Gen Z preference: Cocktails or Mocktails

By Kayla Frank

Photo by Kayla Frank Jan. 24, 2023, Top of the Stairs bartenders awaiting customers.

(BLACKSBURG, V.a)- The rise of alcohol-free bars can be attributed to the increasing mindfulness of drinking habits, with Gen Zers leading this new transformation of a fun night out. 

Third Place Bar offers bar pop-ups, without the booze. Located in Brooklyn, New York, the zero-proof bar caters to a new culture of sober-curious lifestyles. But what would offering only mocktails and non-alcoholic beer look like in a college town? 

While sober curious lifestyles and mindful drinking is a trend among Generation Z, those attending university are more likely to experiment with alcohol along with their newfound independence and availability of social events.

Through research from the Alcohol Rehab Guide, it was estimated that 80% of college students- four out of every five- consume alcohol to some degree, and roughly 50% of those students engage in binge drinking, or consume too much alcohol in too little time.

Although the pandemic may have stalled downtown activity, Blacksburg is buzzing again with bars and billiards for college students attending Virginia Tech. 

Blacksburg bouncer and barback at Top of the Stairs, Jake Hart, noted that if anything, more students have been coming to the bars since the decline of COVID-19. 

“When the football team played Miami University in the fall, we were so packed that we literally ran out of vodka and Bud Lite,” said Hart, “We broke nearly every record we could.” 

Gen Z’s refined awareness of the consequences of alcohol consumption is shown in sales research from Drizly. The largest online marketplace for alcohol in North America issued a 2022 consumer report that conveyed that 38% of Gen Z respondents are drinking more non-alcoholic beverages than in the previous year. A high percentage when compared to that of Millennials (25%), Gen X (15%) and Boomers (8%). 

A bartender at Sharkey’s in Blacksburg, Bobby Johnson, get’s the occasional order for a mocktail and has a couple of regulars who just ask for Diet Coke. 

“I don’t think I’ve seen a trend of drinking less, but I do see people being more mindful of what they consume with their alcohol,” said Johnson, “For example, more people have mixed hard liquor with water than I’ve seen in previous years, and the shift to spiked seltzer from beer has also been tremendous.” 

Photo by Kayla Frank Jan. 20, 2023, Sharkey’s Bar front in Blacksburg, Virginia.

One factor promoting mindfulness is the availability of information at Gen Z’s fingertips. Hashtags like #Sobertok have gone viral on social media platforms such as Tik Tok.

Striving for unique experiences, Gen Z has forced bars to be creative and provide special events such as trivia, bingo, axe throwing, and even paint and sip nights. 

“I think a non-alcoholic bar could make it in Blacksburg, only if it offered some sort of gimmick to draw people in,” said Johnson, “On bingo and trivia night, people come in just to play and eat, so it could definitely work.”

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