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Non-drinkers—what do you order?

For a number of reasons, I'd like to cut back my alcohol intake. I'm not a heavy drinker by anyone's measuring stick, but it's just something I'd like to cut back on.

I do like to go out, but I feel awkward sometimes ordering a non-alcoholic beverage. I feel a little silly and like I look a little unsophisticated ordering an iced tea while my friend orders a glass of wine or a martini. It just doesn't feel that festive.

For a while, I would go with half-cranberry/half-orange, but I'm a little tired of that. Also, I've noticed that a lot of virgin drinks also tend to be sugar bombs that seem unappealing to me.

What do non-drinkers drink? Am I basically limited to club soda with lime? Any other ideas? Am I just being too difficult here?

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  1. My SO doesn't drink alcohol and has become very passionate about coffee, ginger beer/ale and root beer.

    I'm not so into the sweet stuff. If I am not interested in alcohol I like seltzer with bitters and lime or seltzer with a touch of flavored syrup or juice. I'm very comfortable with just a glass of water too. If it is chilly mulled cider or a mug of tea. A festive occasion sparkling cider is nice.

    You don't appear silly or unsophisticated - you look like someone who knows what they want and is comfortable enough to choose a different path.

    After the first years of drinking experiences most people come to realise that there are many reasons someone may decide not to imbide. Those with maturity respect that choice.

    1. I don't drink often. My usual order is a (homemade) iced tea or lemonade. At a party or wedding, I'll ask the bartender for sparkling water in a wine glass instead of a larger water glass.

      5 Replies
      1. re: cheesecake17

        When I am the DD at wedding and such...I do cherry sprites....love them!

        1. re: LaLa

          Interesting drink.. last night we were at a wedding and my husband was driving home so he asked the bartender for vodka shots.. but his was water.

        2. re: cheesecake17

          why sparkling water in a wine glass? To appear like it's a alcoholic drink?

          1. re: Jacey

            Cocktail glasses are so fun and just make things feel more special/festive like using the fine china. When my kids were little I would get them those plastic champagne glasses to go with their sparkling cider of course now the get to use the crystal. Now that I think about it sparkling water would be great in a champagne flute (tiny bubbles)!

            1. re: Jacey

              More dainty and elegant to hold than a clunky water glass. Also, at a dark party, it does look like white wine, so no one asks why I'm not drinking.

          2. I never drink and you don't have to drink to be a foodie. I order good ole H2O with my meals. Juices and mocktails and such are too filling and IMHO take away from the taste of the food, especially because they are sweet.

            1 Reply
            1. Ask for an "Arnold Palmer" you'll love it

              1. I try to do one non-alcoholic for every alcoholic drink I order. So I've come to like:

                Ginger ale & lime juice
                Soda & Cranberry w/ a wedge of lime
                Orange Juice & 7up
                Pineapple Juice & Soda

                3 Replies
                1. re: soypower

                  Love the cranberry diluted with wedge of lime...those flavors really go nicely together! I drink that at home even, not just when I'm out--always have cranberry juice in fridge and keep a supply of lemons and limes too!

                  1. re: soypower

                    Oooo, the ginger ale and lime juice sounds perfect for me....is it fresh lime juice or something like Rose's? Soda and Cranberry with lime sounds great, too! I think you have just given me the drinks to order when I'm out and not just wanting water. Thanks Soypower!

                    1. re: grouper

                      Ideally, you want ginger ale muddled with real limes, but if I'm trying to be easy, I just go for the rose's lime...

                      I'm glad you like the drinks, I've had a lot of time to figure out the perfect in-betweeners when I'm hanging out with my heavier-drinking buddies. :o)

                  2. My SO does not drink alcohol and will usually order club soda with a splash of cranberry juice and lime if we are out. At dinner, he will usually order sparkling water. I have wanted to cut back also and find myself asking for club soda with a splash of orange or grapefruit juice. Not too filling or too sugary.

                    1. For me, I would be perfectly comfortable drinking a sparkling mineral water anytime......but when I feel like you do and do not want to drink heavily in the consumption department.....I opt for a Campari and Soda with a wedge of lime, lemon or lemon twist....whichever is more fresh.

