Mocktails: A Non-Drinker's Guide to Happy Hours and Networking Events
At the start of this holiday season, I would like to take a minute to talk about one of my favorite things in the whole world – mocktails. What is a mocktail, you ask? A mocktail is a cocktail without alcohol. Another (more boring) name for them is non-alcoholic drinks.
I first discovered mocktails several years ago when planning a friend’s bridal shower. I wanted to find a fun activity that would entertain a bunch of women who didn’t drink, so I did a little Googling, and wah-lah! Mocktails. My interest in nonalcoholic drinks then went into overdrive when I moved to D.C. (the networking capital of the world) for grad school, and found myself regularly attending events that served liquid I couldn’t consume.
Nowadays my bias towards mocktails is even stronger because I am part of a profession known for its relationship with alcohol. The New York Times recently published an article highlighting a study conducted by the American Bar Association that said 1 in 3 lawyers were problem drinkers, which was defined as “hazardous, harmful, and potentially alcohol-dependent drinking.” According to the study, lawyers were among the highest problem drinkers in the country, partially due to the stress and anxiety of the profession, and partially due to the type of socialization expected in the profession.
Nowhere is this more clear than in the rumors that swirl about law firm summer associate programs. Coming up through law school, I heard tales about these summer programs as “one long fraternity party for entertaining law school recruits.” When I was a summer intern, I even heard about one incident at another firm (a very highly ranked New York firm, btw) where a summer intern got drunk and slapped an associate at the firm (apparently in a case of mistaken identity). If that isn’t bad enough, another intern at that same event got so drunk that he ended up puking on the stairs. But * shrug * that’s just the summer program. Firms think they have to – literally – wine you and dine you in order to recruit you. And so they expect you to get totally drunk and still walk away with a job.
From my own personal experience, drinking was a HUGE part of my grad school experience. It’s actually one of the reasons I felt like I had a hard time socializing, because I just wasn’t comfortable hanging out in bars. Both the law school and the MBA program had weekly alcohol events (Bar Review for law school, and KEGS for MBA), and I frankly just didn’t want to be there, or at the post-KEGS events, or at the pre-game events for school-sponsored activities. But that meant I missed out on a lot of social opportunities and had to work really hard to find other ways to connect with people, a task I wasn’t always up to given the emotional burden of just dealing with school itself. I don’t mean to imply that all my classmates did was drink, but it was certainly a huge part of the socializing that went on in school, and something I was not prepared, or equipped, to deal with.
Even though drinking played such a big role in school, I remember having conversations with several of my classmates who expressed a desire to drink less, but lamented that nearly every school event seemed to revolve around alcohol and it was just easier to go along with the crowd. That really bothered me, especially for a school like Georgetown with a strong religious heritage and an admitted problem of alcoholism on campus.
Combine all of this with the fact that the number one repost on my Pinterest page is a website I found titled “30 Fun Baby Shower Mocktail Recipes to Kickstart Your Party” and I think it’s pretty clear that people are looking for alternative options.
So what kinds of options exist for people who don’t, or don’t want to, drink?
I’ve broken this section down into three different scenarios where you might encounter a need for mocktails. I’m not going to list out specific drinks or drink recipes, but rather provide some general suggestions to get you started on your journey. If you have other suggestions that could be useful, share them below in the comments!
At a restaurant/full bar event
Restaurants or events with full bars are the BEST place for mocktails because you have access to more ingredients and more skilled bartenders.
In my opinion, the true measure of a good bartender is what they can do with non-alcoholic drinks.
The good ones know they don’t need alcohol to make something taste great. Therefore, don’t be afraid to ask your server, or the bartender directly, what he or she can make. Some of my very favorite drinks have come when I simply told the bartender, “Just surprise me with something.”
If that scares you, check the menu for scratch sodas. Many restaurants nowadays are buying into the scratch soda concept, and you can find some really interesting (and tasty!) options like lavender ginger ale or fig and pear soda.
At a networking/small bar event
These kinds of situations can be a little tough because options are limited so you have to work a little harder to get creative. If all else fails, you can always fall back on one of these two options:
- Cranberry juice with ginger ale. (50/50 is my preference, but you can tell them to alter the ratio depending on your preference for the dominant flavor.)
