When figuring out how to price non-alcoholic specialty drinks, successful operators say it’s okay to charge more than you would for soda given the house-made ingredients—but suggest charging less than alcoholic beverages. “People still see these sophisticated non-alcoholic drinks as a value, because you’re hand-crafting these from house made syrups, fruit purees and syrups and the drinks are more natural,” says Hulihan.
Drew Patterson, corporate beverage director of New York-based SUSHISAMBA agrees: “We do not charge the same amount as a beverage including spirits, but instead prefer to offer a value to our guests for a top-quality beverage. We would rather have a guest order a house-made non-alcoholic beverage at a better price point than our alcoholic drinks, rather then have them trade down to a normal soda or bottled water.” SUSHISAMBA virgin drinks are priced from $8 compared with $11 to $12 for those with alcohol. At Starbelly, Blum charges $3 to $5 for specialty non-alcoholic drinks; compared with $6 to $8 for a cocktail with spirits and $3 or less for off-the-shelf non-alcoholic beverages. At Ping Pong, non-alcoholic drinks are priced at $4; cocktails for $9 to $11.
The same is true for operations that are experimenting with house-made sodas and fruit and vegetable waters with adult appeal. Adam Hodak, beverage manager at Bonnano Restaurant Group’s just-launched Green Russell speakeasy in Denver, makes a dozen flavored syrups for his cocktail program and uses those to make sodas, too. “The cost for making the syrups is very low, so charging three dollars for the fresh, house-made sodas, you are giving your guests a house-made, better quality soda, but still make a good profit.” At Cha-Bella in Savannah, Georgia, cool herb-infused waters (water steeped with cucumber and spearmint; or chocolate mint and stevia) are spring refreshers priced at $4 to $6 a glass. Latin-themed operations such as Guanajuato, a Mexican restaurant in Glencoe, IL, do well with agua frescas that include celery, cucumber and tamarind in the mix. Guanajuato’s agua frescas cost $2 compared with $7 and up for its cocktails.
To keep things simple and approachable, both Root Down—a health food restaurant and bar in Denver, and Miami-based Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink list all of their house-made sodas and non-alcoholic cocktails under the same “Sodas” menu heading. Root Down mixologist Anika Zappe says she decided to put non-alcoholic options on the menu a year ago, “Because we knew that there was a category of guests that really wanted these.” Zappe changes the offerings seasonally. Thus far, popular non-alcoholic selections have included Zappe’s Cardamom Fizz, $6, a cream soda made with cardamom-infused agave nectar, lime juice and soda; and the S.P.O.R.T. Iced Tea, $4, made with Brazilian mate, Siberian ginseng and ginger—compared with spirited cocktails which sell for $9 to $12.
At Michael’s, head bartender Goodspeed has had good speed with a wide-ranging variety of sodas, priced from $3.50 to $4, made with house-infused syrups and other seasonal ingredients. His Cherry Rosemary Soda is prepared with house-infused rosemary and cherry syrup, agave nectar and lime juice. His Allspice Vanilla Bean mixes a house-infusion of allspice berries and vanilla bean with soda with an orange peel garnish. And his Passion Fruit Soda, passion fruit with orange juice, lime juice, agave nectar and sparkling water, is also popular.