It's Our Fault Restaurant Cocktails Are So Expensive

Have you visited a restaurant or bar lately, ordered a cocktail, put down your card to pay the bill, and actually shuddered at the number you saw written down? You're not alone.

Cocktail prices are at an all-time high nowadays. In fact, experts speaking to VinePair say drinks are nearly 40% more than they were in the early 2010s, with the cost of going out for the night becoming nearly untenable. Meeting a friend for a drink, which used to be an affordable alternative to a full dinner date or seeing a show, has become just about as expensive as a complete meal or night out.

Many things could be to blame: Rent increases for businesses, the lingering scrappy economics incurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, and ongoing supply chain issues are often cited as culprits for everything going up in price in today's economy.

But, the real reason that drinks in particular have become so expensive is that bars are giving us exactly what we asked for — high-quality experiences, which have resulted in higher prices.

The vibe economy is to blame for high-priced drinks

Coming out of the pandemic, our collective desire for a good time changed the ways in which we have interacted with bars and restaurants. After being trapped in our homes for nearly three years, most of us haven't just desired somewhere to go have a couple beers. We have wanted a true experience.

This pent-up desire for something new has led to a trend of decadence that has defined bar and restaurant culture. In the age of TikTok, it's no longer enough for bars to look attractive in a single Instagram photo. They have to look flawless in a full 360 degrees, maintaining a cool and vibey aesthetic while also having classic cocktails and inventive drinks that both look and taste good.

As we have raised our standards, bars have stepped up to meet them by hiring renowned mixologists, crafting complicated drinks with 20 different ingredients, and splurging on top-shelf booze, not to mention in-house infusions, and handmade garnishes. These drinks rely on a bar fully stocked with high-end ingredients, making them far more expensive to make than the low-maintenance well drinks of the past. To keep up, bars and restaurants have had to charge more for the price of making these bespoke bevs.

There are other factors at play, too

But it's not just cocktail connoisseurs driving up prices, it's also non-drinker patterns, too. If you've ever felt awkward telling your server, "Just a water for me, thanks," when ordering at a restaurant, it might be because restaurants making about a third of their revenue from the sale of alcoholic beverages, so skipping out on a cocktail can result in the business making less money, and your server getting a skimpier tip. With sober-curious trends also leading to lowered drink sales, charging more per drink has become the only way for many spots to make up the difference.

The rise in demand for craft non-alcoholic cocktails that don't taste like a watered-down Capri Sun has also pushed this issue along, as bars struggle to cover costs while still making quality drinks that are accessible to a larger portion of the population. As such, even mocktail costs have been bumped up to be nearly in line with the cost of any other craft cocktail. So, if you're planning to go out for drinks any time soon, just know it's going to cost you.