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As the mocktail trend grows, restaurants are getting creative

More and more people want nonalcoholic drink options and restaurants are finding new ways to meet that demand.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A new trend in Charlotte is having a surprising impact on bars and restaurants.
More and more people want nonalcoholic drinks, so restaurants have had to get creative to maintain their bottom line.

Jacob Bryant is the head bartender at uptown’s popular rooftop bar Merchant and Trade.

These days, he’s doing something he didn’t always do…mixing up drinks - with a twist.

"Right now, there’s a lot of people avoiding drinking alcohol - completely understandable, but we want to have products available they can drink."

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Merchant and Trade’s cocktail menu includes six mocktails – all specially crafted drinks - without alcohol.

"When we make drinks that don’t have alcohol we want them to look like our cocktails and be something someone that isn’t drinking feel like they get the same experience," Bryant said.

Billy Sunday at Optimist Hall is also known for its handcrafted cocktails - and mocktails, as is Dilworth Tasting Room. Stroke bar has an entire selection and then there's Sugar Lounge, an alcohol-free bar that just opened in Uptown.

Kristen Wile founded Unpretentious Palate, an online magazine that focuses on Charlotte's food scene. Wile said that restaurants and bars across Charlotte are getting in on the trend.

"They're becoming a lot more creative and a lot more common on menus and you don’t have to feel awkward if you’re not drinking. I think part of it is a health thing - people aren’t drinking as much - coming out of COVID, people realize maybe we did a little too much drinking during the pandemic," said Wile.

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But restaurants rely on alcohol for their bottom line. Bloomberg Business estimates alcohol sales can account for 30% or more of their revenue. So, are restaurants losing on this new alcohol-free trend? Actually, it's the opposite - restaurants are cashing in.

"For us financially we have noticed sales have gone up – year to year from when we didn’t have them is significantly different. [Non-alcoholic options] bring in a new group of people that feel comfortable, so our sales have gone up as we offer more spiritless drinks. We still have balance – alcohol is always going to be our leading with sales but you open yourself up to a whole new group of clients when you make them feel welcome," Bryant said.

Nonalcoholic drinks will cost you less than their alcoholic counterparts, but not a whole lot less.

"Nonalcoholic spirits are still distilled and have the same amount of craftsmanship," Bryant explains.

Wile also co-founded the StrEATS festival and this year they’re mixing it up by adding classes on making mocktails because they’re so popular.

"Three years ago these spirits weren’t really an option, very little you could get. It's exciting for them to look at the whole new world of nonalcoholic spirits ."

For more information on the StrEATS festival, visit this website.

Michelle Boudin: Contact Michelle Boudin at mboudin@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

WCNC Charlotte is always asking "where's the money?" If you need help, reach out to WCNC Charlotte by emailing money@wcnc.com.

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