Events and alcohol go hand in hand. Festivals, club nights, socials are all built around drinking culture, but what does the future hold for these events if a growing number of people are turning their backs on booze?
According to the Office for National Statistics, drinking rates among British adults have plunged to their lowest in 18 years. Perceptions of drinking have shifted significantly, with 61% of Britons stating that getting drunk is “uncool” (Mintel Alcoholic Drinks Review 2018).
This trend is being driven by Millennials, especially the younger members of the generation – research shows more than a quarter of 16-to-24-year-olds do not drink. This is backed up by Eventbrite’s own findings. Our Millennials Report established that a greater focus on healthy lifestyles is a key reason alcohol consumption is down. Where older party-goers might have pooled their pennies to buy another pint, 68% of Millennials would rather spend their last tenner at a food truck. Meanwhile, 71% would prefer to drink a revitalising smoothie at a festival than an alcoholic drink.Credit: Club Soda
The fact is, it’s now hip to be sober and there are a plethora of booze-free events being promoted on Eventbrite to prove it. With sober raves and morning clubbing, alcohol-free pop-up bars and sober socials, you no longer have to drink to have fun.
While going teetotal is great news for health, does it mean last orders for events that rely heavily on bar spend? According to Laura Willoughby MBE, Co-Founder of Club Soda, which organises alcohol-free social events, workshops and festivals across the UK, they will need to adapt their offering.
“Coca-Cola won’t get you that big a margin over the bar and people can only manage one in an evening, not four or five. However, if you have a good alcohol-free offer you can still make money over the bar,” she says.
“For example, you can charge nearly as much for an alcohol-free cocktail as an alcoholic one if you use premium ingredients. And if you have a good alcohol-free beer, people can drink those all through the evening because they won’t get overpowered by the amount of sugar. The reality is, it shouldn’t matter if a drink has alcohol in or not when it comes to making a profit.”Credit: Club Soda
Laura says non-drinkers are not abstaining to save cash, so they won’t be satisfied with tap water and lemonade at your event – they’re looking for equally exciting beverages as their alcohol-drinking counterparts.
“Part of the reason Millennials aren’t spending so much on alcohol is because they’re looking for an experience on their evening out,” she says. “This is why cocktails are popular because there is someone making it for you – that whole dressing of the drink is really important. They don’t care whether it has alcohol in or not, it’s the experience that they’re paying for. Therefore, you shouldn’t see somebody not wanting alcohol as something unusual but instead see it as an opportunity that you can cater for.”
Drinks manufacturers are now recognising this emerging segment. Sales of low and non-alcoholic beer grew by 20.5% last year, while the low-alcohol wine category has increased 10 times since 2009.
“This is a growth market and there is no shortage of really interesting drinks companies out there,” says Laura.Credit: Club Soda
If you need inspiration, Club Soda will host Scotland’s first alcohol-free drinks festival in October. Mindful Drinking Festival Glasgow will showcase the new wave of alcohol-free drinks hitting the market and is expected to attract more than 2,000 sober and sober-curious attendees. The festival successfully debuted in London in July.Credit: Club Soda
Laura believes it’s high time event organisers updated their drinks offering to reflect the needs of their guests: “We’ve done a number of events for corporate caterers sharing guidance around hosting a diverse drinks events. You wouldn’t have only meat on your food offering when you know people are also vegetarian and vegan, so why would you only serve alcohol? And if you’ve given a lot of thought to your alcohol offering, why would you not do the same when it comes to your alcohol-free drinks?”
She adds: “What you want as an event organiser is to keep people at your event, especially if you’re doing drinks after a talk or a workshop. If half the room leaves because they’re driving, pregnant, don’t drink for religious reasons or just don’t fancy drinking, what you’ve done is lessen the experience for everybody. We encourage organisers to think a bit more creatively to create a similar experience for all guests so no one feels left out.”Credit: Club Soda
And if your venue can’t help you to do that, says Laura, tell them to up their game: “We can be too passive as event organisers asking, ‘Well, what have you got?’ and just dealing with it rather than saying, ‘I want my guests to have something good, could you get in some craft alcohol-free beer and alcohol-free prosecco for my event?’ The more you ask, the more you’ll get and the quicker we’ll see change.”
Providing great alcohol-free or low-alcohol drinks is just one way that planners can keep non-drinkers staying and paying at their events. Sober people are more likely to look for other things to do on a night out – for example, they’re more likely to buy dessert.
“You should think about the different types of people at your events and where there are different opportunities to sell. If you give me the chance to buy an alcohol-free drink I haven’t seen before or you’ve brought in something specifically to match your evening, then I will definitely buy it. But I’m also more likely to spend money on food and the other things you might have there like merchandise and things around the periphery.”Credit: Club Soda
If you do put the effort in to create an experience for non-drinkers, be sure to shout about it. As Laura says, “Lots of people do have good alcohol-free drinks but they always talk about, ‘a reception with wine and beer’. This is such a wasted opportunity. Tell people you’ve got it and then they know to stay and not go home early, which is what a lot of people who don’t drink do.”
Club Soda hopes that in the future, all events will offer a great range of drinks – and a great experience – for everyone.
“Our goal is to create a world where nobody feels out of place if they’re not drinking. There’s a lot of curiosity around alcohol-free events at the moment and people want to go and try out the drinks, so I think this is something that will become increasingly mainstream.”
Mindful Drinking Festival Glasgow takes place on October 13, with a London edition planned for January. Club Soda also offers a guide to the best UK venues catering to non-drinkers.