                      26 Replies
                      1. re: fourunder

                        Wow, there are some great ideas here already! Thanks. Ginger ale and lime juice sounds great. I love ginger ale and one of my favorite places to go makes their own. Club soda with cranberry would also be a good option, especially since vodka w/ cran is one of my go-to drinks.

                        1. re: rweater

                          If you ask them the add a couple mint leaves, you could close your eyes and pretend you're drinking a mojito...:o)

                            1. re: soypower

                              We make virgin pineapple "mojitos" at my work for the non-drinkers. They're not sweet at all, and a bit more interesting than plain ol' cran/soda, etc.

                                1. re: cheesecake17

                                  Sure, but it varies by your desired degree of sweetness.

                                  I muddle four or five sprigs of fresh mint with three or four wedges of lime on the bottom of a highball glass. Top with ice and fill 3/4 full with soda water. Finish with pineapple juice. You can add simple syrup if you prefer a sweeter drink, but I don't.

                                  Pregnant ladies loooove these at my work.

                                  1. re: invinotheresverde

                                    Thanks! Even easier than I thought! Have you ever made these in a pitcher to serve a crowd?

                                    This would prob go over well with my friends... none of us are drinkers but we all enjoy a non alcoholic drink.

                                    1. re: cheesecake17

                                      I haven't. Everyone I know is a drunk (myself included)!

                          1. re: fourunder

                            I really like the Campari and soda, especially with a large shot of gin and a lime.

                            1. re: DallasDude

                              Of course you do, LOL. But this thread is about people who want a non-alcoholic alternative.
                              If I chose not to drink, for whatever reason, I needn't explain myself. Water is fine.

                              Funny drink story: I worked in a restaurant that actually had a drink recipe file box behind the bar. One day I was going through it and came across a recipe for a "pine float" which consisted of: large glass of water, over ice, float toothpick.
                              Non-alcoholic but seems dangerous.

                            2. re: fourunder

                              Love sparkling water with lime as well!

                              1. re: fourunder

                                But Campari is an alcoholic drink, no?

                                1. re: greedygirl


                                  is that a rhetoric question?

                                  In the last paragraph, the OP asks non-alcoholic drinkers what they drink.....yes....but a little further he asks.....any other ideas......my take was based on his wish to reduce alcohol consumption.....let's say normally you have 6-7 drinks.....I guarantee you will drink less of Campari until you get used to the taste..... but also this:

                                  Vodka is 35-50% by volume and 80 Proof.....

                                  Campari is 20-28% by volume and only 41 Proof......

                                  In my world, that's reduced alcohol consumption.....and an option.

                                  1. re: fourunder

                                    The OP was asking for suggestions for non-alcoholic drinks - Campari isn't one.

                                    1. re: fourunder

                                      I think "other ideas" referred to non-alcoholic beverages other than soda with lime. If your average intake at a bar is only a beer or two, switching over to campari is hardly an downgrade in consumption.

                                      1. re: queencru

                                        gg and qc,

                                        The OP is looking to reduce his or her consumption, not eliminate it. I offered my suggestion for sparkling mineral water with a citrus addition......I explained my alternate of Campari for MYSELF as well. You can use the information however you like. The two of you choose to concentrate on non-alcoholic options,,,,I chose to provide an alternate and focus on *cut back* option. Campari is a light aperitif....no one is getting drunk on Campari.... If your average intake is one or two and you do not partake, you do not reduce....you eliminate.

                                        As for the addition of grenadine......I do not know of any adults who drink Shirley Temples or Roy Rodgers....

                                        I apologize for entering this discussion.......since I am an alcoholic drinker, I should have known better than to participate....

                                        btw gg......why no knock on bitters as mentioned in this thread? it can have twice as much alcohol as Campari.

                                        1. re: fourunder

                                          Please don't regret your input! I thought it went will with the OP's original context.

                                          For information's sake, I'm glad that someone clarified for the non-drinkers that Campari does have alcohol. As a light drinker, I'm entertaining your suggestion for the next time I go out. I never think of Campari except mixed in strong drinks.

                                          1. re: thinks too much


                                            Thanks, I am glad someone appreciated my comments....you have a reasonable mind. If everyone here adhered to a strict following of the title thread.....and did not read the message portion....this surely would be a boring site.

