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From Nudging Pubs to running the UK's first ever alcohol-free drinks Festival, Laura Willoughby FRSA shares how support from an RSA Catalyst Award has helped her venture Club Soda to grow.

Can you nudge pubs? 

Club Soda is a mindful drinking movement. We started out by supporting people who want to reduce their alcohol consumption, whether to moderate their habits, or quit alcohol completely. That is still a major part of what we do, but it soon became clear to us that individual behaviour change—important as it is—may not always be enough. To make it easier to achieve individual goals, the environment needs to change too. 

Pubs, bars and restaurants are a significant factor in how easy it is to cut down on your drinking. If there are no non-alcoholic drinks you want to drink, it becomes very difficult to stick to your goals: do you stay at home, drink tap water, or give in? From our own experience, and from listening to Club Soda members it is obvious that venues are failing to provide the choice many of their customers want. 

“Individual behaviour change—important as it is—may not always be enough. To make it easier to achieve individual goals, the environment needs to change too.

When we then spoke to pub managers, they claimed that there was no demand for low and no alcohol drinks, and therefore they didn’t bother stocking them. Clearly there was a mismatch somewhere, and we decided to find out what could be done about it. The idea was to consider behaviour change for licensed venues, rather than their customers. 

The outcome of our initial research was a set of recommendations of behaviour change techniques that could be used to improve the range and visibility of low and no alcohol drinks in licensed venues .  

Creating the Club Soda Guide 

Club Soda teamed up with drug and alcohol charity Blenheim to look at how we could change the behaviour of pubs and bars. Project funding came from Hackney Council, the City of London, Big Lottery Fund, and the RSA via a Catalyst grant. The Catalyst grant supported the design and technical development of the online platform, and allowed us to validate the prototype product, making us ready to scale the implementation. 

Based on our earlier findings, we set out to develop a pub guide with a difference. On the surface, the Club Soda Guide for Mindful Drinkers looks like most listing websites. But underneath, there are a number of behaviour change nudges for the venues. 

When venues get their listing, they are asked to fill in a short questionnaire about their low and no alcohol drinks range. This self-assessment gives them their “Club Soda Score”, which is visible to all visitors to the website. Based on their answers, they also get a brief tailored feedback, with simple tips on how to improve their drinks range (and their score). 

So far, 250 venues have signed up to the Guide. As part of our pilot project we spoke to 400 venues, and half of them were happy to sign up, and very few expressed any negative views about the concept. Most of the listings are still from the pilot area of Hackney and the City of London, but pubs and bars from across the UK are discovering the Guide . The wide range of venues taking an interest was nicely illustrated by the first two venues outside of London to sign up: Bryn Labour Club near Wigan, and the teetotal pop-up bar Dry Edinburgh joined in the same week.

You can read the full evaluation of the project here.  

Next steps: holding a drinks festival 

Perhaps the most important finding for us, from both the customers and the venue managers, was that they wanted to learn more about alternative drinks. Alcohol producers, distributors and wholesalers spend a lot of money on education and training for their products. Most producers of low and no alcohol beers and wines, and healthier soft drinks are small companies with limited resources. Even with superior products, most customers never get to try them. 

There also seems to be a psychological barrier. Whereas most of us are happy to buy a bottle of wine or a six-pack of beer we’ve never tried before it is only once we’ve tasted non-alcoholic versions, and know that we like them, that we are willing to make the switch.  

This must be why our non-alcoholic drinks tastings, which we’ve organised for various events, workplaces, and pub watch meetings, are so popular. People get to try several drinks at once, and find out which ones they like. We can answer their questions about calories, sugar content, and what “alcohol-free” means. We have witnessed countless “light bulb” moments, when people have tried a non-alcoholic beer for the first time and realised that they are very good drinks. 

To help with this “product discovery”, we decided to get all the best new drinks together for a big tasting event—the first-ever Mindful Drinking Festival. Club Soda will be taking over Bermondsey Square and the Bermondsey Square Hotel for a Sunday afternoon in August. Everyone can come and sample non-alcoholic beers, wines and cocktails, new soft drinks, as well as kombucha and other entirely new kinds of beverages. 

What does this mean for the future? The Guide has helped us shape a new all-encompassing mission statement that encapsulates the power of movements to make change happen.

We want to create a world where “nobody has to feel out of place if they are not drinking”.


The Mindful Drinking Festival takes place on Sunday 13th August, midday - 6pm, at Bermondsey Square, London SE1 3UN. Entry is free, but please register for your place online at mindfuldrinkingfestival.com

Find out more about how an RSA Catalyst Award could support your project here

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