Juice it up

Operators increase beverage sales with juice bars.

USC's Tropical Cooler

USC's Tropical Cooler

Two years ago, Mike Lennon, associate director of retail operations at California State University, Northridge, added freshly squeezed juices to his menu, including the Immunizer, a blend of parsley, spinach, kale, celery, cucumber, lemon and apple. “I was skeptical we’d have the market, but I’ve been shocked by how many students and staff are willing to spend the money,” Lennon says. He now sells more than 50 juices per day, most of which are made with spinach and a combo of apple, pineapple, cucumber and ginger. “Juicing is no longer a trend but a lifestyle,” he adds.

Lennon isn’t alone. Lisa Flanagan, retail operations manager at Bryn Mawr College, in Pennsylvania, set up a juice bar with just three drinks—strawberry banana, green veggie and smashed mango. She sells 45 juices a day, made from freeze-dried kale, fresh produce and fruit purées. Similarly, Jonna Anne, director of culinary operations and executive chef at SUNY Geneseo, in New York, recently opened a juice bar after students voted to add one.

If you want to jump on the juice bandwagon, follow these tips from successful operators:

  • Freshness: Fresh produce is paramount, so change juice menus regularly to make room for produce coming into season. “You can charge more for fresh ingredients, so margins are good,” says Kris Klinger, director of hospitality at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles.
  • Prep: For the freshest result, juice to order. “People prefer it because it’s made specifically for them,” Klinger says. Most operators recommend chopping large pieces of produce before juicing to increase blending speed, and Anne uses premade apple and orange bases, finishing the juices with fresh produce to order.
  • Partners: While you don’t need to partner with a juice brand, many operators recommend it. Klinger joined forces with California-based Nekter Juice Bar, which provided the college with menus, recipes, equipment recommendations and training. 
  • Recipes: Even slight changes to a recipe can alter the flavor profile drastically, so meticulously measured recipes are required for consistency, Lennon adds. To help her workers, Flanagan places recipe cards at each blender along with scoops for measuring.
  • Demand: Adequate staffing is key for short wait times, says Lennon, who employs five staffers during his busiest time at lunch. “Cleaning after each juice is constant maintenance, and we need four to eight workers to stay ahead of it,” adds Klinger, who cites mornings as his busiest period.
  • Storage: Juicing requires a lot of storage space, so start small and offer drinks that use some of the same ingredients, Flanagan advises. Similarly, juicing results in significant leftover pulp. Anne’s team now bakes with the pulp or composts it to minimize waste.

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