to a bar to toast another newly engaged couple over fancy margaritas, smoky Manhattans or some other handcrafted concoction whipped up to order by a behind-the-bar master. Now that a few years have passed, we’re in a new phase—the baby boom. Yet we’re still celebrating these milestones in the same way: a trip to a bar or restaurant.

For moms-to-be, this had the potential to be anything but a fun celebration. The menfolk get to drink, as do other women, but the preggo was stuck with water or soda. That is, until now—a time I’m lovingly calling the mocktail renaissance.

So many cocktail-focused restaurants are training—or even just allowing—their bartenders to concoct booze-free beverages that are just as complex as those that leave guests tipsy. While they aren’t always listed on the menu, so many restaurants cater to this social but alcohol-free crowd. And I, for one, appreciated not feeling left out in my group of cocktail-drinking buddies. So much so that I never asked the cost of these drinks; I just ordered.

In fact, the Restaurant Business team was pretty amazed with the mocktail concocting on a recent trip to Arizona. Most restaurants we went to didn’t have special mocktail menus, but when asked, every server simply said, “Absolutely, what flavors do you like?” and let the bartender handle the rest. Each time, I was served a glass full of muddled, sparkling, mixed goodness that absolutely fit the flavor profile I described (often: gingery and citrusy).

This begs the question: Are mocktails actually a way to keep bartenders happier, letting them flex their creative muscles at a slightly lower price point to the restaurant? The folks behind the bar can have a little autonomy and experiment with different ingredients to see what works, what sells and how guests respond before adding the more costly booze for other guests. While the syrups, fruits, herbs and more aren’t always cheap, I can say from personal experience that a lot of millennials who frequently dine out are willing to cough up a few extra dollars to take their imbibing beyond soda. 

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