It’s no secret that soda sales have taken a hit over the last decade amid health concerns and campaigns by organizations to have them removed from schools. With a growing number of consumers opting for water over soda, how do you bring back healthy sales of nonalcoholic beverages to your restaurant? For many restaurateurs, it’s as simple as reminding patrons how much better their meal can be with a great beverage alongside it. Here are some ideas.
1. Offer a signature tea. “House-made teas and juices are important to us because we wanted to offer a more impressive selection of beverages,” says Andrew Ashmore, chef and director of culinary operations at Roti Modern Mediterranean in Northbrook, IL. “The customers have reacted very well and beverage sales have increased. The Pomegranate Lemonade with Black Tea and Mulled Apple Cider are emerging as customer favorites and I’m thinking of playing with beets, orange blossom water, fresh berries, rosemary, peaches and cherries for the spring/summer lineup.”
2. Give drinks their own place on the menu. Do beverages have a home on your menu or are they an afterthought? “This may sound obvious, but make sure to list your nonalcoholic beverages on a portion of the menu,” says Ben Fileccia, director of operations for Philadelphia-based Sbraga Dining. “Many restaurants and bars overlook adding them to their menu, but it’s important in order to increase sales.”
3. Educate your staff to sell beverages. “Make sure staff understands that beverages are a part of the meal and how much incremental sales they add along the way, not only to their tip, but to overall sales at the restaurant,” says John Kunkel, founder and c.e.o. of Miami-based 50 Eggs. “A lot of people default to the beverage they always order, so we try to combat that with engaging visual signage on chalkboards, bubbling lemonade and drinks available in a grab-and-go cooler.”
4. Pair drinks with specific dishes. Have you considered pairing flavored teas with specific entrees? Fileccia says tea is similar to wine in its pairing abilities. “Tea has many of the same attributes of wine,” he notes. “Think strong and soft tannins, herbal qualities and subtle flavors; these are all factors that can be used to make a perfect food pairing and a sell."
5. Create a signature lemonade. According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2015 “What’s Hot” Chefs’ Survey, gourmet lemonade is the top nonalcoholic beverage. Play around with flavors and create your own house-made lemonade like those we see on the menus of national chain restaurants such as Cheesecake Factory.
6. Feature a flavor of the month. Limited-time-only offers are ideal for inducing curious consumers to try new menu items, including beverages. “We’ll feature mint lemonade one day and watermelon or blueberry the next,” says Kunkel. “We feature different milkshakes of the month, too.”
7. Offer seasonal favorites. Who doesn’t enjoy a peach iced tea in the summer or a peppermint coffee in the winter? Watch the trends and give customers what the numbers tell you they want. “Use the seasons to enhance your marketing,” says Tammy Laney, district manager of Bento Asian Kitchen + Sushi in Orlando. “In the winter, having a fun peppermint mocha flavored coffee almost seems like a no brainer.”