Once upon a time, the word "mocktail" referred to a cocktail that omitted the alcohol, but nowadays it seems that word is becoming a relic. Top-level bartenders and businesses alike are opting to call them "zero-proof" or "soft" cocktails, hammering home the idea that there's no mockery involved in this new beverage experience. Gone are the images of slushy, neon-pink virgin daiquiris and other drinks loaded with sugar and here to stay are new forms of flavorful distilling without the ABV.
What may have started as a grassroots rebranding effort a few years ago is now a full-fledged category of its own within the beverage alcohol industry.
The Kids Are Alright (and Sober!)
To a lot of folks in the alcohol industry, the immediate question surrounding the low- and zero-proof category is: Where did the interest come from?
As with most trends, the zero-proof craze seems to be youth-driven. According to USA Today, 45% of millennials would entirely give up alcohol to improve their health. Consumers are shifting to a health-focused approach when it comes to drinking, whether that's drinking less or shifting how they drink. Let's look beyond the hard data at a few types of patrons that are potential soft-cocktail drinkers and what this might mean for businesses and their bottom line.
Who Are the Sober-Curious?
While it's true that the younger generation are driving the inclusion of low- and zero-proof options at bars, there are plenty of patrons that the category can cater to across all ages.
Gastronomy Foodies and Bloggers
If you’re planning on stopping in four or five different restaurants throughout your night, longevity in your approach needs to be considered. It's easier to taste and sample a plethora of dishes when you aren't ordering a beer or cocktail with every one. But still, a meal isn't a meal without something to wash it down, right? And a quality soft cocktail fits the bill better than a generic soft drink.
Working Professionals and Lunch Crews
No matter the job or generation, most people like to opt for a lunch out to get away from the office once in a while. But sitting down for noon meal on a Tuesday with a handful of coworkers isn't exactly the best time or place to start ordering Manhattans or Martinis. This isn't Mad Men, and knocking a few back before returning to the office probably isn’t the best look.
As restaurants look more and more to lunch service, zero-proof is shining bright as an option to have a well-crafted liquid complement to your meal choice.
Health Conscious Imbibers
Whether you're doing a dry month, looking for low-ABV options on the regular or cutting it out entirely, there's never a shortage of health reasons to simmer down on the alcohol. Taking a more leveled approach to your adult socializing is now easier and tastier than ever. Seedlip, Spiritless, Ritual Zero Proof...there's no shortage of booze-free options to help you keep the drinks flowing and the alcohol absent.
Zero-Proof Can Mean Big Profits
No matter the category you fit into, it’s important to feel special. Whether you're a designated driver, an expectant mother, someone looking for a lighter nightcap or anything in between, there are plenty of reasons for a patron to opt-out of the high ABV drinks. And when Restaurant ‘A’ offers a full selection of elegant soft cocktails and Restaurant ‘B’ hits you with the ol’ soda-gun, the choice is a no brainer.
And before you say it, we hear you—as restaurateurs, we’re running businesses. The profit margins on alcohol are key to a successful restaurant. But like we mentioned in the sober-curious categories above, there are plenty of patrons looking to spend a bit more to get a quality drink with their meal that doesn't necessarily contain alcohol.
The economics of the trend are solutions-based—if a diner spends their evening drinking water, that’s a decent slice of profit margin you’re missing out on. Soft cocktails are generally priced more modestly than their boozy alternatives, but they certainly return more than a glass of water. If a guest orders an $8 zero-proof option over a glass of tap water, and we take that approach over a few lunch services...things really start to add up.
From tiny, craft bars, to multimillion dollar companies, the zero-proof movement is growing to all parts of our industry and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. As hospitality professionals, it’s our duty to cater to the needs of our guests, while also keeping ourselves afloat. And it appears the zero-proof movement is the sweet spot.
So, whether you're drinking regular, low or zero-proof—Cheers!