- Club soda with lime. (This may seem obvious, but make sure to actually squeeze the lime so the juice can give the soda some flavor. Personally, I think plain club soda is a waste of liquid on its own, but a little lime juice can go a long way to making it refreshingly enjoyable.)
At your own party
Similar to a full bar, making mocktails at home is an excellent way to go because you can do anything you want. Here are a few of the websites I go to when looking for mocktail recipes, although really you can just Google “non-alcoholic drinks” and a ton of things will pop up:
- The 30 Best Mocktail Recipes
- 20 Scrumptious Mocktails for a Refreshing Evening of Non-Alcoholic Drinks
- 26 Stunningly Exquisite Non-Alcoholic Drink Recipes
- And of course the aforementioned fan favorite, 30 Fun Baby Shower Mocktail Recipes to Kickstart Your Party
Additionally, here are some ready-made drinks that make great hostess gifts or spice up your own table when you don’t want to do your own mixing:
- Martinelli’s Sparking Cranberry Apple Cider: this is a terrific hostess gift because it’s still classy and just a little tart, making it much easier to drink than the super-sweet original Martinelli’s.
- Trader Joe’s and World Market both have a variety of sparking juices that are great for brunch or dinner parties. I am partial to World Market’s Blood Orange soda, and to TJ’s Sparking Clementine (which is a great brunch substitute for mimosas).
Making drinks at home also lets you get creative with the presentation of the drink by adding little touches like frozen cranberries as ice cubes or colored sugar-coated rims.
3 Benefits of Choosing Mocktails
To close, let me leave you with 3 benefits of choosing mocktails over another form of drink:
1) You won’t get drunk.
This is pretty obvious so I’m not going to say any more about it.
2) Making a game out of discovering new mocktails can not only make a happy hour bearable, but something you might actually start looking forward to.
During my internship last summer, I went to a few events at this one particular restaurant close to my office that had the most flavorful and creative mocktails I have ever tasted. I was never disappointed in the drinks they put together. Therefore, anytime there’s an event at that restaurant, I’m that much more likely to go.
3) Holding a drink that looks different than everyone else’s will give you an automatic conversation starter that will not only help your networking A-game, but will also lead to some really interesting discussions about alcohol in general.
I stumbled upon this last point accidentally last year at a networking event. The event was in the bar section of a restaurant, which meant the full panoply of choices was available. I was in line to get a drink when the guy in front of me ordered a ginger ale. It’s a pretty common choice for a non-drinker, but the bartender responded with a friendly, “Whoa, don’t get too crazy on me there, buddy” response. So when it was my turn I said, “Make me something. Anything. Just get creative. As long as it doesn’t have alcohol, just do whatever you want.” A minute later he came back and handed me a Thor-sized glass of the most interesting-looking drink I’d ever seen. He had combined a bunch of juices (passion fruit, pineapple, cranberry, etc.) and then put real strawberries inside, along with mint leaves and probably a couple of other things. So while everyone else was holding their beer or wine glass (or the lone guy with his ginger ale), I was walking around with a juice fiesta goblet.
For the rest of the evening, every conversation started with, “Whoa! What is that??” Followed by, “Oh you’re not a drinker? How come?” I even discovered there was a pretty strong contingent of people there who also weren’t drinkers, and we instantly bonded over my virgin concoction. To this day I still follow this rule, and it works for me every time.
Ultimately, when it comes to non-alcoholic drinks, just be open about the fact that you don’t drink. Don’t make excuses for why you don’t drink or order things that look like what everyone else is having (unless it’s something you actually want). If you’re open about it, people will respect you, and some may even join you.
As a final thought, there are a lot of people out there who don’t, or would prefer not to, drink. For some people (like me) it’s a religious choice; for others it’s a result of addiction recovery or simply a choice to live a healthier lifestyle. Whatever the reason, there’s an opportunity out there to counteract some of the negative effects of alcohol on society, and I believe that opportunity starts with mocktails. After all, why should alcohol have all the fun?
Have you had similar experiences with networking events or non-alcoholic drinks? What other tips would you recommend?