(Photo: Flickr user Emily C)
As more consumers seek out craft beverages and premium drinks, many restaurants and retailers are taking their own beverage programs to the next level in order to set themselves apart. Now you’ll find artisan juice flights, tableside cocktail service, even coffee shops roasting beans to individual customer specifications. And while these unique beverage options certainly earn press and attention, they also speak to overall industry trends like customization and the integration of technology with the dining experience.
Many restaurateurs, for instance, are looking to the premium experience associated with wine — dedicated wine menus, sommeliers, tasting portions, etc. — and translating that experience to beer, craft sodas, etc. At Chicago’s Coppervine, every dish is menued with beer and cocktail pairing suggestions in addition to the wine suggestion, and servers are trained to note how each beverage complements the dish in different ways. Other gastropubs, brewpubs, and high-end restaurants have a certified cicerone (pronounced “sis-uh-rohn”), or beer sommelier, on hand in order to explain flavor notes and help customers choose the right beer pairing.
Even juice bars are taking a lesson from wine programs and cocktail bars; at Dellz Vibez, in Charleston, S.C., the juice bar is nestled among the bars and nightclubs on King Street. In order to compete, the shop serves its own elixirs, juice shots, and even offers a happy hour. And operators like Boulder’s Zeal Restaurant and Jai Juice & Cafe in Fort Wayne, Ind., offer juice flights, while 320 Market Cafe in Swarthmore, Pa., offered a beer and juice flight this summer, which paired four beers with three juices and a housemade cola.
Flights and pairings also turn the beverage menu into more of an experience for diners, allowing them to share, sample, and interact, creating a more memorable meal. Tableside service has been making a comeback at a new breed of modern steakhouses and dim sum-style chef casual restaurants across the country (exemplified by State Bird Provisions in San Francisco), with cocktail carts showing up across a wide range of segments. At Bourbon Steak, Glendale, Calif., whiskey is smoked from a tableside cart, while restaurants like Cecconi’s in Los Angeles and Market in Cleveland allow guests to customize a bloody mary from a brunch cart.
Customization has been a hot trend in the food industry overall, central to the fast casual dining experience and currently being tested at brands like Wendy’s and McDonald’s. At the Hard Rock Cafe chain, the new Red Berry Press cocktail introduced this summer was served in a French press, allowing the customer to press his or her desired amount of fruit juice into the drink. A brand representative told FSR Magazine that consumers wanted craft beverages, flights, sharable options (the Red Berry Press serves two), and that the serving vessel was “just as important as the cocktail.” The same press will be used for warm drinks in the fall and winter.
Consumers have long been accustomed to personalizing their coffee and espresso-based beverages, but Altitude Coffee Lab in Scottsdale, Ariz., is taking it one step further, using an in-house roaster to customize each guest’s roast based on his or her preferences. The chain can also customize roasts for wholesale customers.
New products and technologies are also allowing restaurants and retailers the opportunity to meet their customers’ needs on a more individual level. iPad wine lists help diners make sense of a large inventory, using apps to zero in on the perfect bottle to pair with the meal. “Digital sommelier” app WineStein uses artificial intelligence to find the perfect pairing, both in restaurants and as a stand-alone kiosk in wine shops and supermarkets. And in-house wine preservation systems allow restaurants to offer a wider range of by-the-glass options.
The beverage menu offers a real opportunity for innovation, customer enjoyment and ultimately, enhancing the bottom line, and is becoming a necessity as consumers begin to expect more unique options, premium experiences and customized offerings.
Maeve Webster is the senior director of Datassential, a supplier of trends, analysis, and concept testing for the food industry. To subscribe to the Creative Concepts TrendSpotting Report mentioned in this article contact Webster at 312-655-0596 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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