Punch Bowl Social brings boozeless beverages front and center

The chain goes beyond soda and lemonade to drive sales for the alcohol-free crowd.

Punch Bowl Social has found that its guests are drinking differently than in years past. Millennials aren’t drinking less, per se, says Beverage Director Patrick Williams, but they are choosing to imbibe less frequently. So a few months ago, the emerging eatertainment chain known for its in-house gaming launched what it calls a boozeless craft beverage menu.

The concept has always done a fair bit of nonalcoholic beverages, says Williams, but it’s really put an emphasis on them in the past six months. “It shows we take it seriously,” he says. “When you see a little corner section of the menu for mocktails, it’s just not at the forefront.” Punch Bowl Social deliberately created a different menu, printed on a different color, that servers hand out along with a traditional cocktail menu. “It lets our guests know that it’s not an afterthought and a ton of work went into it,” says Williams. With drinks priced from $5 to $7, it doesn’t hurt check averages, either.

One goal, says Williams, is that the menu will start a conversation with guests. Servers are trained to present both drink menus and give a preview of the boozeless menu, gauging how interested the guest is. “It’s a lot to digest with two [drink] menus, so it starts as a conversation piece,” he says. Interest varies at different times of the day, but so far, consumers have been thrilled with the large number of options, says Williams, especially nondrinkers: drivers, pregnant guests and those on a cleanse, among others who don’t want an adult beverage. 

Boozeless is slowly growing. We’re starting to see folks calling out strong versus weak cocktails, and this will continue as a trend. —Patrick Williams, Punch Bowl Social

Williams divided the boozeless menu into four sections: From the Juicer; Preschool (mocktails); Sodas, Fizzes & Fresh ’Ades; and Soda Jerk. “It helps guide guests around,” he says. Each section is very different, he adds. The juice section sways healthier, while the Soda Jerk offerings are sweeter, with milkshakes and an egg cream. Sodas and fizzes are lighter for anytime, and Preschool offers the cocktail experience without booze.

For the Preschool section especially, Williams spent time developing recipes that were more than just a cocktail with the alcohol removed. “The term ‘mocktail’ drives me crazy,” he says. “It’s mocking a cocktail, just removing the alcohol. It’s not that easy.” Instead, he explored different ingredients, taking what he calls a “cocktail approach” by paying attention to texture and balancing sour, vegetal, sweet and herbaceous flavors.

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