                                          2. re: fourunder

                                            I had no idea bitters contained alcohol. It's supposedly a "secret" recipe.
                                            It certainly would be a miniscule amount of alcohol, as the portion of bitters in any given drink is also miniscule. My Mom gave me bitters and water when I was young with an upset stomach.
                                            "since I am an alcoholic drinker"-I think you mean to say that you are a drinker of alcohol, "alcoholic drinker" sounds like you're an alcoholic, which I doubt.;-)

                                            1. re: bushwickgirl

                                              It certainly would be a miniscule amount of alcohol,

                                              I would consider 1-1.5 ounces of Campari to be miniscule as well.

                                              Thanks for noticing above

                                              1. re: bushwickgirl

                                                Bitters are, indeed, alcoholic (the bottle I have is 44.7%). However, seeing as I only use a couple of drops in a tall glass of, say, tonic, I think one can genuinely regard that as "miniscule" and far less than one would use of, say, Campari, in a mixed drink. Aren't discussion board semantics great fun?

                                                1. re: Harters

                                                  It wouldn't be Chowhound without. Cheers!

                                              2. re: fourunder

                                                Maybe not in the US, but it's a popular non-alcholic beverage in France, where you can get brands that are still made with pomegranate. I think in the States it's mainly made with high-fructose corn syrup.

                                                Anyway, there was no intention to offend. I merely thought it odd that someone should mention campari in a thread asking about non-alcoholic drinks. I like campari as well, btw.

                                                1. re: fourunder

                                                  Good point on the bitters. I suggested it in the spirit of a low alcohol option for a person who wishes to cut back. But it is important to note that bitters does contain alcohol and is not an option for those in recovery.

                                                  I'll have to try the Campari, sounds like an option for me when I don't want much alcohol.

                                              3. re: fourunder

                                                Makes sense for someone who wants to cut back on alcohol consumption. When my mother worked in HR years ago (30 yr or so), her advice to interviewees was to order a Campari and soda if they felt pressured into ordering alcohol while at lunch with interviewers. Compared to other drinks it's neither strong nor easy to drink.

                                                1. re: viperlush

                                                  It's also much tastier with orange juice. Hey, and you get some vitamin C!

                                          3. neither my husband nor I drink any alcohol, for various reasons. Honestly, most people you are out with won't pay any attention. Occasionally we get asked, or prodded to order something alcoholic, and just politely decline. There really is no reason to feel awkward or unsophisticated, and it is no one's business what you do/don't order or why.

                                            We tend to get seltzer & lime, or cranberry. I love ginger ale. I don't bother with virgin drinks, either. You are only limited by your tastes. If you like iced tea (and I do, too), go for it. Sodas, waters, splashes of juice or lemon/lime - whatever you like.

                                            1. Great topic! One of my biggest challenges as well - I am also diabetic so it rules out any juices or pop for the most part since usually the only diet soda is diet coke (at least where I'm from in Toronto). I've had to get creative with adding fruit to water (sparkling or flat) and really appreciate places that make their own "cold tea" not "iced tea" which tends to have a lot of sugar in it also.

                                              Still water with ice and a lime wedge is my constant go-to beverage.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: JaclynS

                                                Wow, I'd have to get water with a lime or lemon wedge as well. Gone are my youthful days. I have Crohns/Colitis. No alky or fizzy pop here. Or acidy orange juice, pineapple mango whatnot. I mean I do need to get out of the man cave every once in awhile so water it is I reckon..so much for the comments from the peanut gallery "oh why aren't you drinking.."

                                                1. re: JaclynS

                                                  Be careful if you're going out for late night Chinese on Dundas.. ordering "cold tea" will get you something completely different!

                                                2. Jfood usually orders tap water or mineral water. On the mineral / sparkling water route you will eventually find there are differences in them as well. For example, jfood now asks what kind of sparkling water the restaurant serves. He does not like Saratogo at all, way too fizzy. You should see some of the looks when he asks which kind and then the utter shock when he turns down Saratoga...priceless. But when it is just M&M jfood he normally orders tap water.

