Coffee’s Big Push

To elevate coffee to the next level, operators are making use of single-serve units that grind its own beans to satisfy demand. Add ins such as syrups, soy milk foams and skinny shots are also being used to improve the bottom line

Customers will always appreciate the interactive service provided by a barista trained to prepare a specialty coffee drink to order. Just so, they appreciate the concept of The Third Place—not home, not work, but a place in between in which to relax with friends while enjoying the espressos, cappuccinos and lattes they’ve grown so fond of. But, given the time crunch of the workplace or the harried deadlines of students, a revolution in coffee convenience is well underway.

Whether it’s premium coffee, gourmet coffee or specialty coffee, it’s all about choice, convenience and self-service, according to Richard Wyckoff, president of Philadelphia-based Aramark Refreshment Services. As he sees it, premium coffee is a graduation up from mass market and “everyone wants a better cup of coffee. We say, ‘Good coffee is a benefit and great coffee is a reward.’ It’s a real value proposition since 60% of offices provide coffee as a benefit to their employees”—and that’s good business for the foodservice operation that provides the coffee.

In fact, a generic cup of coffee would cost the client 10¢ to 15¢ per employee, Wyckoff figures. But having a broader range of choices can boost consumption by 15%, and added sales of a water filtration system plus branded cups, lids and “java jackets” can push it even higher.

Single-cup technology: Now, thanks to single-cup brewing technology that has provided greater self-service choices including espresso and cappuccino, more people are patronizing standalone units strategically located throughout the non-commercial setting. “Plus, in our experience, the range of drinks brings sales up 15% where we upgraded equipment to provide for increased participation,” Wyckoff explains. “A good example is Starbucks Interactive Cup. Whole beans, ground in a hopper, are brewed and the beverage is poured into a cup. It’s bean-to-cup, and that’s as gourmet or premium as you can get.”

For the employer whose focus is on productivity and increasing employee morale, Wyckoff cites the findings of the recent WirthlinWorld study that reports 25% of office employees, on average, leave the office for up to 14 minutes each day to purchase a hot beverage. He sees this as one of the prime reasons Aramark is currently installing these units at an average rate of 50 per month with more than 250 in December and January alone.

At presstime, Wyckoff’s division is testing bean-to-cup brewers on two Virginia campuses: James Madison University in Harrisonburg, and at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. “We’re putting these in additional access points such as the library,” he says. “In the workplace, it’s cashless technology and on campus it will be user pay (i.e., debit card). It’s really a revolution in coffee convenience, as well.”

It’s the beans: At the Java Coast coffee shop within 300-bed Bethesda North Hospital, an HDS Services account in Cincinnati, fsd Matt Tromba reports that grinding the beans at the time of service creates a unique experience, and he rotates an array of blends including Mocha Java, French Roast, Italian Roast and Sumatra, as well as Colombian, the house blend.

“We also offer the lattes, espressos and cappuccinos,” Tromba points out. “You grind the espresso beans, add steamed milk and offer syrups. The new sugar-free versions have increased sales for flavor shots by about 10%. We use them as a check-average builder. At 50¢ a shot, we don’t sell a whole lot, but those who try them always come back for more. People who come to Java Coast have a passion for upscale whereas in the cafeteria we only sell the regular house blend.”

The Old Well, a unique kiosk outside the café at Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., offers grab-and-go items as well as Starbucks specialty drinks. According to Michael Morgan, Guckenheimer’s director of operations for the Pacific Northwest, selections are tailored to fit customer preferences and to be in step with the season. Usually three Starbucks-certified baristas handle the morning rush, with two or three on for the rest of the day. A variety of blends featuring fair trade coffee as well as the more organic shade grown are offered daily and contribute to better sales overall, Morgan believes.

Vegan froth: “We promote awareness by identifying these blends with 8-1/2-in. by 11-in. signs as well as providing brochures plus a link to Starbucks Web site from the cafe’s Intranet site to keep the customer informed,” he says. “We’ve also been offering soy milk and flavored soy alternatives that can be used in cappuccinos and other coffees for lactose intolerant customers and also for those trying to stay true to a vegan diet.”

Starbucks specialty coffees are also featured at Footnotes Café, the newly opened café in the library on the University of Maryland campus in College Park. It’s proven to be such a popular venue that sales have grown from $500 a day in February 2004 to over $2,500 today and its hours will be expanded this spring by an additional five, to close at 10 p.m.

Director of dining services Pat Higgins, RD, FMP, notes: “About 50% of business there is coffee, with specialty drinks including espresso macchiato—espresso, foamed milk and a shot of flavor—and espresso con panna—espresso with whipped cream, served by our baristas.”