7 easy, alcohol-free alternatives to Diet Coke you can order in a bar

Do you have Diet Coke Syndrome?

So, you stopped drinking alcohol a while ago now. You’ve even been out socialising a few times and haven’t caved in to the social pressure to drink. Well done. 

But now you’re sick to death of Diet Coke. 

Each time a bar server approaches you, you can hear your inner voice saying “do NOT order a Diet Coke… think of something else, come on, think… think dammit!!”.

Then out it pops.

 “I’ll have a Diet Coke please.” 

It’s so disappointing.

Time to expand your repertoire

It doesn’t help when there’s a group of friends waiting for you to give the bartender your order. Too much pressure.

The way to get around ‘Diet Coke Syndrome’ is to be aware of what non-alcoholic drinks are generally available and have a list of preferred drinks up your sleeve.

Below is a list of alternatives to Diet Coke that you can start asking for in a regular bar, café or pub to get you started. 

Disclaimer: Some are low or zero calorie, some are not. But with all drinks, calories will depend on the brand. 

1: Tonic Water – hear me out

There is a large variety of tonic water brands on the market these days; Nordic, Royal Bliss and Fever Tree to name a few. So, when you order a tonic water in a bar, you won’t always get the standard Schweppes. Tonics all have their own individual taste, plus some of them are flavoured now as well, so there’s lots to explore.

Personally, I can drink straight tonic water all evening, but if it’s too boring for you, you can make a really punchy drink by mixing it with certain citrus juices. 

The best juice to try with tonic for a low calorie drink is grapefruit. Or, even better if your bartender will oblige, squeezing in the juice of half a lemon or a whole lime makes a wonderfully refreshing, goosebump-inducing sour drink.

Cranberry juice and pineapple juice also work well.

2: Bitter Soda (or Blood Orange Soda)

Just like with Coca Cola, throughout history pharmacists around the world came up with various herbal concoctions to cure ills, and some of them have stuck around. Herbal ‘bitter’ emerged from Italy.

As a non-alcoholic aperitif, red bitter sodas have been popular in Italy and Spain since the 1950s and 60s. Now, with the increased demand for alcohol-free options, they are spreading to the UK and beyond, and new brands are popping up.

Bitter sodas are usually bright red, fizzy, and as their name suggests, very bitter. They taste like a non-alcoholic Campari (and usually contain little to zero calories).

Brands of bitter soda include: Crodino, Sandbitter, Bitter Kas and Stappi. Cinzano and Campari also make them. There are also ‘blood orange sodas’ like Fever Tree and San Pellegrino.

Be careful though not to get mixed up with the ‘bitters’ used as a cocktail ingredient (eg Angostura). They are alcoholic, but saying that, you can ask the bartender to add a few dashes to liven up your tonic and it can still be classed as a non-alcoholic drink.

3: Ginger Beer 

Ginger beer was traditionally a non-alcoholic fermented drink (hence ‘beer’). These days you’re more likely to be served with the fabricated, carbonated variety. It’s used as a cocktail mixer for the ‘moscow mule’, so you’ll find it in most bars.

It’s no soft drink. It’s really strong and spicy, so a proper grown up non-alcoholic drink that packs a punch. (Nearly all brands are alcohol-free, but check before ordering.) 

Ginger ale on the other hand, is a much milder soda type drink. Being a classic mixer, it is ubiquitous, so you could add it to your list as something to order that’s not a Diet Coke.

4: Tomato Juice

When you’re completely bored with fizz, tomato juice is a tasty alternative.

Especially when it is served mixed with a squeeze of lemon, a dash of worcester or tabasco sauce and a sprinkle of salt & pepper (ie, a ‘Virgin Mary’). But if not, simply served with ice and a slice of lemon is fab too. Even better, it’s low calorie and healthy, being a good source of vitamin C and other nutrients.

Since it is a classic cocktail ingredient, you will find tomato juice in most bars and pubs.

RELATED: 5 Grown up alcohol-free drinks to change your drinking habits

5: Non alcoholic Beer – don’t be shy, give it a try

Just because you weren’t a beer drinker before doesn’t mean you shouldn’t add it to your alcohol-free list. In fact, it’s probably better that you weren’t, as you’ll have nothing to compare it to and you’ll judge it on it’s own merits. 

And these days there’s no excuse to at least try it, seeing as pretty much every brewery on the planet now makes a non-alcohol or low-alcohol beer. That also includes craft beer makers and real ale brewers.

The sheer array of brands available means there’s a whole world of drinks to explore and not get bored with. From light, crisp lager types, to dark and toasty ales, there’s such a variety of flavours out there.

6: Bitter Lemon 

Bitter lemon is a vintage mixer making a comeback with new brands like Fever Tree and StrangeLove on the scene added to the usual Schweppes and Canada Dry brands. 

It used to be the ‘lemon’ in the 1950s British housewives’ favourite, ‘port & lemon’. But bitter lemon never went away, it just went out of style for a few decades. Now that gin is having a revival, bitter lemon is back on the scene and you’ll find it easy to order in bars and pubs around the world. 

7: Iced Coffee

In some (warmer) parts of the world, it’s normal to see iced coffee served in bars and restaurants. But in the UK for example, it is not. 

However, you can easily get one wherever you are, as long as the bar has a coffee machine. Just order a coffee as you normally would, and a glass with plenty of ice. Pour the coffee into the glass with the ice and voilá! If you want it sweet, add sugar to the hot coffee before you pour it over the ice.

You can forget Diet Coke now

I hope this has given you a few ideas to build your new, alcohol-free repertoire with. Next time you see the waiter approaching, try recalling some of the suggestions above. 

Or simply ask, “What non-alcoholic drinks do you have?”. The drinks industry is changing to meet the demands of alcohol-free lifestylers, so you’re bound to discover something new.

Photo: Helena Yankovska@helenayankovska

Gabrielle Collard
Verified Coach
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I’m a business and marketing coach from London with a passion for personal growth. If you're looking for support in developing a business, email me at gabrielle@thecoachspace.com

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