                                                  When he is travelling and eating solo, jfood sometimes splurges and orders a root beer, usually a diet one. This is especially true when he is eating a burger and fries.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: jfood

                                                    I also really enjoy sparkling mineral water. Especially after a heavy meal. My favorite is Badoit. It's really good for settling the stomach as it's particularly mineral-y and not terribly bubbly. The only drawback is it is somewhat hard to find.

                                                  2. Club soda with a splash of cranberry is my go to drink - it's not too sweet, but it has a little something to it.

                                                    1. We take alcohol with dinner and often with many lunches. However, there are two times -- when I'm driving and when I'm attending a wine tasting -- that I don't care to have alcohol with my meal. I've taken to ordering a cup of coffee or decaf. Now, I *love* coffee, and drink lots of it.

                                                      At one restaurant bar, I sat waiting for two lunch companions, drinking my cup of coffee. A guy two seats down asked me how long I'd been going to A.A.! That one time was the only occasion I've felt uncomfortable about being a non-drinker in a drinking situation.

                                                      Years ago, when I'd decline alcohol at certain business-related functions, I got sick and tired of the seltzer/tonic and lime drill really fast and haven't gone there since.

                                                      1. Lime & soda if I want a long drink (I order it in pints)

                                                        Tonic. With/out bitters. As an aperitif.

                                                        The difficulty is in finding something that isnt too sweet. I still find that a problem after nearly 10 years on the wagon.

                                                        In restaurants I order sparkling water or tap to drink with meals.

                                                        4 Replies
                                                        1. re: Harters

                                                          I always go for lime and soda as well. At home we like the French Teissiere brand of syrups which are now stocked, rather bizarrely, in one of our local shops. Expensive, but very good.

                                                          1. re: greedygirl

                                                            I'll look out for Teissiere locally. The French do seem to be quite good at developing non-alcoholic look-alikes. We picked up a couple of bottles of Palermo from the Calais Carrefour last trip - tastes just like a vermouth but no alcohol - makes for nice apperitif.

                                                            1. re: Harters

                                                              Grenadine is good for that kind of thing as well. I also like soda with a dash of pomegranate juice or pomegranate molasses. Not too sweet.

                                                              1. re: greedygirl

                                                                Grenadine is great if you can find the "real thing". Unfortunately most products called "grenadine" tend to be actually "red sweet stuff".

                                                                By the by, my favourite drink when in Spain is "Bitter Kas" (or it could be "Kas Bitters") - similarish to a Campari & soda sort of drinky.

                                                        2. Club soda or seltzer either flavored with fruit essence (no sugar) or wedges of fresh fruit. I drink it by the case at home and work. My favorite soda is ginger ale so sometimes I'll have that.

                                                          5 Replies
                                                          1. re: Cherylptw

                                                            I've been out with people who don't drink alcohol for many reasons, and the females always ask that their drinks are put in either a wine glass or some other shapely glass.

                                                            I have one sister that mostly orders bottled beer and does the same, that one makes me laugh all the time for some reason, as I usually order draft beer.

                                                            1. re: hummingbird

                                                              "I've been out with people who don't drink alcohol for many reasons, and the females always ask that their drinks are put in either a wine glass or some other shapely glass."

                                                              That's so weird to me. Chunks of ice in a wine glass don't make the drinker look more sophisticated/festive/etc. Of course, this is just my opinion.

                                                              1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                                "Chunks of ice in a wine glass don't make the drinker look more sophisticated/festive/etc."

                                                                Perhaps not. But they may make the drinker *feel* more sophisticated/festive/etc.

                                                                For example, at home, I often drink a spiced ginger drink as an aperitif. It looks like sherry; the ginger gives it a "bite" like a fortified wine does and it's thick and
                                                                viscous like sherry. I always drink it in a proper sherry schooner - and think of the old days before I became an alcoholic.

                                                                1. re: Harters

                                                                  Eh. I guess. Perhaps it's just a pet peeve, as I also loathe ice in a snifter.

                                                                  My hell would be full of people drinking scotch on the rocks in snifters.

                                                                2. re: invinotheresverde

                                                                  I can't drink and always get the drink in whatever glass they give me. I don't really order virgin versions of alcoholic drinks, so I don't think I've ever gotten anything in a festive glass.

