Mindful Operations: Serving Sober, Sober Curious and Moderate Guests

Moderation and sober curiosity are contributing to flattened alcohol sales. Image: ercegokhan / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Our industry is facing two challenges—the Sober Curious and Moderation Movements.

According to Nielsen,1 nights out in American just don’t look the same, characterized in part by a flattening in alcohol consumption. Slowed alcohol sales are a challenge to operators.

But savvy bar, restaurant and nightclub professionals consider challenges to be opportunities.

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A significant number of Americans are abstaining from alcohol consumption entirely, experimenting with intermittent or otherwise limited sobriety (as in the Sober Curious Movement), or consuming less alcohol overall (as in the Moderation Movement. Nielsen has shared that 66 percent of Millennials are actively reducing their alcohol consumption for 2019. That’s nearly 20 percent more than the 47 percent of all Americans aged 21 and older who say they’re doing the same.

Some bar, nightclub and restaurant owners and operators are justifiably unnerved by the Sober Curious and Moderation Movements. After all, Nielsen says that 83 percent of Americans abstaining from or reducing their intake of alcohol this year intend to do so next year as well.

However, sober curiosity and consuming alcohol in moderation may be better described under the term “mindful drinking.” Many of these people are still interested in nights out and gathering at bars and restaurants to socialize.

It’s important, of course, to understand why Americans are embracing the Mindful Drinking Movement. It’s difficult to transform a challenge into an opportunity without knowing the motivation behind a large-scale shift in behavior.

Nielsen reports that 50 percent of American adults age 21 and older cite health as their reason from abstinence or moderation. Nearly 30 percent say they’re abstaining from or reducing the consumption of alcohol in an effort to lose weight. Price is the number three motivation, with 26 percent citing this reason.

Those percentages may increase a bit as we head into Sober September. Alcohol consumption used to dip in Dry January, but many Americans also plan to participate in a 30-day detox as summer comes to an end.

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

It should come as no surprise that health is the biggest motivating factor for mindful drinking. Americans have, for the past several years, shown much more interest in their overall fitness. But that doesn’t mean that Americans are done consuming alcohol.

According to Nielsen data, zero- and low-ABV beer is worth $77 million within American bars and restaurants. That makes this type of beer the fifth fastest-growing in the U.S.

This past July, VinePair2 ranked their top selections for low-ABV and low-calorie lagers and ales. Their top three lagers, in ascending order, are Uinta Baba Black Lager (4% ABV, 11 carbs, 120 calories), Shiner Ruby Redbird (4% ABV, 3.1 carbs, 95 calories), and Jack’s Abby Blood Orange Wheat (4% ABV, 11 carbs, 130 calories). VinePair’s top three ales (also in ascending order) are Firestone Walker Easy Jack IPA (4% ABV, 120 calories), Uinta Saddleback Brut IPA (4% ABV, 3.9 carbs, 113 calories), and Lagunitas Daytime Ale (4% ABV, 3 carbs, 98 calories).

Guests looking to enjoy non-alcohol beer (beer with an ABV of 0.5 percent or lower) have growing options. Athletic Brewing Co. in Connecticut is dedicated to crafting high-quality NA beer, and their rotating lineup includes a brown, copper, golden, and India Pale ales, a gose, a stout, and more.

The point is, operators must adapt to shifts in consumer behavior if they’re going to survive, thrive and succeed in this business. Big Beer and Craft Beer are duking it out, with brewers, bar pros and consumers debating myriad opinions and talking points, but one benefit is a revolution in non-alcohol, low-ABV, low-carb, and low-calorie beer quality.

Mindful drinkers, clearly interesting in changing their behavior due to health concerns, still want to enjoy nights out. The key is offering them the right beverage options, like zero-ABV beers worth drinking. Staying on top of beverage trends and offering guests new drink experiences can keep them coming back to try what's new and different.

Check this out: Eatertainment is the New Nightclub: How Guests are Changing Nightlife

The sober and sober curious may not be interested in beers that have any percentage of alcohol. With the beverage business exploding with innovations, it’s not that challenging to respect and serve these important consumers’ needs.

Nielsen has identified the top five fastest-growing non-alcohol beverage categories in America: Energy beverages, kombucha, RTD coffee, sparkling water, and value-added water (enhanced with vitamins, minerals, etc.). Operators should also work Seedlip, the world’s first alcohol-free spirit, into their bar programs.

Likely the best move operators can make is elevating the thoughtfulness and quality of their mocktail programs. Speaking of thoughtfulness, some bar pros suggest doing away with the term “mocktail” as it can be considered disrespectful. After all, the word “mock” is part of the term.

The key is offering consumers who are sober, sober curious or otherwise not interested in consuming alcohol during a visit to a bar, restaurant or nightclub the same experience as their alcohol-consuming counterparts. Alienating or underserving these guests will simply drive them away, and they’re not likely to return. Welcoming them and delivering the same top-level guest experience as those who drink alcohol can convert them to loyal, return guests and brand advocates.

The leveraging of eatertainment elements can also help operators ensure guests—whether abstaining from, reducing, or making no changes to alcohol consumption—return for regular visits. With 29 percent of survey respondents telling SevenRooms and YouGov that they prefer going to a bar that offers activities, food and drink in one venue, and 21 percent saying they’re willing to spend more of their money at such a place, eatertainment has shown it’s a profitable business model.

The Mindful Drinking Movement and shift toward eatertainment represent challenging shifts in consumer behavior. But more than that, they’re lucrative opportunities.

SOURCES

1. “Many Americans are Looking for a Bar Experience Without the Buzz.” Nielsen, 2019.

2. “18 of the Best Low-Calorie, Low-Alcohol Beers, Tasted and Ranked.” Cat Wolinski. VinePair.com, 2019.

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