Speaking to attendees at Imbibe Live, González, a third-generation bartender and founder of New York’s The Suffolk Arms, spoke about creating a comfortable environment for sober clientele, and dismissed the mocktail menu as the equivalent of “the kids menu in a restaurant”.
“When I talk about sobriety, I talk about it in a very different way,” he said. “The question of how do I create an experience for sober people kind of defeats the point - What does that even mean? The question in itself leads to a stigma.
“I am always trying to disentangle the notion that there needs to be a not-sober experience in every bar, as if the only way you can truly enjoy being in a cocktail bar is if you're getting f***ed up.
“There are a lot of people who enter bars with no desire to drink, and they are in no way alcoholics - they just don't want to drink.”
'Separate is not equal'
On the subject of the mocktail menu, González said: “How many times have you had a guest come into your bar with a group and they're like 'serve me something that looks like it has alcohol in it' so that people don't ride them for it? That is kind of sad that the only way you can really enjoy your experience is to pretend that you are drinking something that you don't want.
“The mocktail menu is created for that guest, and you may think you are creating a better experience for them, but you're not putting in half the energy you do with the regular menu. It separates the guest from their friends - it's like the kids menu in a restaurant. Separate is not equal, and the mocktail menu will always be seen as inferior.”
González added that venues have four main options when catering for non-drinking guests: do nothing, do something little, do a little more, or do a lot more.
“The Savoy on their menu, without highlighting it, has one non-alcoholic drink on every page of its menu,” he said. “They have tonnes of Muslim guests who don't drink come in and they do not want to separate them from the rest of their guests. They do not give them the baby menu, or the mocktail menu.
“One drink on each page that is non-alcoholic, but is not labelled as such, is subtle, it doesn't separate anyone, and the guest does not need to say that they are not drinking.”
“Or you could do a little something more, such as restaurant labels,” he continued. “Treat people who don't want to drink like someone that has an allergy, or a vegetarian. When you go to a restaurant is there a vegetarian menu? No, but restaurants will label options as vegetarian, gluten free etc.
“That is still subtle, and you can still create mocktails, but you don't have to shove it in people's faces.”
González’s suggestion number three is to create temperate versions of every drink on your menu, giving customers the option to have a cocktail as a mocktail if desired.
“Imagine if a guest came into your bar and you could tell them that you could make a non-alcoholic version of every cocktail on your menu,” he said. “That takes a lot of energy and creativity, but shows an incredible amount of skill and patience.”
Suggestion four is to enhance options that are already part of culture or exist already as part of a daily offer. González calls these “reimagined rituals” that can enhance the experience of the pubgoer without including alcohol, such as offering free tea and coffee service, or a range of custom sodas and unusual juices.
“These are reimagined rituals that you already do every day that can be offered in a pub,” he added.