Sugary sodas are getting kicked to the curb as restaurants opt for alternative beverages infused with flavorful, better-for-you ingredients.
No longer relegated to smoothie joints or health-focused concepts, these on-trend beverages with benefits (think natural syrup seltzers, spice tonics and vegetable coolers) are showing up — and selling well — at all types of eateries.
“Diners today definitely are looking for alternatives to sugary sodas,” said Dan Sharp, executive chef of The Meatball Shop in New York City.
The Meatball Shop, which has seven locations in New York City, makes its own syrups, including turmeric, ginger, cherry, vanilla and almond, that are mixed into soda water to create specialty sodas. The Meatball Shop also adds these syrups to any cocktail to create a custom beverage.
"Like meatballs, there is something really nostalgic about housemade sodas [that] our guests really love,” Sharp said. “They are also a great platform to showcase our love of seasonal ingredients, and since we make them from scratch, we get to change up the flavors with every menu change.”
“Earthy flavors,” such as ginger and turmeric, are top of mind for beverage-loving consumers, according to Google’s 2017 Beverage Trend Report, which used Google search data to identify and compare non-alcoholic beverage trends across the U.S. and other markets.
Ginger, a rhizome of a flowering Southeast Asian plant, was among the top flavors identified in the report. Strongly associated with weight loss and highly versatile, ginger appears in a variety of beverages, from ginger teas and juices to ginger ales and infusions.
“So many beverages typically associated with breakfast and lunch (sodas, sweetened juices and teas) don’t do much to give the energy needed for daily activities to follow, especially those laden with sugars that give a quick energy boost followed by a wall of exhaustion after,” said Elizabeth Blau, founder and CEO of Blau & Associates, a strategic restaurant planning company that also operates five concepts. “Starting the day with a beverage that tastes great, lacks this sugar and is enhanced with fueling nutrients is key to a fun weekend and/or productive workday.”
To address this need, Blau created Green Goodness Juice, made with fresh kale, lemon, celery, ginger, cucumber and Granny Smith apples, for the menu at Honey Salt, the company’s New American bistro and bar in Las Vegas. The super-juice soda alternative is intended to pair with breakfast and lunch items, including a popular avocado toast.
“We created our version of the Green Goodness Juice to not only appeal to our health-conscious clientele, but also for our own enjoyment and benefit,” Blau said.
While it has spicy, earthy and bold flavors, ginger pairs well with many ingredients and is often coupled with cucumber and turmeric, a root that has been the darling of the wellness world in recent years, as well as an Instagram hit due to its ability to turn foods a striking golden color.
Richard Hanauer, beverage director at RPM Italian in Washington, D.C., is currently serving a Cucumber Cooler with fresh juices of cucumber, lime and ginger.
“The ginger provides a hit of flavor and zing to the mellow cucumber juice,” Hanauer said. “It's a healthy alternative to both soda and cocktails … It sells very well and has become a bit of a fan favorite.”
At Reynard, restaurateur Andrew Tarlow’s gratuity-free modern American eatery inside The Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn, N.Y., executive chef Christina Lecki crafts a Turmeric Tonic, made with fresh turmeric, cayenne pepper and ginger. The golden-yellow beverage, which Lecki described as sweet, not bitter, is served chilled in a small glass intended to be sipped alongside the restaurant’s wood-fired dishes.
Similarly, Hippie Kitchen in New Orleans offers the Turmeric Tonic, made with honey, ginger, lemon, turmeric and cayenne.
For health-conscious and other guests at The Six15 Room inside The Grand Hotel Minneapolis, chef Kris Koch blends a Detox Smoothie made with blueberries, cilantro, ginger, turmeric, cloves and water.
Housemade juice blends such as carrot, apple, ginger and pineapple sell so well at Lettuce Entertain You’s all-day restaurant The Beatrix, which has three locations in Chicago, that it often incorporates them into freshly squeezed juice cocktails. Among them is the Turmeric Rush, a tonic made with turmeric-infused bourbon with honey syrup and lemon.
“We realize more and more people are looking for healthy options,” said The Beatrix’s associate partner John Economos. “People aren't wanting to drink soda as much due to the sugar. Our juices at Beatrix are extremely popular because they have a great taste yet are still a healthy drink option.”
Correction: April 19, 2018 An earlier version of this story misstated the name of Honey Salt restaurant. It has been updated.