Top 400 chains: Aye Glasses – US Food Trends

25 July 2008
Top 400 chains: Aye Glasses – US Food Trends

Contemporary chain beverage menus offer something for everyone-and a little something different.

This article first appeared in the 15 July 2008 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

Energy drinks, premium coffee and mojitos are still big news on Top 400 beverage menus, but forward-thinking chains already are looking ahead to the next wave of profitable pours.

The latest in-demand libations filling guests' glasses target all kinds of thirsts. Tops on the hot list are red-hot caipirinhas and sangria on the cocktail side, creatively flavored shakes and tea-based drinks among nonalcoholic choices, and distinctive signature drinks across the board.

"For years it's been important to have beverages that set you apart from the rest," says Rick Crossland, senior vice president of culinary and beverage for Orlando, Fla.-based Bahama Breeze, which recently introduced caipirinhas. The up-and-coming cocktail is flavored with muddled lime, sugar and cachaça, a Brazilian spirit distilled from sugar cane. "If you're going to continue to capture your guests' interests, it goes beyond having the traditional classics to providing an opportunity to relate a new experience."

With their simple formula and exotic appeal, caipirinhas might soon rival mojitos, another Latin muddled-lime drink, as the latest beverage-menu must-have. Crossland's recipe at Bahama Breeze swaps traditional superfine sugar for guarapo (sugar-cane juice squeezed in-house using special juicers) to complement the cachaça's distinctive taste.

At Dallas-based Texas de Brazil, caipirinhas are mixed with fresh-squeezed lime juice and crushed ice. The Brazilian steakhouse chain also features cachaça in a handful of other cocktails, including the Batida, a frozen concoction with orange, pineapple and strawberry juices topped with peach schnapps, and Maracujá, made with passion-fruit juice and condensed milk.

Another sippable import finding a warm welcome in chain bars is sangria, the fruity, Spanish-wine drink that's especially tempting come summer.

"Sangria seems to be catching on again," says Rob Stanton, beverage director for Woburn, Mass.-based Ninety Nine Restaurant & Pub. "It's a nice, refreshing beverage, and wine is definitely on the upswing, so it's another way to present it to the guest."

Ninety Nine's blend of merlot with orange and pineapple juices, orange liqueur and splashes of grenadine and ginger ale also capitalizes on consumers' interest in sweeter flavor profiles, Stanton says.

Chopped apples and citrus are the most-common sangria components, but chains can easily put their own stamp on the recipe. Chicago-based Big Bowl infuses its offerings with passion fruit and litchis, the delicately sweet Asian fruit. At Tampa, Fla.-based Cheeseburger in Paradise, red-wine sangria is spiked with brandy and spiced-berry syrup; a white-wine version includes peach syrup and kiwi liqueur. Both are topped with lemon-lime soda for a sparkling finish.

Shake It Up, Baby

For consumers, milkshakes are both a summer craving and a year-round treat. Thick, creamy and indulgent, they're attracting renewed interest on chain menus in guises well beyond traditional chocolate and vanilla.

Even Dublin, Ohio-based Wendy's is on board, having recently expanded its signature Frosty into a line of handspun shakes available in Strawberry, Chocolate Fudge and Vanilla Bean flavors.

In the hot-beverage arena, tea is emerging in multiple platforms. Atlanta-based PJ's Coffee and Seattle-based Seattle's Best Coffee have joined Seattle-based Starbucks and Richmond Heights, Mo.-based Panera Bread in touting tea lattes, made with tea or tea concentrate steamed with milk.

"Now when people see the word ‘latte' they assume it's coffee, but you'll see tea lattes emerge as a new, large category," says Thom Swain, director of franchise support at PJ's Coffee.

Iced tea also is garnering attention. Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald's and Longwood, Fla.-based quick-service chain Asian Chao introduced Southern staple sweet tea, and a spring promotion from Minneapolis-based Caribou Coffee highlighted Orange Zest Iced Tea. At Dallas-based Celebrity Café & Bakery, customers can choose among six iced teas, eight hot teas and even green-tea smoothies.

To Each Their Own

If staying on top of the trends is the first step toward keeping drink lineups current, the next move is creating unique offerings that consumers can't get everywhere else.

Heathrow, Fla.-based Ruth's Chris Steak House mixes up house-made limoncello and uses the lemon-infused liqueur to flavor a host of signature cocktails. At Washington, D.C.-based Palm Restaurants, the new Hand-Crafted Palm Bar menu includes distinctive drinks such as The Gentle Palm (muddled blackberries and strawberries with whiskey, pomegranate juice and black tea) and The Cat's Meow (citrus vodka and elderflower liqueur muddled with lemon juice and fresh mint, served on the rocks with a splash of soda).

At Los Angeles-based The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Yogurt Iced Blended Drinks are the next big thing. Nonfat yogurt boasting four live cultures is the base for three flavors: original, mango and strawberry. The yogurt is blended with ice, yogurt powder (which helps the mixture blend and adds subtle citrus notes) and fruit flavorings.

"Consumers today are more health-and-nutrition focused," Director of Product Development Debbie Sassoon says of the appeal of the yogurt drinks, which contain less than 25 calories per ounce. "People want to treat themselves, but they want to treat their bodies, too."

RECIPE: Caipirinha
Bahama Breeze, Orlando
Yield: 1 serving

Guarapo (sugar-cane juice), freshly squeezed - 1 oz.
Lime, sliced, divided - use ¼ plus to garnish
CachaÁ§a - 2 oz.

Place guarapo and lime in rocks glass; muddle well.
Add cachaÁ§a and ice; stir.
Garnish with lime slice.

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