Operators say sayonara to soda

soda bottles

Don’t just give it to ’em straight. When it comes to water, the no-end-in-sight trend is to give it to diners enhanced—and healthier. One in three consumers say they’re increasingly drinking tap water, and 37% say restaurants should offer healthier beverages, according to Technomic’s 2016 Beverage Consumer Trend Report, powered by Ignite. As a result, seltzers and other carbonated-but-unsweetened brands are popping up on menus. As consumers seek out healthier alternatives to sugary drinks, here’s how three noncommercial operators are keeping up with those rising expectations.

1. Enhanced-water product purchases

waters

With beverage vendors offering flavored waters, operators like John Andrews, division director of Culinary and Nutrition Services at Ohio Living, have simply shifted some of their purchasing. The senior living system has switched out one or two juice offerings for flavored waters throughout the day in its beverage machines, saving 10% on beverage costs while reducing residents’ calories. “It’s cost-effective, adds more variety, and from our perspective on the healthcare and assisted living side, it’s healthier,” Andrews says.

2. Housemade infusions

infused water

At the Indiana Convention Center, chefs have met beverage demand with unexpected infusions. At $38 per gallon, the infusions cost less than sodas while still generating extra revenue. Chefs have reached beyond standard offerings like citrus and cucumber with fresh combinations—including watermelon-mint, peach-thyme and grapefruit-rosemary—that include whole sprigs of herbs. “We eat with our eyes, so as soon as they see it, they want to taste it,” says Anthonie Lardiere, director of catering for the Center’s Centerplate-run dining. 

3. Aguas frescas

fruit-infused water

Spanish for “fresh waters,” aguas frescas blur the line between water and juice. Oregon State University’s natural and organic dining location, 541, offers complimentary aguas frescas in flavors like pear-lemon-thyme and apple-pomegranate, says Tara Sanders, assistant director of residential dining and catering. With soda fountain sales down 30% since 2010, the university is considering whether to offer or sell aguas frescas in other venues. “We’re into promoting health and wellness, and this is part of our push for nonsugary beverages,” says Kerry Paterson, residential dining and catering director. “It’s a matter of deciding what your values and priorities are as a department.” 

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