                                                            2. I tend to order water with most meals because I don't want to take away from the taste of the food. Most drinks are just too sugary. If I'm going out, I typically order club soda with some sort of juice in it, or if the juice is actually good, fresh juice, then I will have that without any club soda. I do not like lemon or lime, so I don't do the club soda with that.

                                                              Don't worry about not looking sophisticated. There are plenty of good reasons not to drink. I'm allergic and find that there are a few people who have problems accepting it at first, but they tend to come around after a few months.

                                                              1. If i am out for dinner, I usually don't have alcoholic drinks, unless it is a special occasion (or If i just feel like I want one). Water is always a good choice, fortunately we have great tap water here. Next choice is Iced Tea (unsweetened, unflavored.) Until two years ago CocaCola was my default order, till I realized I was drinking way too much coke. Now I get one every once in a while, but don't crave it.

                                                                1. I cant drink alcohol because of anti-depressants, so I usually order tonic and lime, bitters w/ mineral water or coffee.

                                                                  1. Martinelli's sparkling cider is my standard non-alcoholic champagne stand-in. It makes its appearance at parties and private events - don't think I've ever seen it on menus or in bars.

                                                                    1. My drinking days are long gone and it's sometimes a struggle to get something good. My favorite of these is a virgin mojito. Any place that makes a decent mojito can make it virgin for you. It will be composed of some kind of sparkling water, lime juice and muddled mint. They may or may not add sugar. I've ordered it at a number of different bars and restaurants and have had unexpectedly consistent, good luck.

                                                                      1. Long ago I decided that it was best to order a club soda with lime when everyone else wanted cocktails. It looks like a mixed drink, and if you happen to be at a place at which people are standing around with their drinks in hand, like a bar or a cocktail party, people will assume it is vodka or gin and not ask you any questions.

                                                                        1. Surprised no one has mentioned the "Virgin Ceasar" - I really like the mix of the salted rim and the clamato juice, which is hit up a bit by the Worcesteshire sauce. Plus if they take too long to bring the food, I can nibble on the celery :}

                                                                          1. Straight tomato juice, with our without lime/lemon actually complements many foods, making it a wine substitute. Grape juice is good too, and if you don't like the sweetness, add one third water.

                                                                            1. I second the virgin Caesar/virgin Bloody Mary when I don't feel like alcohol. The trouble with the clear drinks (lemonade, seltzer etc) is that I drink them down quickly and am left with an empty glass while my friends have barely sipped their martinis. The Caesar/Bloody Mary are good to drink slowly. Plain tomato juice works OK too.
                                                                              With meals, you could try white grape juice.

                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                              1. re: chowbie

                                                                                The reason I mentioned the Virgin Ceasar specifically is that I find clamato juice is nowhere near as thick as the tomato juice we get here. Sometimes I feel that the TJ is more like puree. Plain grape juice is great (white or red), but I find a lot of restaurants just don't stock it.

                                                                              2. I would soooooo order whatever the hell it was I *wanted*. For me that's iced tea because I like the flavor and I don't like the flavor of alcohol. If someone had an opinion about that I'd think they were odd. If they *told* me they disapproved I don't think I'd care for much more of their company.

                                                                                BTW, I don't eat liver. Bet you couldn't care less. Why do you assume anyone cares any more than that about what you're drinking?

                                                                                3 Replies
                                                                                1. re: rainey

                                                                                  I definitely agree with your point but have to add...some people (strangely) DO care. I remember this guy I dated for a while a long time ago...we would go out to dinner all the time. Order some wine with our meal, maybe an appetizer, salad, entree, dessert. He would always order coffee, espresso, etc. with dessert or after dessert. I don't drink coffee - never have, just don't like it, so I would maybe just have some wine left to finish or not be drinking anything. After many dates and many meals, he just snapped one night at the end of the meal asking why I didn't order something. I told him I didn't really want anything more and don't drink coffee, that I was fine and not bothered by him having some if he wanted. He said it bothered HIM and it was the least I could do to order something, as if I were being rude. Obviously that was the last supper for us!!

