Updated: Apr 26, 2022
The following provides some insight into the Recover Hospitality review process for restaurants.
As a former owner of a 5-star boutique hotel, I have always had a passion for dining out and reviewing restaurants. As a person in recovery, I have often found myself disappointed that the spirit of hospitality often doesn't extend to those who choose not to drink alcohol. Recover Hospitality helps individuals locate supportive and fun dining environments by conducting recovery-focused reviews. Celebrating venues' efforts and opportunities to improve by assessing: service, atmosphere, beverage offerings, food quality, value, and location.
Recover Hospitality also offers consulting services designed for restaurants and hotels interested in offering an environment attractive to the recovery community and others focused on health & wellness.
The food & beverage team at The Red Lion Inn, led by Jen Gelormino & Tim Eustis partnered with Recover Hospitality to create an innovative "zero proof" beverage menu.
I grew up in the hospitality industry, in a family known for creating warm and welcoming lodging environments: New England hospitality, at its finest. My family often reminds me I started my hospitality career at six years old when I would be assessing the varying quality of virgin strawberry daiquiris while on vacation. I would never have imagined that, as an adult, I would have returned to my hospitality roots and created a reviewing strategy highlighting the quality of non-alcoholic beverages. My recovery-focused review process combines my restaurant management expertise with my personal experience as an individual in recovery. The reviews are designed to both congratulate restaurants doing the work to provide welcoming environments and highlight opportunities for improvement.
There are five categories and while each is out of five points, the elements are weighted differently with Venue/Crowd and Food Quality/Value being a standard weight, service having the highest weight, and the two categories of beverage offerings and location having lower weights.
Category #1: Service
There's a good reason service is the first category listed: it can make or break the experience of a any diner, but especially those in recovery. Without a supportive service environment, there exists a deficit all other categories cannot cover. While sometimes unconscious, the amount of pressure felt from waitstaff upon not ordering an alcoholic beverage, can be very uncomfortable...even triggering.
Alternatively, service has the power to mitigate a tempting venue and create a welcoming environment. I have been to restaurants where I'm asked five different times by three different people if I want something to drink (even after saying "no, thank you" and having the cocktail menu removed) and there have been other times where a server is excited to tell me about a special mocktail on the menu for the evening, which will pair nicely with the food I've ordered. It's important to keep in mind that service isn't just about the waitstaff and bartenders, it also involves the host and management teams.
Category #2: Beverage Offerings
"We can make any of our signature cocktails without alcohol". This is a statement I hear all too often when asking about a restaurant's non-alcoholic beverage options. However, an increasing amount of venues are adding "zero proof" sections, which is encouraging! However, there is still a lot of work to do. It's important for restaurants to know that many individuals in recovery - and there are millions of us in the United States alone - do not want a beverage that tastes like alcohol.
Those who don't drink at all and people trying to drink less often have very different tastes. Non-alcoholic beers and non-alcoholic spirits, such as Seedlip are great for the "sober-curious", but may not be fitting for those in recovery. For Recover Hospitality purposes, it's important restaurants have a balance of non-alcoholic beverage options, and the options available are thoughtfully crafted and artfully presented...think garnishes!
Category #3: Venue & Crowd
Restaurants often have multiple different dining areas: bar, wine room, lounge, high-top section, main dining room, etc. Each area can have varying levels of temptation, for individuals in recovery. Recover Hospitality hopes to provide guests with information regarding a restaurant's layout, in order to give diners knowledge to limit temptation. A restaurant centered around a bar can be distracting and lead to a less enjoyable dining experience. Alternatively, a venue with booths and/or table arrangements encouraging conversation may be less triggering.
From a service perspective, if the host team is aware a guest doesn't drink, it may be wise to sit the individual away from the bar or wine wall. Keep in mind, it's also important the guest doesn't feel isolated. Another important aspect of the dining experience is the clientele. For example, the after-work drinking crowd may be especially triggering for individuals in recovery compared to a restaurant where 90% of patrons are having full diners. The type of clientele will often vary by day and time of year.
Category #4: Food Quality & Value
While not specifically recovery-related, I do believe it's important to include a category covering the quality of the food, especially as it relates to price (aka value).
Category #5: Restaurant Location
While a restaurant's venue might feel supportive, leaving a restaurant can expose the diner to additional temptations. When dining-out in recovery, it's important to know the surrounding neighborhood of the restaurant, which can be vastly different at 9pm versus 5pm. Even the highest-end restaurants can be in very tempting areas, such as around bars and nightclubs. The triggering nature of a restaurant's location also varies by day and by the time of year. Restaurants close to college campuses may be much more tempting during the school-year than over the summer months. In early recovery, it can be helpful to dine on the earlier side, to avoid exposure to more tempting environments.