As a child, when I would go out to eat with my parents, there was nothing better than ordering an ice-cold Shirley Temple with extra cherries.
My parents would frequent The Inn Flight, a small steakhouse in Feasterville, Pa. It wasn’t necessarily kid-friendly, but the waitstaff made it so. My parents would get their nice dinner, and I would be perfectly content feasting on french fries and maraschino cherries while having sword fights with the little plastic picks. I didn’t know it then, but this simple childhood memory is what spawned my interest in mocktails.
Of course, I didn’t know it was a mocktail at the time; it was just a drink for kids, much like apple or grape juice. But something about this drink was special—not just because of how it tasted, but because of how it made you feel: like I was one of the gang, included in the libation. That was all that mattered. This theme followed me into my teens.
In high school, my senior class went to Disney World. We had a dinner booked at The Polynesian. All of my classmates were ordering beautiful virgin piña coladas and daiquiris. These beautiful Tiki-themed drinks marked vacation, fun and freedom. When I think back on them, I don’t remember the taste of coconut or strawberry. I remember the smell of a breezy beach, the warmth on my face from the fire dancers show, and laughing with my friends.
This is why I chose to add kids’ mocktails to my beverage program at Commonwealth National Golf Club & Manor House. It was one of the simplest things I could do that made parent and kid alike happy—just a little add-on that can make a special event even more memorable.
My first creation was for Halloween. I made a virgin transfusion into the face of a monster and called it a monster transfusion. The kids could inject their own grape syrup into ginger ale. I finished it off with a eyeball and a mouth with some blueberries for spots. It was so well-received that I became something of a mad scientist, creating these over-the-top candy bombs for our special events. Since then, I’ve dialed it back a bit, not wanting to be the source of cavities for my club kids.
Still, at every special family event, the kids are included in the beverage program—and I urge other clubs to do the same. Here are a few tips:
- Use a fun cup.
- Use a fun straw.
- Use what you have in daily stock: fruit, bakery items, whipped cream, candy.
- Shop your local dollar store for inspiration.
- A drink umbrella can go a long way. I’ve found a lot a great picks and stirrers on Amazon.
- Don’t reinvent the wheel: Choose flavors that are already well-received by children (chocolate milk, cherry coke, apple juice and Shirley Temple, of course).
This is a simple and fun way to create inclusivity. And I believe it actually draws attention away from the parents imbibing, making cocktails less—dare I say—forbidden. I’m not a psychologist, but believe it could lead to a healthier relationship with alcohol in latter years.
I do this for all family events and holidays. These kids’ mocktails can be crafted as a add-on to a birthday party, bar or bat mitzvah, communion party—you name it. Pro tip: Always have a hard copy of the menu with a picture as a keepsake for your guests, especially if the mocktail is named after them.
Depending on the size of the event, it may benefit to set up a satellite bar that you can dedicate to the kids’ mocktails. You’ve now created a stationed activity, and kids love to watch drinks being made. Consider purposefully shaking up the drinks to create more theatrics or letting them add their own toppings. It’s akin to a hot chocolate bar, but reframed.
Showmanship is everything, and if you can provide entertainment congruent with a wonderfully crafted product, you’ve got a win. As a beverage manager, if I can provide an experience that will be remembered for years to come, then I’ve done my job well.
(P.S. I don’t love the term ‘mocktail.’ I think we can do better. Anyone?)