February 15

Sobriety in the Bar Industry

A sneak-peek into two sessions at the Bartender’s Circle Summit part of Seattle Cocktail Week.

The cultural shift toward wellness and mindfulness has steadily influenced the hospitality industry over the last decade. Many professionals have woken up to the unhealthy lifestyles of late nights, heavy drinking, and other unsustainable practices once glamorized within our industry. Industry-heavy hitters, workers, and patrons have demonstrated a growing desire for more inclusive spaces that encourage sobriety and community. This has influenced the national bar scene to incorporate more zero-proof options while not sacrificing the flavor or creativity behind each beverage and support for the bartenders who’ve chosen to lead a life of sobriety.

“The hospitality industry has been plagued with lack of proper health care and support, and many issues have been brought to the surface through high-profile tragedies,” Abigail Gullo, Director of Industry for Bartender’s Circle, a bartender collective based in Seattle, Washington, told us. “Luckily, there are some signs that we are moving in the right direction. Many hospitality workers are now being offered better hours, sick pay, health care, and better paid time off from employers looking to lure workers back to the bar.”

Gullo continued to describe that they’ve noticed more alcohol-free shops and bars open up over the past year. Each housing the growing number of zero-proof spirits and crafting mocktails or non-proof cocktails to groups who may no longer imbibe but still want to maintain community and a place for gathering and socializing.

According to Gullo, the trend of zero-proof beverages in the bar scene is in part due to awareness and focus on health and moderation resulting from the pandemic, but also from what Gullo called a “swing back to hospitality and bartending as a profession” found in the pre-Prohibition days of the 1880s. At this time, Mixologists were not only masters of alcoholic beverages but also non-alcoholic.

“It was Prohibition that created a split where bartenders became refugees peddling their craft of ‘Hard Drinks’ on foreign shores, while the ones who stayed home pivoted to only serving ‘Soft Drinks’ and became known as Soda Jerks!” Gullo stated. “We have finally pivoted back to both these professions being wrapped in one with the New Golden Age of bartenders and hospitality professions that emerged at the turn of the 21st century.”

So why use a zero-proof spirit, especially when many mixologists have developed a strong skill for crafting beautiful mocktails? “There are flavors in spirits that just can’t be created with 1,2, or even 45 ingredients,” Gullo shared. “There can be up to 250 herbs, spices, and fruit found in one amaro. I can’t duplicate all those flavors in one cocktail on my own. Spirits (and non-spirits) can carry concentrated flavors that change and evolve when mixed.” So whether you’re sober or just want to practice moderation, a zero-proof spirit opens up more flavor possibilities that could not be done otherwise.

In addition to the growing trend of cocktails menus incorporating non-proof options, there is also a broader awareness and support of those who choose to practice sobriety while maintaining a successful career within the bar and nightclub industry.

“The biggest misconception about being sober behind the bar is that sober people don’t know how to make cocktails and don’t know squat about spirits. Which is absolutely not true” Cera Grindstaff of Dreamland and Stampede Cocktail club, and The Master of the NA Cocktail in Seattle, Washington said. “I for one think that sober folx need to work harder and do more research on cocktails and spirits which in turn makes for a steller bartender.”

Grindstaff will be a presenter at the Bartender’s Circle Summit this coming March 2-3rd for the “Sober Behind the Bar” Session. Here, a panel of bartenders practicing sobriety will share the challenges, the obstacles, and the strategies they’ve acquired along the road while building successful careers in the bar and nightclub industries.

“For me personally, once I got sober, doors opened that I didn’t even know were doors,” Grindstaff told us. “My focus, sleep, eating habits, mental capacity, health, bank account… freaking everything blossomed. Here is a quote that I really love and it speaks columns to me every day, ‘Your level of success will rarely succeed your level of personal development because success is something you attract by the person you become.’”

The Bartender’s Circle is an open collective of bartenders and other hospitality professionals that celebrate and uplift one another through education, events, and peer support. Their upcoming Bartender’s Circle Summit, a part of Seattle’s Cocktail Week, is a two-day event full of industry-focused education and new product tastings. It will include two sessions on the growing awareness of sobriety in hospitality.

“Being sober should not keep you from succeeding at your job, nor making it a rewarding career,” Gullo encouraged. “Here at Bartender’s Circle, we endeavor to uplift and celebrate all bartenders and hospitality professionals. We want to be a resource of knowledge and support in these extraordinary times.”

If you’re in Seattle for Cocktail Week  — don’t miss the opportunity to attend “The New Age of Non-Proof” and the “Sober Behind The Bar, ” sessions presented at the Bartender’s Circle Summit. Whether you’re currently practicing sobriety, interested in sobriety  — or are just a hospitality professional looking for more ways to encourage and support family, friends, and peers, there is something for everyone to learn! Visit the Bartender’s Circle site here to learn more, purchase tickets for the summit, or join the collective — it’s free, plus all members enjoy discounted admissions to the summit.


About the author

Ashley McNally likes to cook, loves to bake, and is always dreaming of her next meal. With over 13 years of experience working in various roles within a restaurant — McNally has made a home in hospitality.

About the author

Ashley McNally likes to cook, loves to bake, and is always dreaming of her next meal. With over 13 years of experience working in various roles within a restaurant — McNally has made a home in hospitality.


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