As a growing number of consumers replace the buzz of alcohol with the buzz of mindful living even after “Dry January” or “Sober October” are long over, modern alcohol abstinence — whether part of an overall wellness lifestyle or for other reasons — has become an entrenched trend in the hospitality space. Savvy food and beverage operators are adding more and better non-alcohol offerings, and hotel restaurants would do well to attract guests seeking a sober stay.
Sober-curious and sober-committed
Providing creative and memorable non-alcoholic beverages not only helps to establish a restaurant or hotel as a go-to for non-drinkers, but it also makes sober guests feel comfortable having fun when they are the minority in a group of imbibers.
Hotel mixologists and beverage experts can craft intricate mocktails and alcohol-free pairings that rival traditional cocktails in taste and presentation, which elevates the overall dining experience. Distillers and bottlers also are responding to the trend with their own zero-proof options available for purchase and mixing.
Additionally, by embracing zero-proof menus, hotels open their doors to new revenue streams. Hosting alcohol-free events, offering non-alcoholic beverage pairing packages, and collaborating with non-alcoholic beverage companies present exciting prospects.
Dynamic flavors for dynamic demos
Hotel Indigo, Voco hotels, and InterContinental Hotels & Resorts are all required to carry at least one to two non-alcoholic cocktails, but the requirements around the menu design are a bit different, Alexander Valencia, director, global food & beverage, luxury, lifestyle & premium restaurant & bar solutions at IHG Hotels & Resorts said.
s with all our beverage offerings is typically pretty standard: increase revenue, but mainly for guest satisfaction,” he said. “Having a sophisticated zero-proof option for the guests that choose not to imbibe can be a surprise and delight.”
The addition of zero-proof cocktails can attract local guests who are seeking out a non-alcoholic option—similar to the draw of local restaurants that include gluten free or vegan options.
“If a group is going out, and someone is vegan or gluten-free, they will usually influence the group to go to where they can get those excellent options,” Valencia said. “So, for hotels looking to attract more local business, a top non-alcoholic offering can be a key differentiator and draw.”
The growing sober market includes guests refraining from alcohol, permanently or temporarily, for a variety of reasons, and it is important to understand those consumer motivations and goals.
“Crowne Plaza Hotel and Resorts’ menu added zero-proof drink requirements in summer 2021 based on trend data showing demand for non-alcoholic options was growing and was especially prevalent in our target guest profile,” Laura Luley, manager, food & beverage concepts & innovation, Crowne Plaza Global said. “At the time, we were still focused on the business traveler, and data showed of responsible consumption to ensure they were feeling their best for meetings the next day. Then, we were hearing about a ‘sober-curious’ movement at every beverage conference, and our team started noticing that even in our own social media circles friends and family were posting about Dry January and Sober October and overall cutting back on alcohol after the pandemic when alcohol sales skyrocketed.”
Many guests are just part-time or situational abstainers.
“We have feedback from hotels that people will order a cocktail then switch off to a non-alcoholic and then go back to a regular cocktail, and so forth,” Luley said. “The zero-proof options can help extend the evening and allow people to stay a part of the fun for longer. We also have options for low-alcohol cocktails—a similar premise where someone wants a beautifully presented adult beverage, but they may not want the full effects that alcohol has. The low-ABV options are a great solution.”
The two zero-proof cocktails that are the most popular at the Crowne Plaza are the Garden & Ginger, made with Seedlip Garden 108, Fever Tree ginger ale and rosemary; and the Cranberry Refresher, made with cranberry juice, pomegranate, fresh lime juice, fresh orange juice and Fever Tree ginger ale.
“They have completely different flavor profiles
, and appeal to a wide variety of guests,” Luley said.
For travelers whose interest in cutting out alcohol is part of an overall wellness lifestyle, EVEN Kitchen & Bar at IHG’s EVEN Hotels—which offers fitness centers, fitness equipment in rooms, and healthy meal options—has crafted mocktails. For instance, the Hibiscus Paloma uses zero-proof silver tequila, hibiscus, lime and sparkling grapefruit juice.
Sober menus aren’t just for restaurants. Select Kimpton hotels offer a dedicated sober meeting and events package. Newly launched for meetings and events of all sizes is the Kimpton Hotel Monaco Philadelphia's “Zero Proof Bar” add-on, which gives those not willing to imbibe—or younger guests—the freedom to order from a selection of curated alcohol-free options such as the Cos-no-politan, made with Seedlip, orange blossom simple syrup, fresh squeezed lime and cranberry; and the Blueberry Nojito, made with a zero-proof spirit, blueberry mint syrup, fresh lime and soda. Cost varies based on size, but pricing for the Zero-Proof Bar starts at an additional $2 per person, per hour.
Mocktails deserve equal quality
Cloyingly sweet juice drinks or sodas may please children, but sober adults seek more mature flavor profiles.
“A balanced and sophisticated flavor profile is key, as well as presentation,” Luley said. “You can get a soda anywhere; a vending machine can dispense a soda. A thoughtfully crafted non-alcoholic cocktail is an art.”
Again, the sober community is as varied as those imbibing alcohol, so having more options means more guest satisfaction.
“Not all of our non-alcoholic cocktails are low-sugar or low-calorie, but many of them are, so that can also factor into a guest’s choice as well,” Luley said. “And none of our zero proof cocktails have caffeine, so if you usually go to bed at 9 p.m., that is a major selling point. And let’s not forget our pregnant guests. Most restaurants just offer sparkling water—maybe with a lime—and now there are so many great options from non-alcoholic cocktails to zero-proof beers and wines for guests to enjoy.”
Lean on the expanding market of non-alcoholic products
Dedicating staff ingenuity to mocktail mixology isn’t always necessary. As marketers continue to introduce more interesting non-alcoholic cocktails and beers in cans and bottles, giving guests satisfying sober refreshment can be easy. Especially poolside, canned options are a viable offering. Plus, good product partners may be willing to share their homework.
“We have great partnerships with beverage suppliers and distributors who bring us data on emerging trends in flavor, products and presentation,” Valencia said, “so we look at all of their combined breadth of information and expertise and then cross-reference what we know about our guests to come up with the offering.”
IHG engages a few mixologists to come up with signature cocktails and then the team will “pressure test” them internally and with their hotel-based team members to narrow down the finalists, Valencia said. Finally, they make those recipes available in a data bank for hotels to choose from, and each hotel gets to choose the ones they think will work best for their location.
Ultimately, sober menu options are inclusive. Little is more alienating—and less hospitable—to a sober guest than being told the restaurant offers no non-alcohol beers or cocktails. The personalization of offering legitimate non-alcohol drink choices fosters a stronger connection between guests and the hotel, leading to positive reviews and increased guest loyalty.