                                                                                  So - some people do care for whatever reason. Maybe OP or one of his dining companions is such a person.

                                                                                  1. re: cookie44

                                                                                    True enough. I know there are such people. I just don't know why anyone would want to spend time with them.

                                                                                    I remember being pregnant and not drinking in a more deliberate way than usual -- like no wine with dinner. There was one couple who would always make an issue of it. Like it was a personal affront to them. ::shrug:: Their problem and not much for me to do about it but to decline the invitations after the pattern was established.

                                                                                    1. re: rainey

                                                                                      I've known a lot of people who seemed to have issues with it- namely those who feel like you can't have fun unless everyone else around you is drinking as much as you are. It's frustrating, but as you pointed out there isn't much you can do about it.

                                                                                2. I saw an Alton Brown episode about celery--he made celery tonic! Sounds interesting to me, you could investigate savoury drinks. Beef consomme with lemon juice is great.

                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                  1. re: BangorDin

                                                                                    oh and don't forget when alton made ginger ale . . .

                                                                                  2. When I'm clearing out my system I'm very fond of Schweppe's bitter lemon - great flavor, not too sweet. But it can be a bit hard to find these days.

                                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: BobB

                                                                                      Old thread, but:

                                                                                      I think you're fairly near me. Where are you finding bitter lemon? I want some!

                                                                                      1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                                                        I haven't looked in a bit so I'm not actually sure who carries it these days, I've just noticed that it does turn up from time to time. I saw it last Saturday at Heathrow but that's probably not much help. ;-)

                                                                                        One thought - the new Meat House in Coolidge Corner carries a lot of hard-to-find products. If they don't have it they might consider picking it up, you could talk to them.

                                                                                    2. A fountain coke can be a great thing. and many times a cherry coke they will make it with their cherry syrup. People will probably be jealous of you. Many times I'll say, I want a delicious coke - which sounds like it's something you prefer to a beer.

                                                                                      I barely drink when I go out anymore, so one beer isn't going to do anything. I don't feel stupid at all drinking a delicious coke. I guess you have to ask yourself: "what do you want to drink?"

                                                                                      5 Replies
                                                                                      1. re: Jeffsayyes

                                                                                        I'm surprised there's not more coke drinkers, since it tends to pair well with a wide variety of foods.

                                                                                        When not drinking, I like to mix it up, but I often settle on a coke or ice water.

                                                                                        1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                          Really? I don't find it's syrupy sweetness to pair well with much at all (and I don't dislike Coke).

                                                                                          1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                                                            It's great with pizza, burgers, and spicy food.

                                                                                            1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                                                              I can see some people finding it too sweet. I just find that it has less of a lingering effect on my palate than citrus-y drinks which seem to be popular.

                                                                                              We're just gonna have to disagree on this one. I find Coke's underlying flavor (not the sweetness) to be versatile and pair well with a wide variety of savory foods, while still having a slight bitterness to help refresh the palate.

                                                                                              1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                                                                I thought we were just talking about bars here.
                                                                                                When I eat out, I usually have water.

                                                                                          2. I am 20, but being a foodie means I am often out at more sophisticated restaurants, and being a college student means I am often out at bars with my 21+ friends. So, I learned early on, many drinks on the menu can be made non-alcoholic. I have non-alcoholic daquiris, margaritas, mudslides, etc. I also will have sprite/7up mixed with cranberry juice to add a bit of tartness to it. I love lemonade. I often also just drink water.

                                                                                            1. If I go out with non-drinkers(and don't feel like being the odd drinker) I just order water or some other non-sweet drink. I like beer/wine with food because it's either bitter or at least not cloyingly sweet, so if I don't have one of those, it's almost always just water, sparkling or still.

                                                                                              1. A brewpub near me once a year does an ultra low abv beer that is delicious. I believe the brewer called them Belgian table beers. Obviously light but with hints of spice and solid malt/ hop character. Anyway the %abv of two that I recall were 2.9% and 1.9%. I would literally go there after the gym and have two or three pints. I would get maybe the faintest buzz (or maybe it was just the rehydration). I really wish more breweries would have these style beers of this quality available. But as one guy next to me said: "1.9%?! what's the point?!"