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At Fifty Three restaurant in New York City, the spirit-free cocktails get as much love as the full-proof ones

As many customers scale back on drinking, the Altamarea Group restaurant offers alternatives

Just because a customer doesn’t drink alcohol doesn’t mean they don’t want a festive drink, and it doesn’t mean they aren’t willing to pay for it. Having beverages that appeal to everyone makes all restaurant guests feel valued, and it improves profitability.

That’s one reason why Kelly Verardo, bar programs director for the Altamarea Group, has rolled out spirit-free cocktails at all nine of the restaurants she oversees, including the Morini and Nicoletta restaurants in New York City, Miami Beach, Washington, D.C., and Bernardsville, N.J., as well as Ai Fiori and Fifty Three in New York.

Fifty Three, a pan-Asian restaurant, has six spirit-free cocktails — a term Verardo prefers over “mocktails" — that make up around 25% of all beverage sales at the restaurant.

“They’ve been very popular,” Verardo said. “There’s a lot of people who come here for business dinners [and want to keep their wits about them] or maybe they just don’t drink.”

She said that more of her customers have stopped drinking Monday through Friday, “and sometimes you just need to take a day off.”

Also, with New York City being a melting pot, many of her customers come from non-drinking cultures, including the restaurant’s chef, Singaporean Muslim Akmal Anuar. 

Because people have different reasons for not drinking, the restaurants need to offer something non-alcoholic for everyone, whether it’s a pregnant woman who wants to have something that tastes boozy even though it’s not, like the Godai — a zero-proof take on an Old Fashioned — or a Club Razz, which is a spruced up mint iced tea that kids enjoy, as do people who come from cultures where they haven’t developed a taste for cocktails.

“You’ll see an eight-year-old drinking three of them,” Verardo said. “And if their parents want to pay for it it’s great for me. It’s better than a Sprite.”

All of the spirit-free cocktails are $16, a step down from the $24 or so charged for full-proof drinks, even though the ingredients aren’t necessarily cheaper. Fifty Three uses the same high-quality mixers in all of the drinks, and Verardo said the alcohol-free spirit substitutes wholesale for around $30, which is more than well alcohol.

She said Fifty Three sold around 600 zero-proof cocktails in January, which translates as $9,600, and that wasn’t because of the popularity this year of “Dry January,” when people abstain from drinking for the month.

“It pretty much stayed on par with where we normally are,” Verardo said of the sales. “I didn’t see as big of a spike as I thought I would.”

Take a look at the spirit-free cocktails on offer at Fifty Three.

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected] 

Correction: April 11, 2023
This gallery has been corrected to reflect that non-alcoholic spirit substitutes can wholesale for more than hard liquor.
TAGS: Food & Drink
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