2 May, 2023
One of the challenges of going out to bars and restaurants when you’re not drinking is that there is still generally a lack of great adult, alcohol free options. Not only are non-alcoholic drinks hidden in a very small section at the back of the drinks menu; what is on offer makes you feel like you’ve been relegated to the kids table.
Soft drinks, juice and water have become the standard offerings for those who are not drinking when they are out. Like vegans or vegetarians 10 years ago, the options catering to this group are often an afterthought and lacking in consideration.
On a recent trip to Queenstown, Lisa King, founder of AF Drinks, who normally doesn’t drink, dined at a highly rated restaurant. The drinks menu included at least 30 options for craft beers, high-end wines and specialty cocktails. The only non-alcoholic drink listed was a bottle of expensive sparkling water. The waiter also informed her that Coke was available.
Faced with these choices, King felt compelled to order a glass of red wine with her $40 venison. “I just didn’t want a sugary soft drink to go with my delicious and expensive meal. The drink accompanying the food is just as important and so it’s disappointing when the restaurant makes so much effort to curate a beautiful wine list to match the food, but forgets about the non alcoholic options to go with it”.
This isn’t just limited to restaurants, but King has had similar experiences at bars. Out for a few drinks with friends in Kingsland in Auckland, she asked what non-alcoholic drinks the bar had and the barman proudly announced they had V or cranberry juice.
The lack of good, alcohol-free options was the reason King started AF Drinks in 2020. Missing the complexity and sophistication of a G&T, she created her own range of alcohol free G&T’s, Apero Spritz and ‘rum’ based drinks. These are now stocked in some of the best restaurants in Auckland, such as Cocoro, Lilian's, Cibo, SPQR, Tokyo Bay and Amano.
With many kiwis cutting back on their booze and alcohol consumption at its lowest in 10 years (New Zealand Health Survey 2020/21), customer expectations are changing. King believes that while some establishments are starting to place more care and thought into their non alcoholic offerings, the hospitality industry really needs to step up and meet this new way of drinking that doesn’t involve alcohol. She hopes to see non-alcoholic drinks have much more prominence and curation on menus in the near future.
Like vegetarian dishes, non-alcoholic drinks can be just as exciting and interesting as their alcoholic counterparts.