The simple days of restaurants offering their customers four or five soda choices, coffee, tea and milk are fading fast. Customers want more exotic, personalized and upscale beverages and not just for alcoholic drinks. Restaurants are offering custom-made fountain sodas, signature restaurant beverages, specialty iced and hot teas and even on-premises roasted and ground coffees.
You can increase profits dramatically and attract greater numbers of millennials and baby boomers by offering special beverages for your customers. Baby boomers were the first generation to embrace specialty coffees, and the trend gave rise to coffee shops, baristas and chains like Starbucks. In the United States, teas have finally begun to gain popularity among typical restaurant patrons, which reinforces tea being the world’s most popular beverage choice.
Imagine going to a restaurant for the meal of your dreams. The food is superb, and the service is impeccable. You dine by candlelight on a fine linen tablecloth with every luxurious amenity imaginable. At dessert time, the server wheels out a cart of decadent pastries. You order dessert and tea, but your server brings a common brand of teabag that you get at the corner diner. You can’t help but be disappointed, and the perfect meal is ruined.
This scenario is not that uncommon in the real-world restaurant business. Restaurants are upgrading their foods, wine lists, cocktails, craft beers and nonalcoholic beverage choices, but many stick with same old stalwarts for tea drinkers. Restaurateurs are missing a huge opportunity by not embracing the increasing popularity of gourmet tea blends and elegant tea service for customers.
Concerns about caffeine and greater availability of custom tea blends at supermarkets have propelled herbal teas to cultlike status. Consumers in the United States never matched the fervor for tea that the rest of the world always had until the last decade. Greater concern about the effects of caffeine and the health benefits of drinking tea have helped to change people’s minds. Access to the Internet also helped to educate people about tea and provide consumers with greater choices of specialty blends.
Tea Parties in Boston and Beyond
Restaurants and coffee shops can earn big profits on gourmet tea blends, both hot and cold. Restaurants have more choices of tea blends, but some basic tea facts can help your restaurant sell upscale teas more effectively.
- Advances in technology enable restaurants to brew better tea with precise steeping times and temperatures.
- Black teas are the most common variety in the United States, accounting for 90 percent of sales. These teas are fully oxidized and retain their flavors for years.
- Green teas provide health benefits, but the unoxidized and unwilted leaves lose their flavor within a year of harvesting.
- White teas use wilted but unoxidized young tea leaves in a slower drying process than is used for green teas.
- Teas grown in different regions absorb flavors from their environments, much like grapes.
- Tea aficionados can mix signature tea blends for their customers.
- Teas have a huge profit-markup potential that’s greater than coffee and most other beverages.
Return of the Soda Fountain
Soda fountains are returning to upscale, fast casual, fast food and neighborhood restaurants. Sonic was one of the first chains to begin offering a wider assortment of beverage choices than the standard staples of Coke, Pepsi, Sprite, Dr. Pepper and Mr. Pibb. Soda fountains have been around for more than 150 years, but centralized processing and convenience almost made soda fountains extinct until vintage restaurant techniques gained momentum in the 21st century.
Blend, Whip and Fizz to Create Masterful Beverages
Offering handcrafted sodas differentiates your restaurant from its competitors and can generate big profits. However, the process will take some planning and investing. At a minimum, you will need:
- A high-power blender
- A carbonator using a CO2 charger, water, soda and siphon
- A syrup pump
- A rack for organizing soda syrups, coffee syrups and other flavorings
- Long spoons for mixing
- Soda glasses for stylish presentations
You can take several approaches to serving your beverage creations. One idea is to offer elegant glassware in standard designs. Another trendy presentation is to use vintage cartoon glasses featuring superheroes, comic book and graphic novel characters and cartoon stars. A third idea — and maybe the best — is to collect a variety of elegant glassware so that customers get a unique glass each time they order. You don’t have to worry about matching your collection when glasses get broken, and customers will begin looking forward to getting a favored glass almost as much as a favorite soda.
Gourmet Coffee Beverages
Popular gourmet coffee blends at restaurants have become increasingly popular for several decades, but the latest consumer trends favor not just greater coffee-beverage choices but ethically sourced coffees and restaurants that roast their own coffee beans. Restaurants can describe their coffee blends in terms that are similar to fine wines, such as using terms like tasting notes, hints of spices, cold-brewed flavor complexities and various degrees of bean caramelization.
Taste Over Price
Even younger millennials choose flavor over price when selecting coffee. At home, about 29 percent of people now use single-cup brewers and try a various coffee blends. Restaurants can choose signature coffee beans from artisan growers, roast their own beans to a preferred or multiple stages of darkness and grind fresh beans just before brewing coffee to get the freshest flavors. Espresso, cappuccino, iced coffee, latte and other upscale coffee beverages can generate amazing profits and leave diners with a strongly favorable impression at the end of a meal.
Beverages are no longer simple but limited staples in the restaurateur’s arsenal of appealing offerings. Upscale beverage can include handcrafted sodas, artisanal teas, craft beers, individually roasted coffee blends and signature cocktails and nonalcoholic beverages.