Ordering a thoughtful concoction without alcohol instead of Sprite or coffee should be no big deal. Plenty of Atlanta restaurants and bars are recognizing the need for creative and interesting non-alcoholic drinks on their menus.
The term ‘mocktail’, however, can summon feelings of being patronized or infantilized; as if the person ordering is already being judged for choosing not to drink alcohol. Is the person skipping alcohol because of calories? A pregnancy? They need to drive home? Perhaps they have a problem with alcohol or addiction. A person should be able to order non-alcoholic drinks without feeling ashamed.
Clarke Anderson, the beverage manager for Ford Fry’s restaurants, says all drinks—whether they contain spirits or not—should be treated with care. “We engineer them [non-alcoholic cocktails] to plug in spirits and maintain their character. I think of the word ‘mocktail’ like the word ‘mixologist,’ it’s just a bit too singular and not crediting the drink for its merits with or without alcohol.”
King + Duke in Buckhead offers several booze-less beverages, ranging from the bright, spicy From Sunset to Star Rise (cranberry, red pepper, orange juice) to a soothing hot spiced cider (Mercier cider, pie spice). The restaurant respectfully sets the tone for these drinks on the beverage menu, listing them as “N/A Cocktails”. No. 246 in Decatur offers four alcohol-free options on its menu; including a reviving espresso fizz.
But, it seems the bars and restaurants that do list non-alcoholic cocktails on their menus are the exception, not the rule in Atlanta. One virgin beer, house-made soda, or fresh-pressed juice isn’t enough. Also, labeling a non-alcoholic drinks menu with condescending monikers like “Preschool”, as is the case at Punch Bowl Social (PBS), doesn’t make a patron abstaining from alcohol feel particularly welcome.
Punch Bowl Social’s national beverage director Patrick Williams explains why the term was chosen, “‘Old School’ are our classic cocktails, ‘New School’ are our signature drinks, and ‘Preschool’ are our non-alcoholic drinks. ‘Preschool’ had a nice ring to it and fit with the other sections of our menu.”
Condescending branding aside, the non-alcoholic drinks on PBS’s menu are quite approachable and creative. This includes the cilantro fizz made with cilantro, jalapeño and cucumber syrup, lime juice, and aquafaba—chickpea liquid used as a vegan substitute for egg whites.
Matt, an Atlanta-based writer and editor who doesn’t drink, says he experiences “lots of weirdness” when ordering non-alcoholic drinks.
“Servers will hang around thinking I have a drink order even after I say I’m good with water,” he says. “If someone with me orders a drink, a server will bring it to me instead. Most people at bars show a level of discomfort when someone doesn’t drink—like a pattern is changed and they need to recalibrate their work movement.”
Fellow Atlantan Sarita has experienced similar obstacles while ordering non-alcoholic cocktails. This includes being questioned by servers and bartenders about ordering a drink without alcohol. Is that really what she meant to order? Sarita says this occurs about 50 percent of the time; especially when she is at a business dinner. She believes this attitude is a “disservice toward pregnant people who aren’t ready to disclose and people trying to blend in to heavy drinking environments.”
Sarita adds that the stigma against skipping alcohol may just be a regional thing, too.
“Every time I’m in L.A., I’m struck by how common it is to have kombucha and cold brew on tap at bars,” she says. “That makes it so much easier to drink something that isn’t Coke or soda water.”
Anderson references cost as a factor into a bar or restaurant’s decision to offer a variety of non-alcoholic options on the menu.
“People skip them on the menu because they take up real estate better used for alcohol,” he explains. “The perception of value is not as high. When a cocktail with well spirits is $7 to $10 and the ‘mocktail’ is $4 to $5, the value perception is not here.”
Similarly, patrons ordering non-alcoholic drinks may be concerned about servers assuming they won’t tip. Sarita says it is for this reason she often tips “around 150 percent at bars.”
Bain Mattox, owner of Normal Bar in Athens, Georgia, says he decided to list non-alcoholic cocktails on the menu after watching his wife struggle to find drink options while pregnant, “When Normal Bar opened in 2010, we had just come off of having our second child, so we’d spent at least 18 months of our lives going out on dates and not being able to find much for my wife to drink while she was pregnant that was very exciting for her palate.”
But, Anderson says even those who aren’t concerned with being pregnant or worried about possibly inheriting an addiction gene should consider non-alcoholic cocktails.
“The options we offer are really nice to cleanse the palate, to excite the appetite, and prepare the senses for a beautiful meal. The complex cocktail flavors and beautiful seasonal fruits are appropriate all hours of the day where boozy cocktails may be too much for certain occasions.”
Mattox also finds many patrons at Normal Bar start out their evening with a non-alcoholic cocktail to quench their thirst or, as Anderson suggests, to prep the palate before ordering alcohol. He also sees people start with beer or cocktails and end the evening with a non-alcoholic drink.
“When making the menu for the bar, I wanted to offer something delicious for the pregnant ladies and non-drinkers to get excited about.”
While it’s reasonable to assume most people aren’t coming to bars to sip on fancy sodas, patrons choose to abstain from alcohol for various reasons. However, just as a vegetarian shouldn’t need to explain why they don’t eat meat, bar patrons should feel confident and un-judged when ordering non-alcoholic drinks. It starts with dropping the term ‘mocktail’.