Mixing It Up

Customers want to create their own beverage concoctions. It’s another way to give them more control—and you can up-charge.

If people simply want a drink for purposes of hydration, basic tap water, or the ubiquitous bottled water, would be quite sufficient. But today’s sophisticated customer seeks much, much more. Savvy foodservice operators stand ready to provide a very wide array of choices that make the very act of selection a rewarding occasion in itself.

From the nutritionally enhanced to the upscale, flavorful specialty beverages can be the centerpiece of a make-your-own bar that gratifies the customer’s desire to have it her way while subtly sending the message that you care.

In fact, customers’ original ideas for concoctions often become the location’s top-sellers down the road. “Custom-making beverages gives the customer more control and they appreciate that,” notes Husein Kitabwalla, Sodexho’s vice president for brand development based in the contractor’s Allentown, Penn., offices. “We get a lot of our ideas for our Jazzman’s coffeehouse concepts from them. We periodically check with our locations and look at ideas they report in our test kitchen.”

Last month, Jazzman’s introduced Peanut Butter Mocha Blast, a frozen drink that was inspired by a customer’s suggestion to add peanut butter to a mocha drink, Kitabwalla explains. “To prepare, we take a coffee base liquid concentrate, add chocolate plus one or two tablespoons of peanut butter and pour it into the blender over ice cubes,” he explains. “It’s like a frozen smoothie that we can top with whipped cream and chopped peanuts, if they wish.” Prices range from $3.59 for a 16-oz. serving to $3.99 for a 20-oz.

This new creation was rolled out—merchandised with banners and posters—to all Jazzman's locations in colleges, corporate services and healthcare accounts, including Loyola University Medical Hospital in Chicago, State Street Financial Center in Boston, and George Mason University in Washington. It’s also included on the menu at the Jazzmans’ freestanding store in Bethlehem, Penn., a “community enclave” that’s been up-and-running for the past two years.

A ‘boost’ for tea: Kitabwalla sees that tea is no longer just a no-frills, non-caloric beverage. Since it’s nutritional punch has been documented and duly marketed, there’s now plenty of potential for innovative—and healthful—made-just-for-you concoctions. “People like to add booster shots and that’s in keeping with our Balance Body, Mind, Soul outlook,” he says. “Perhaps they want their tea with a shot of vanilla or hazelnut, but they also want that shot of energy, memory or vitality. It’s like taking your daily vitamins and, for us, it’s an up-sell of 50¢ per shot.”

Capitalizing on customers’ desire to be entertained while waiting for their fresh beverage, made just the way they want it, Jazzmans developed its Tea Shakers concept and rolled it out last September. Available year-round, Tea Shakers offers a variety of teas including plain and passion fruit, plus an array of add-on flavors such as peppermint and hazelnut (regular and sugar-free). Ingredients are mixed in a martini shaker with ice, then poured into a clear plastic to-go container and garnished with lime, lemon or mint leaf.

“Tea will go from a bottled, ready-to-drink beverage to a tea that nourishes you, especially since it’s a great anti-oxidant,” Kitabwalla points out. He adds that certain brands positioning tea as holistic have heightened customer perception of the category.

Entertainment value: Of course, coffee—and especially more exotic espresso-based creations—are now sought by, and accessible to, customers of all socio-economic levels. “What’s happening is that (quick-serve chains) have changed the entire paradigm, making coffee accessible to everyone from lawyers to truck drivers and, with margins being so good, it’s good business for us,” Kitabwalla contends. “People are looking for more interesting ways to drink their coffee—for more entertainment—so you get a more crafted drink. Now, it’s more about how it makes people feel—you’re stepping into an experience and you’re recharged when you step out of it.”

Today, the fast-food marketers’ concept of offering made-to-order lattés (and other specialty coffee drinks) at drive-thru windows is one he sees as having potential for large college campuses. In fact, he’s already received an inquiry from one California location.

Creative staffers: At Oregon State University in Corvallis, with a campus population of about 19,000, fsd Roslyn Vasale oversees retail operations including two coffee shops and a cart installation, plus the Dixon Café in Dixon Recreation Center, a venue primarily offering smoothies and wraps. Any of the beverages offered throughout the various locations can be tailored to the customer’s request. But most of the innovative ideas have come from her staff who typically create the specials of the day.

“We create appropriate signage and often name the drinks after the employees,” Vasale says. “It really gets them involved and excited about selling them. We always accommodate customer requests, but they really like our daily specials as menued. However, if Starbucks is featuring something special on the street, they want those same flavors here, such as hot apple pie, mochas or caramel maccicatos.”

Baristas, all OSU student employees trained in-house by Allann Brothers, the local roaster, are capable of creating these made-to-order specials, since the appropriate syrups are always on hand, Vasale says. In addition, employees at the Dixon Café are adept at customizing smoothies to fit pre- and post-workout body needs. “We’ve also created a Q-and-A sheet addressing such points as: ‘Can you switch yogurt for sherbet?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Can you get it without bananas?’ ‘Yes.’ We just want them to feel comfortable enough to ask.”