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Dry January 2023: How to Keep Restaurant Sales Up When Alcohol Consumption is Down



Like the workout and weight loss crazes that happen every year around this time, Dry January is a time for those who might have overindulged during the holidays to cut back on their alcohol consumption and embrace a healthier lifestyle.


To prevent your restaurant sales from dampening during the first month of the year, resolve to meet customer demand with creative ideas and healthy beverage options.


Many folks who make a commitment to dry off in January are tempted to simply stay away from restaurants and bars to avoid temptation. Letting your customers know that you fully support their sober-curious desires by offering no and low-alcohol counterparts for those trying to embrace a more sober-conscious lifestyle can help keep sales up even when alcohol consumption is down.



Since its inception in 2013, the Dry January challenge has become a national phenomenon, with millions of Americans making a 31-day commitment to give up beer, wine, and cocktails. Among Millenials, 27% participated in the challenge in 2022, an 11% increase over 2021.


With the number of participants growing each year, savvy restaurants are rising to the challenge along with their guests. Respond to the sober-curious movement by pouring better-tasting and higher-quality alcohol-free cocktails made with fresh ingredients, high-end zero-proof spirits, and the same bar expertise that goes into your boozy beverages.



Damp Drinking Days

While some consumers do choose the first days of the year as a time to get sober permanently, most are just looking for ways to reduce, recharge and reset.


A commitment to more of a “Damp January” than a dry one, many consumers don’t plan to abstain from alcohol completely, but rather try to take a more moderate approach to their alcohol use.


As customers resolve to get healthier in the new year, restaurants can also use January as an opportunity to get the year off to a healthy start.


If your restaurant has yet to tap into the burgeoning no-low alcoholic beverage market, this is the perfect time to whet your customer’s appetite for mocktails or zero-alcoholic malts.


Then, if you find that your customers are receptive in January, consider making your drier menu a permanent part of your offerings. Use sales from January to gauge which drinks are “stars” and menu engineer your beverage menu just as you do your food menu.



The No-Low Alcohol Movement

Over the last decade, a shift in consumer behavior has fueled massive growth in the low and no-alcohol industries, beckoning new brands and drumming up exciting category innovation in longstanding ones. With as many as 55% of consumers making a switch to nonalcoholic beverages like zero-proof cocktails and nonalcoholic beer in 2022, this category is expected to climb by more than 30% in 2023.


From beer and wine to spirits and seltzers, Dry January is about alcohol taking a backseat to health and price considerations as consumers readjust their priorities for the year ahead.


January is the perfect time to make the move to a drier menu without putting a damper on your sales.


Instead of looking at January as a month where sales are sure to dry up, embrace the no-low beverage movement and let it work in your favor. With the right marketing tactics and some creative menu adjustments, Dry January can prove to be one of the most profitable months of the year.


Whether you’re just beginning to tap into the booze-less beverage boom or if you’re looking to expand your existing menu, here are a few tips to help you get started.



Ten Tips for Boosting Beverage Sales During Dry January

1. Host a Mocktail Party and invite the local press for some free PR. Create some excitement around the alcohol-free month by designating one night a week during the month of January to host a Dry January Happy Hour. If these events prove successful, consider continuing these events throughout the year.


2. Hold a private after-hours no-low wine, beer, and mocktail-tasting event for your loyal customers and staff. Send private e-vites to keep the number of attendees limited. Then ask each attendee to participate in a survey. Ask which drinks they most prefer and would order during the rest of the year and then ask them to name their price by listing a few options. Finally, use this valuable data to reimagine your beverage menu.


3. Get Creative with Mocktails. By labeling a drink a “mocktail,” and charging a premium, you can easily boost your bottom line by using ingredients already on hand. Instead of adding new items to your inventory, save space and money by reimagining the same ingredients you use for bar drinks to create mocktails.

Experiment with low-cost add-ons and mixes like:

  • Herb-based savory sodas

  • Watermelon-infused seltzer

  • Lime and cucumber water

  • Hibiscus fizzy tea

  • Electrolyte mocktails

  • Virgin martinis



4. Create a “Green” Beverage Menu. Feed this newfound taste for healthier living with some tempting additions to your cocktail lists. Add fresh juices with health benefits to your existing menu or create a whole new dry menu. Think of it as a vegan menu for sober customers. Just as important as it is to cater to guests with dietary restrictions, use your beverage menu to entice the healthy crowd and attract new business.


5. Upgrade Your Wine List. For those clients that seek to just drink less, January is the perfect time to offer more premium bottles of wine or focus on investing in the top shelf of the spirits bar (rather than the speed rail).


6. Train your crew. With crowds diminished, your staff will have more time to spend with their guests in January; so use this time to upsell. Make sure your servers are well-versed in NOLO wine service.


