Adult drinks for adult diners

Yesterday I asked a question on Twitter.

“Why do restaurants and chefs think they know better than their customers when it comes to alcohol-free wine and beer?”

It provoked a few responses.

One person replied “perhaps because they do, food and drink being their area of professional expertise?”

This is the same sort of thinking the leads to chefs refusing to cook a steak to the customer’s liking because the chef knows best.

Well, maybe the chef does know best, from a technical perspective, but from a taste perspective the only thing that matters is the taste-buds of the paying customer.

The same applies to drink.

If a customer wants an alcohol-free beer or wine, that’s what they want.

They don’t want water.

They don’t want cola.

And they don’t want yet another orange juice.

They want a good de-alcoholised Merlot, a fruity de-alcoholised Chardonnay or a great alcohol-free wheat beer.

Other people replied agreeing that they found it hard to find alcohol-free drinks when they went out, and they wanted the choice too.

One woman said she often phoned up before hand to find out if the restaurant sold any alcohol-free wine or beer.

Her husband doesn’t drink, and he isn’t alone. There are lots people like him around the country.

Pregnant women. Dieters. People on medication. People in recovery. Drivers. Workers on call. People of certain faiths.

There are lots of reasons people don’t drink.

As I said in my reply to her “yes & many people base their decisions on availability of alcohol-free for one or more in the group. no alcohol-free = lost sales”

We’ve had restaurants tell us they don’t sell alcohol-free wines because they don’t think they are good enough.

The chances are they haven’t tasted an alcohol-free wine since Eisberg, 20 years ago. We don’t sell Eisberg.

But even if they have tasted a good alcohol-free wine and still don’t like it, that isn’t the point.

We are testament to the fact people who drink alcohol-free wines like them.

We’ve been selling them for nearly 4 years. We sell a lot of them.

It’s like a restaurant refusing to sell anything but meat.

No one expects all restaurants to sell only vegetarian food. But they do expect a vegetarian option.

If you were a vegetarian in a group of meat eaters and the restaurant had nothing to offer you except beans on toast, you’d be understandably annoyed.

Especially if your fellow diners were tucking into the finest steak or lobster.

But when it comes to drinks, all we are offered are the beans on toast – the water, the orange juice, the cola.

We aren’t 10 years old. We don’t want soft-drinks.

We are adults. We want an adult drink with our adult food.

Is that really asking too much?

Proud of Pubs (that sell a good choice of alcohol-free!)

Last week on Twitter.com I was lucky enough to become the 2000th follower of the twitter account @ukpubs launched by the pub trade magazine The Publican and won a T-shirt. The shirt arrived emblazoned with the statement “The Publican – Proud of Pubs”. Rather ironic you might say, but the fact is I am Proud of Pubs – or, to be specific, I’m proud of pubs that provide a wide-range of alcohol-free drinks. Sadly that isn’t enough of them.

Too often we hear tales from customers of their struggle to find a decent alcohol-free beer in a pub. Kaliber is still the staple in many pubs (we do sell it and some customers love it, but I don’t rate it and neither do most of our customers). If you’re lucky you might find one other beer in some pubs which tends to be a brand dictated by whoever the pub is tied to. You‘ll find Becks in some, Bitburger in some others, Holsten in a few. But very few pubs will actually offer customers a real choice.

Imagine if you had the choice of only one alcoholic beer in a pub, customers wouldn’t put up with it. But for most of us who choose not to drink, whether permanently as in my case, or temporarily because they are driving, dieting, on medication or simply want a night out without the booze, there is often no choice.

The lack of choice, combined with the frequently ‘comic’ replies to the question “Do you have any alcohol-free beer?” really serves to stop non-drinkers from asking. Then the landlord says, there’s no demand.

Trust me, the demand is out there. We sell enough of it across the UK for home consumption to know that. And one of the most common things we get from customers is “Why can’t you get pubs to carry your drinks?”

Well they can, and many do, but not enough. As well as offering pubs a wide range of beers (over 25 different alcohol-free beers – yes, there are that many and most are great), we even offer customised point of sale material including “The Alcohol-Free Menu”- laminated menus for tables and bar tops.

John Risby (left) of The Alcohol-Free Shop (wearing The Publican's "Proud of Pubs" t-shirt) and John Martin, Landlord of The Parkside, Prestwich, Bury.
John Risby (left) of The Alcohol-Free Shop (wearing The Publican's "Proud of Pubs" t-shirt) and John Martin, Landlord of The Parkside, Prestwich, Bury.

One pub that is doing it right is The Parkside in Prestwich, Bury. Landlords John and Eileen Martin have a wide range of alcohol-free beers and wine supplied by The Alcohol-Free Shop. As well as the custom menus, they also have other material around the pub promoting the products. The great thing about putting the menus on every table is it means customers aren’t afraid to ask “Do you sell any alcohol-free beer?”, they just have ask for the one they want from the choice on the menu. It’s that simple.

If you’re a pub customer who wants an alcohol-free beer, why not have a word at your local. Tell them about The Alcohol-Free Shop and The Alcohol-Free Menu, and tell them they’ve already got a customer waiting – you.

If you run a pub yourself then, like your competitor down the road, you’re probably looking for inventive ways to increase your income to help you get through the recession. Speak to us about how we can help you promote alcohol-free drinks in your pub and help generate some extra sales. Otherwise, you could be missing out on potential customers who feel let down by the lack of choice.

You can contact us via email at info@alcoholfree.co.uk, freephone on 0800 224 8024, follow us on twitter at @alcoholfree (my personal non-work account is @j_alcoholfree) and, if you are in the north west, why not visit our shop in Failsworth, Manchester?

Think Safe Drink Safe card scheme launch

The Alcohol-Free Menu
The Alcohol-Free Menu

We’ve had a very favourable reaction from guests at today’s Think Safe Drink Safe card scheme launch at Manchester’s Midland Hotel.

We’re supplying products for the initiative with The Alcohol-Free Menu to encourage pubs and clubs to offer customers more choice by providing a wider range of alternatives to alcohol. The aim is to help people make sensible drinking choices.

I was at the launch to promote The Alcohol-Free Menu and talk to guests about the range of wines and beers on offer which they had a chance to taste this lunchtime.

It was very encouraging how positive everyone was about the products they sampled and lots of people agreed that the alcohol-free drinks were just as good as alcoholic varieties.

One woman who had previously trialed alcohol-free drinks in a city centre venue said some customers actually preferred the alcohol-free versions. That can’t be bad!

The Think Safe Drink Safe card has been launched in partnership with the NHS, Police and the Home Office. Participating pubs will offer the loyalty-style cards to customers who will be able to use them to take advantage of promotions on alcohol-free drinks.

We’ve always argued that there is a demand for good alcohol-free alternatives in pubs and clubs if only they are made available. This initiative aims to prove this to licensees and hopefully, in time, every venue will get the message.

We’ve got Think Safe Drink Safe cards to give away to customers who visit our shop in Failsworth so ask for one when you call in.

Here is a video interview with Liz Burns of Manchester NHS talking to Andy Walker from OurLife.