It’s official: We are in the dog days of the “refreshment season.” Your guests are looking for ways to cool off — and at a time when diners are increasingly seeking unique and off-the-wall dining experiences, the traditional options simply won’t do.
With 21 percent of diners reporting that beverages play an important role in their dining decisions (according to data from Chicago-based research firm Technomic Inc.), how do you appeal to these adventurous eaters with your summertime offerings? We suggest trying out these cool, and easy, alternatives to the traditional imbibes.
Fresh Water — with a Little Something Extra
Agua fresca, meaning “fresh water” in Spanish, is a lightly sweetened, water-based beverage that is just as refreshing as its name implies. And, even better, it’s simple to make in house with produce and herbs already featured in your menu.
Simply take any leftover fruits, herbs, or flowers and blend them in a food processor until smooth. Then carefully strain the resulting pulp into water mixed with simple syrup, sugar, or citrus juice (depending on your taste).
The result is an entirely house-made — and uniquely appealing — combination that seamlessly pairs with your current menu, or that can be changed as often as you like for an innovative and invigorating limited time offer for your guests.
If you’re looking for an even simpler (but still on-trend) option, you can also offer your guests simple water — with a lightly sweetened twist. Although cucumber is widely used for its crisp taste, nearly any fruit or herb can be steeped in water to create a new, subtle taste that will not overwhelm food, but will still carry the impact of a stronger beverage.
Chances are, you already have a number of fruits, herbs, and vegetables on hand that are being used to create other dishes. By using the leftovers from prepping these appetizers and entrees to create water variations, you’re helping to prevent waste. Not to mention, by charging a small percentage more for flavored water, you’re increasing the profit margin on a beverage that most restaurants typically give away — without having to change your inventory.
If you want to really impress your guests and capitalize on yet another industry trend, you can also add the fresh fruit right at the table. Or walk around with a basket full of various produce and herbs, making sure to stop at each table to offer your guests a fresh slice or sprig to amp up their water.
This small gesture will do wonders to associate your restaurant with extremely fresh food and careful preparation — and given the increasing popularity of natural ingredients and minimally processed options among diners, this association will definitely help your bottom line.
When Life Gives You Lemons, Add Herbs
Ever since a young entrepreneur opened the first lemonade stand, this drink has been undeniably associated with summer. But that doesn’t mean you can offer the same old lemon, water, and sugar mixture and expect returns. Instead, spice up your lemonade — literally — to create a sophisticated new take on this age-old classic.
Raspberry lemonade is a common favorite, but there’s no end to the herbs, spices, and fruits that can take simple lemon flavors to the next level — and in this case, the more unexpected the flavor pairing, the better. For example, Native Foods, a group of fast-casual vegan restaurants based in Chicago, offers a fragrant lavender lemonade, which has become a staple for their customers.
Lemon is a commonly pairing with everything from tilapia to tiramisu, making it a perfect flavor to experiment with. Take inspiration from the areas of your menu that already feature lemon, or from your own favorite meals that include lemon either as a supporting or star ingredient.
Even if the combination you’re considering falls more on the savory or spicy side, go ahead and give it a try. As public interest in healthier foods increases, many customers are beginning to choose savory food and drink — and significantly less saccharine versions of their favorite sweet dishes.
Need more reasons to start making your own lemony offerings? Like agua fresca, lemonade is relatively cheap to make, and offers a unique taste experience at a price point that will make both your customers and your bottom line happy. Not to mention that a splash of gin or vodka might just turn this house-made beverage into a fan-favorite cocktail, as well.
Iced, Iced Coffee (and Tea)
Like lemonade, iced tea is a classic summertime refresher that nearly every restaurant on the block offers. In fact, according to market research firm Datassential, iced tea enjoys a 78 percent penetration in chain restaurants. However, most offer only one variation: the traditional long-steeped black tea with a side of sweetener and lemon.
Variations on this theme do exist — most often in the form of traditional tea flavored with syrups in raspberry, lemon, cherry, or other flavors — but these offer only the same old sips, with a lot of added sugar. If you want to take full advantage of this summertime trend, and be truly innovative, we suggest stepping outside the black tea box.
There is a near endless selection to choose from — ranging from delicate and subtle white varieties to spicy herbal or bitter green teas — many of which you probably already have in your inventory. Try brewing a few cold variations and adding a little simple syrup, fresh lemon, or herbs to bring their subtle flavors to life. Although some variations may not hold up well to the rigors of cooling, even the most delicate white teas can be used in conjunction with other flavors to create a unique beverage that no other location in town offers.
Just like iced tea, iced coffee is fairly ubiquitous in the restaurant scene, but only in a few variations that are losing favor among diners. Try experimenting with different types of coffee or different flavor combinations that you may not have considered before, such as burnt lemon or avocado.
But it’s not just the flavor profile you can change; an emerging trend in iced coffee is serving it on tap. Described as having a texture like Guinness, including the classic foamy head, this caffeinated concoction even has the slight effervescence of an on-tap beer.
This method can also infuse the coffee with flavors of cream and sugar — but a house-made addition of something special, such as the lemon or vegetable flavors mentioned before, can bring even this unique experience to another level.
Want to learn more about what’s trending this year? Check out our post on what’s hot and what’s not in 2015.