Consider hiring a sommelier to teach your staff some of the finer points of your vino lists. This is especially helpful for groups with a mix of guests that are drinking traditional drinks and those participating in Dry January. Provide your staff with a list of ingredients, demonstrate how the drink is prepared, and offer a tasting experience.



7. Update your delivery menu. Whether you decide to test your new beverage menu options in your dining room first or want to take the leap of offering no-low beverages to your off-premise customers right away, adding non-alcoholic options to your delivery menu is a great way to pique customer interest.


And the good news is, regardless of what state you live in, there are no regulations preventing you from delivering beverages with zero alcohol. For locations that don’t allow alcohol delivery, no and low alcoholic beverages are an excellent opportunity to attract a brand new customer by offering high-profit drinks on your off-premise menu.

Ideal for corporate catering and events for families, offer customers catering options that include your sober menu as well.


8. Create a Healthy Bar Menu to complement your Dry January menu. If your diners have decided to drink healthier, they’ll also be looking to up their eating game. Create a special Dry Bar Menu with specials on healthy appetizers that pair well with your alcohol-free mocktails and no-low-alcohol beer and wine options.


Tempt guests with healthy bar menu specials like vegetables and hummus bowls and fried cauliflower bites. This form of cross-selling will not only help your staff upsell, but it will give them the confidence and skills to offer add-ons long after January has ended.



9. Hashtag Dry January. Take full advantage of the marketing surrounding the Dry January sensation by using hashtags that lead sober-curious customers to your door. Use social media to promote your Dry January menu and appeal to the Gen-Z and Millennial sober-curious or abstinent crowd.


10. Create a Dry January calendar with daily or weekly specials to entice diners to visit your restaurant. Come up with clever names and promote them on social media and in-store marketing collateral. Use tabletop signs to advertise your January specials.




Defining No and Low-Alcoholic Beverages

If you’re unsure about what constitutes alcohol-free, non-alcoholic, or reduced-alcohol drinks, here’s the breakdown.


Low Alcohol

In the US, the term “low-alcohol” refers to drinks that have an alcoholic strength by volume (ABV) of between 0.05 and 1.2%. The term “low-alcohol” may be used only on malt beverages containing less than 2.5% alcohol by volume.


Reduced Alcohol

The term “reduced alcohol,” simply means a drink has an alcohol content lower than the average strength of a particular type of drink.


Non-Alcoholic/Alcohol-Free

An alcohol-free or non-alcoholic drink, also known as a temperance drink, is a version of an alcoholic beverage made without alcohol or with the alcohol removed or reduced to almost zero. These may take the form of a "virgin” cocktail, (AKA mocktail), non-alcoholic beer ("near beer"), and alcohol-free wines.


Tip: For malt beverages to be considered “non-alcoholic” or alcohol-free, the product must contain less than 0.5% (or .5%) alcohol by volume.



What Motivates People to Participate in Dry January

The “sober curious” movement is growing increasingly popular and many consumers choose the month of January to experiment with a sans-alcohol lifestyle.


As an extension of the wellness movement, people choose to reduce or eliminate alcohol in January for a number of personal reasons, with getting healthy and saving money as the most popular.


Demographics are also at play. With younger consumers drinking less alcohol and adjusting their priorities as they move into the “adulting” phase of life with families and careers, Dry January is seen as a good time to change things up and get the year off to a good start.



Dry Beverage Trends for 2023

No-Low Beer

Non-alcoholic beer has been a market fixture for years, but the excitement surrounding the rapid growth of the craft segment is catapulting this industry into the stratosphere.

Leading in the global no-low alcohol category, the craft beer space is home to many alcohol-free beer innovations.


NOLO Wine

With the growing trend of moderation and healthy living, the no-low alcohol wine category, which first started to grow in Europe and Asia, has reached the US border.

Once taking a backseat to beer, the NOLO wine industry is expected to evolve in 2023. Major brands are releasing no- and low-alcohol labels, new brands are coming to market, and wine-adjacent offerings are expanding the category.


Unlike other no-low alcohol segments, the NOLO wine business has its challenges, with the main one being taste. Wine connoisseurs tend to shy away from the sweeter style wines which dominate the zero-alcohol wine category.


Spirits

The spirits segment is expected to grow with zero-proof spirits that feature healthy combinations of botanicals, herbs, and spices.


Mocktails

2023 is predicted to see mocktail mixes getting increasingly creative. Due to rising consumer interest in health and wellness, the ‘mindful drinking’ movement is expected to rise in the year ahead.



Actively engaging and paying attention to your customer’s chosen lifestyles, changing tastes, and industry trends are key factors for restaurants to succeed during Dry January.


Like everything else in the food service industry, it’s all about meeting customer demand. Dry January is a great time to experiment, get creative, and dive into the sans-alcohol beverage pool and watch your profits overflow!





By Eileen Strauss

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