We’ve been thinking about the experience of going into pubs and bars as part of our Dalston Burst project. In particular, what happens if you are not planning to order any alcoholic drinks? We all had similar thoughts: it’s usually not very nice, the soft drink options are really bad, mocktails cost the same as cocktails (and aren’t as good), and you sometimes feel like a freak asking for a non-alcoholic ginger beer. And our recent online survey confirmed that we’re not alone in thinking this way.
But we wanted to get some more solid evidence. So we’ve been doing a bit of “mystery shopping” in pubs and bars in Dalston. What this means, is simply walking up to the bar and asking “what non-alcoholic drinks do you have?” And then taking notes on what the response was (listing what drinks were offered) and how the bar staff reacted (friendly, helpful, or unfriendly and so on). We’ve also been checking whether you can see any non-alcoholic drinks behind the bar. As you have probably noticed too, they tend to be at the bottom of a fridge, and hard to spot. Which isn’t helping things at all. It’s the same thing with menus: if soft drinks and so on are even listed at all, they tend to be the very last thing on the very last page.
What else have we discovered? To be fair, we’ve had many good experiences. Some venues and their staff clearly take pride in offering nice non-alcoholic drinks to their non-drinking customers. Some stock healthier and interesting local or exotic options. And we have seen one menu that started with posh cordials.
But far too often the response to our question has been along the lines of “erm, well, we should have some coke and lemonade somewhere?”. Often the staff have to check what’s in the fridge, and some don’t even think to mention some of their drinks (coffee, tea, and juices are non-alcoholic drinks too!).
We are still collecting and analysing our data. There will be a full report about our findings at the end of the project, with ideas to give to pubs and bars about how they could be more welcoming to people who are not drinking alcohol.