As summer approaches, put old ideas for frozen drinks on ice and give these cool new blends a whirl.
This article first appeared in the 1 May 2009 issue of Restaurants & Institutions (R&I).
R&I is the USA's leading source of food and business-trend information and exclusive research on operators and restaurant patrons. Editorial coverage spans the entire foodservice industry, including chains, independent restaurants, hotels and institutions. Visit the R&I website to find out more about the magazine or to search its recipe database.
By Allison Perlik, Senior Editor
The onset of warmer weather puts customers in a festive frame of mind, and frozen drinks are an ideal way to celebrate the season. To squeeze extra sales from icy quaffs all summer, operators will do well to think beyond standard margaritas, piña coladas and daiquiris to trendier blends both sophisticated and fun.
"If you can come up with a creative way to do it, frozen drinks can be really big sellers," says mixologist Somer Perez, who owns beverage consultancy Couture Cocktail Concepts in New York City. "If the weather's nice and your customers have been pent up since last October, from a business standpoint, it's a slam dunk."
Frozen drinks' potential for success isn't limited to restaurants with bars. For Chattanooga, Tenn.-based quick-service chain Krystal, introducing a line of fruity, slushy drinks called Krystal Freezes last May boosted incremental beverage sales and drove transactions outside of regular meal periods. "There's been a lot of buzz in the industry about the p.m.-snack daypart, and we added traffic there as we picked up a younger demographic looking for a midafternoon cold beverage, especially in the summer," says Brad Wahl, Krystal's vice president of marketing.
Operators looking for more ideas will find further creative fodder among the six suggestions that follow.
Start with a standard and mix it up. Mojitos are now ubiquitous on drink menus, but they take on a bright new form at Wish, the Asian-accented restaurant at The Hotel in Miami Beach, Fla. The drink's classic ingredients-rum, sugar, lime juice and mint-are blended with ice and served in chilled martini glasses with electronic ice cubes that add a colorful glow. When considering other drinks to adapt to the frozen format, bartender Mark Shelby chooses from recipes that use fresh ingredients that blend easily (such as the mojito's mint and lime juice) and those with profiles on the sweet side. Wish's specialty martini featuring muddled blueberries and fresh ginger would be a good frozen candidate, he says.
Look for ethnic inspirations. At RockSugar Pan Asian Kitchen in Los Angeles, Executive Corporate Chef Mohan Ismail mixes up three different kinds of lassis-tangy, smoothie-like drinks traditionally blended with yogurt, ice, fruit, spices and salt. His favorite RockSugar recipe combines cardamom syrup, fresh bananas, whole-fat organic yogurt (low-fat waters down the taste, he says) and ice. "With Pinkberry [the Los Angeles-based tart-frozen-yogurt chain] and others being so popular right now, everyone is more receptive to yogurt," Ismail says. "[It is] a great drink for hot days, and it's really kid-friendly, too."
Do drinks as dessert. Most frozen drinks already are sweet, but certain combinations of ingredients supply extra indulgence. At H20 Seafood Grill in Smithtown, N.Y., mixologist Shane Rogan offers a cocktail called the Apple Crisp, made with two kinds of apple schnapps, apple brandy, caramel Irish-cream liqueur, vanilla gelato and ice combined in a blender. He also serves the Mint Chocolate Chip, a drink blended with vanilla vodka, crème de menthe, white-chocolate liqueur, mint-chocolate-chip gelato and ice.
Double the pleasure. Frozen margaritas are par for the course at any Mexican concept worth its salt, but frozen sangria is a welcome surprise. Irving, Texas-based Uncle Julio's offers both, but the restaurant's signature drink is The Swirl, a colorful blend of the two recipes swirled together in a chilled beer mug. The restaurants often sell more than 300 of the drinks on busy weekend nights, says Ron Vasquez, director of culinary, food and beverage for the casual-dining chain.
Go frozen and functional. So-called superfoods such as acai berries can add cachet to drinks of all kinds. Chaise Lounge in Chicago offers the Detox-ade, a spin on frozen lemonade that combines acai liqueur, blueberry vodka and fresh lemon juice. This summer, Patina Group's Rink Bar at Rockefeller Center in New York City will feature the Acai Berry Frozen Mojito made of acai liqueur, lime juice, mint, sugar and club soda blended with ice.
Tap into the energy rush. Given that energy drinks remain one of the fastest-growing beverage categories, Krystal's launch this month of a frozen energy drink dubbed the Krystal Blitz seems right on target. "Everyone is looking for ways to expand the beverage category, and sometimes that means getting beyond typical offerings," Wahl says. "With our targeting of the younger adult, it fits well with our overall strategy." The new drink is served up quickly and easily with the aid of a machine that dispenses a slushy base that is mixed with energy-drink-flavored syrup. A nonfrozen variety substituting lemon-lime soda for the slushy base also is available.
ICE AND EASY
Mixologists share a few more tips on blending the best frozen drinks.
- Serve frozen drinks in chilled glasses to preserve the beverages' temperature for as long as possible.
- For easier blending and more-consistent texture, use smaller ice cubes than typically would go into drinks served on the rocks.
- When converting standard recipes to frozen ones, add extra sweetener (or other flavors) to counter dilution from the ice.
- Get creative with the ice, infusing cubes with herbs and other ingredients.