Discussing the rise of alcohol-free pairing menus in the UK

With low/no alcohol consumption predicted to rise a third by 2026, Egg Soldiers discusses emerging opportunities with alcohol-free pairing menus in UK foodservice
Alcohol-free cocktails
Dry January can be an extremely challenging time for UK restaurants, and certainly for pubs and bars, with wet sales naturally taking a big hit every January as UK consumers attempt to go alcohol-free for the month.

However, with data analysts IWSR forecasting that global low & no consumption will increase by a third by 2026, the yearly challenge that is Dry January may soon become something of a permanent fixture, with a much larger cohort of alcohol-free consumers regularly seeking out foodservice operations that meet their evolving needs.

Alcohol-free pairing menus are now entering the spotlight, with global flavour house Synergy recently creating several flavour pairings for premium soft drinks and alcohol-free beverages that complement a range of popular global cuisines in the UK.

With interest in alcohol-free lifestyles continuing to increase in the UK, creative and flavourful alcohol-free pairing menus could be an astute move by developers and operators as a way of meeting the needs of diners seeking 'complete' dining experiences without wine or beer.
A match made without alcohol
Synergy says that there is a clear need and opportunity for both soft drinks and non-alcoholic beverages to meet the needs of consumer groups looking for alternatives to alcohol pairings with meals.

A Good Sense Research report it commissioned found that 87% of respondents were interested in purchasing a soft drink which would pair with their chosen cuisine, with Synergy also citing evolving alcohol-free drinking habits among Gen Z and Millennials as further evidence for the need for innovation.

Synergy’s flavour pairings for alcohol-free drinks are said to be optimised for a range of cuisines, including Indian, Italian, Greek, British, Chinese and Thai.

Combinations within the realm of Asian cuisines include a mango, lime and mint blend for a low/no drink to complement the flavours typically found in Indian cuisine; pineapple, coconut and lemongrass to pair with Thai dishes; and salted cherry and ginger to compliment Chinese cuisine.

In terms of European cuisines, Synergy recommends Sicilian lemon and bergamot for Italian cuisine drinks pairings; plum, orange and chilli to work in harmony with the British roast dinner; and green tea, lemon and mint which can accompany Greek fare.

So what examples are there of UK restaurants adopting non-alcoholic pairing menus? Here are three pioneers from London, with in-house cocktail creativity the defining feature.
Download our free white paper
Discover our UK Hospitality Food & Drink Trends To Watch 2023/24

Akoko, Fitzrovia
West African restaurant Akoko offers three types of drinks pairings to complement its tasting menu – a wine pairing (£80), a premium wine pairing (£120), and a soft pairing (£50).

Each of the restaurant’s alcohol-free ‘soft’ pairs is inspired by individual spices – Ehuru, Uda, Roselle, Kameeldoring and Penja Pepper.

Options include housemade kombucha and mead, and a sparkling tamarind iced tea, which pairs with a spiced butternut squash soup.

La Dame de Pic, City of London
In September 2022, French fine dining restaurant La Dame de Pic launched ‘Imprégnation Absolue’ – a globally inspired non-alcoholic drinks pairing menu featuring teas, coffees and cocktails.

Options include Genmaicha Collins, a non-alcoholic cocktail made with Genmaicha tea, lime cordial and cardamom, with its tart and earthy notes said to pair well with the Heritage tomato marinated with Nikka whisky.

Its Geisha Coffee (pictured), which is made with the Chemex method for a ‘pure flavour’, is said to be a natural companion for the Hereford Beef Fillet, which is marinated in coffee and served with baby aubergine tempura, rich oxtail confit and fresh dill.

This Bethnal Green-based supper club offers house-made alcohol-free infusions as pairings for its nine-course set menu.

They change on a regular basis, with a recent menu featuring a lightly seasoned mint tea infused with rosemary, thyme and a hint of white wine vinegar, paired with Herdwick lamb belly, black garlic, Tokyo turnips, Puy lentils and lamb broth.

Chef/owner Gabriel Waterhouse says that the alcohol-free pairing is "reminiscent of mint sauce and serves the same purpose to cut through the fattier parts of the lamb."

Another good example can be found with a recent Baron Bigod fondue and russet apple dish. Waterhouse and the team pair it with a delicate black tea kombucha to deliver a sweetness not unlike that of a keeved apple cider.
Action points for UK foodservice
Focus areas for 2023 (and beyond)
  • In-house creativity (with local ingredients)
    Approach the development of an alcohol-free pairing option as you would a dish, certainly without cutting any corners. Prioritise local ingredients where possible, and explore zero waste tactics to boost sustainability credentials.
  • Craft beyond the cocktail
    Consider alcohol-free pairing options beyond the cocktail, such as coffees and teas which, as highlighted by La Dame de Pic, can be effectively harnessed to pair across both sweet and savoury dishes.
  • Live and kicking
    Harness fermentation techniques to increase flavours and add natural depth to alcohol-free drinks. Kombucha is something of a hero drink in this evolving space due to its versatility and complex flavour profile.
Sign up for our
FREE food trends & insights newsletter!
Regular food trend intelligence from the experts, straight to your inbox

Meet our trend specialists and discover our unique 'Chef Nexus' & research methodology

Read our free deep-dives and sign up for our regular food trends newsletter

One F&B topic, one-page PDF format. Short, sharp food intelligence