Restaurants have upped their focus on the beverage side of the menu, offering cold brew and sparkling water on tap, kombucha, hard seltzers and a range of flavor-forward drinks both with booze and without. And in an effort to recoup some sales while their dining rooms are closed, many have begun selling cocktails and other boozy beverages to go, as allowed by local governments.
So what’s standing out? Herbal and floral notes are taking center stage as lavender, hibiscus, elderflower, jasmine, rosemary and mint infuse drinks in restaurants of all stripes. Consider the Iced Honey Lavender Latte at Biggby Coffee and the cucumber mint and elderflower lemonades offered at fast casual Lemonade. In addition to their more delicate flavor, herbal ingredients convey healthfulness and create craveability with 37% of consumers, finds Technomic’s Flavor Consumer Trend Report. The report also predicts that floral flavors will be an area of opportunity with the growing interest in plant-based products.
In addition, there’s an ongoing trend toward lower-proof and zero-alcohol drinks, including fruity spritzers and housemade lemonades. Almost half (47%) of 24- to 34-year-olds are ordering low-alcohol cocktails more often than they were three years ago, according to Technomic’s 2019 On-Premise Intelligence Report. Seedlip is an alcohol-free herbal spirit making waves; it’s grown 100% in menu mentions year over year, according to Technomic Ignite menu data.
At Hopdoddy Burger Bar, where the customer base tends to skew toward college students and young professionals, drink pairings are an area of focus, as are refreshing drinks with flavors that complement the brand’s often-indulgent burger builds. “We sell a lot of margaritas and dress them up and down, even offering variations with different ABV levels,” Matt Schweitzer, senior director of food and beverage for the concept, told FSD sister magazine Restaurant Business last year.
And though drink ingredients may be growing more complex, familiarity remains important to many customers. Mules are also a Hopdoddy drink menu favorite, as is the chain’s Root Beer Old Fashioned—a twist on the classic cocktail made with root beer syrup and three well-known whiskeys. “It appeals more to 21-year-olds,” Schweitzer said. “They can come in and order a drink without thinking about it or Googling the ingredients.”
Elon University has received positive feedback on its upgraded beverage program, through which diners can create their own flavored beverages by adding a variety of scratch-made simple syrups to plain sparkling water. Chefs at the Elon, N.C., university craft the syrups in-house using fruit and fresh herbs, and flavors include watermelon, vanilla and raspberry mint.