Mock Cocktails, Real Money: Zero-proof Drinks Bring Big Dollars

Images provided by Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile

At Reviver, a recently re-opened bar in the Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile, almost half of the cocktails offered are alcohol-free or low-alcohol. And business is booming.

It’s no longer enough to hope customers will opt for a traditional cocktail, or to hope the one no-alcohol option you offer will cut it. As customers are becoming more aware of their health and the benefits a good night’s sleep, and just steering clear of booze, bar operators can’t afford to not serve mocktails.

In fact, Millennials almost expect a good selection of non-alcoholic cocktails, says bar manager William Nykaza, and “the older generation find it enlightening that these are options that aren’t just fruit juice cocktails.”

And at Reviver, they’re only slightly less expensive than the traditional cocktails. The alcohol-free versions cost $14, while the low-alcohol versions are $16. The traditional cocktails on the list cost $15 to $19. Beverage costs are slightly higher for the alcohol-free versions—15 to 18 percent—and lower for traditional cocktails, closer to 12 to 15 percent.

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“They are premium products,” says Nykaza, “and we use quality ingredients, which is key. We are coming out of a dark era where non-alcoholic cocktails meant pineapple, orange and cranberry juice.”

Having these cocktails on the menu definitely boosts sales, Nykaza says. Since the bar has re-opened, check averages have grown 35 to 50 percent overall, and he says, “a lot comes from having these exciting cocktails.”

Businessperson Boon

The low-alcohol cocktails and no-alcohol mocktails are very popular, says Laura Fashoda, director of restaurants. This is partly because the Marriott draws a lot of business travelers, “who want to stay sharp and healthy.” The dynamic changes a little at the weekends, she says, though the mocktails remain popular.

In fact, the healthy aspect of these beverages, “dovetails very nicely with our gym,” Fashoda says. “We’ve really upped the ante on taking care of our guests and wanted to provide an alternative outlet for them. We offer the additional health benefits like activated charcoal in the mocktails, but you can also treat yourself with them.”

It’s essential to list ingredients, give them good names, and create a sense of experience

And there’s no stigma to drinking them, since no one necessarily knows. “They look just like the other cocktails,” she says. “They have just as much craftmanship and attention to detail, and really cool garnishes, too.”

Nykaza adds that they "actually go one extra step with the non-alcohol cocktails. If someone is going to spend $14 on something without alcohol, you have to make it worth the purchase and have that customer come back the next day and order another one.”

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The most popular mocktail is the Poet’s Holiday, says Nykaza. “I wanted to create a classic martini sour. I wanted it to be a bit abrasive on the flavor palate but beautiful on the presentation. It was designed to have fresh, bright flavors and we balance it out with the shrub and a little vinegar edge, which gives it a nice bite. It gives it an alcohol feel, and you can’t just chuck it down.”

James Samson, director of food and beverage, felt it was important to have mocktails on the menu, not only to serve the clientele looking for them, but also to be able to serve them for the hotel’s expanding catering business. “In this day and age with the hashtag movement, we need to lend ourselves to that structure and think about what we can offer,” he points out.

An Experience

All the mocktails, which will change seasonally, contain products from Seedlip, a British company, and they contribute a lot to them, Nykaza says. “You can never replicate alcohol, on the nose, on the palate, but I want these drinks to look and taste like a cocktail.” Seedlip products, he says, “add a gin-like herbaciousness and take away from the sweetness. They’re really just water that’s distilled, and give the drink size and viscosity. So, it helps to create the mouthfeel of a cocktail.”

Grove 42 Sour Seedlip mocktail at Reviver inside the Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile
The Grove 42 Sour mocktail

Also key to the mocktails is that they don’t just taste good, they’re healthy, too. “Any time I can, I put fresh ingredients in and help people digest,” Nykaza says. The drinks also have minimal amounts of sugar—half an ounce of simple syrup at the most.

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And the cocktails are front and center on the menu, not hidden away at the back, giving them prominence. It’s important to give them equal billing, Nykaza says. It’s essential to list ingredients, give them good names, and create a sense of experience, “that this is going to take someone somewhere and they’ll experience something they’re not going to experience somewhere else.”

Nykaza expects the mocktails and low-alcohol cocktails to remain popular. “The amount of heavy drinking is dropping, so these low-alcohol cocktails are really nice options for people who want to enjoy a cocktail but not have the hangover the next day.”

The Reviver’s four alcohol-free cocktails are:

POET’S HOLIDAY, $14

Seedlip Garden 108, ginger and lemongrass shrub, raspberry, basil, fresh grapefruit, aromatic bitters

GROVE 42 SOUR, $14

Seedlip Grove 42 Citrus, twisted shrub pineapple habanero, fresh lemon juice, sugar, egg whites, mint

GINGER MINT JULEP, $14

Seedlip Garden 108, honey, mint, Q Premium Ginger Beer

MAG MILE SIGNATURE DETOX–TAIL, $14

Seedlip Spice 94, blueberry lemon shrub, activated charcoal, fresh grapefruit, blueberry, thyme, basil

Reviver’s low-proof (typically 10-15 percent) cocktails are:

SPRITZ, $16

Aperol, Campari or St. Germaine La Marca prosecco, sparkling water, and fresh orange

HONEY & HIBISCUS ROYALE, $16

Fruitlab Hibiscus Liqueur, wild flower honey, Cava

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