Just as chefs are expected to be creative with their culinary efforts, operators also must be innovative when it comes to their beverage choices—both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.

“Find something you can do” to be unique in your beverage program, said Glenn Schmitt, president of MarkeTeam Inc., a Mission Viejo, California-based sales promotion firm serving the food and beverage industry. The buzz that creates draws in new guests, he said.

Schmitt spoke during a panel discussion on hot trends for increased beverage sales as part of the annual National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show and the companion International Wine, Spirits & Beer Event. Craft beer remains at the top of the hot trends list, Schmitt said, pointing to the growth and strength of the annual Great American Beer Festival in Denver, which drew 49,000 attendees last year. “It sold out in 20 minutes,” he said, noting that the festival featured 623 American breweries and 3,100 beers.

Operators have a lot of beers from which to choose, Schmitt said, and should consider mixing up their menus with different varieties of beer, as well as local and seasonal offerings. Wine has become a particular favorite of Millennials, Schmitt said, but they differ from other generations. “They do a lot of experimentation, and they are drinking sweeter wines,” he said.

Despite the growth in craft beverages—both beer and spirits—40 percent of restaurant visitors will not drink alcohol, Schmitt said, and that number is much higher in the limited-service industry, where only some fast-casual brands sell it. In those cases, “think about hand-crafted sodas” or even smoothies, he said. There are other tactics that can be employed, including innovative textures, smoke and fire, drink vessels, and even various uses of ice, such as freezing fruit in ice cubes.

While craft beer, wine, and spirits sales have grown over the past five years, according to various statistical reports, carbonated beverages have continued to slump, falling in both volume and market share, according to Beverage Marketing Corp. Soft-drink companies have looked at new ways to boost their products, and that includes improving the overall experience for consumers. That led to the creation of the Coca-Cola Freestyle self-serve beverage machine, and now the new Pepsi Spire.

“This is our unveiling,” says Kirk Tanner, president of PepsiCo Foodservice, which launched the device at the show. “It provides multiple options for consumers, and it can work for both large restaurant companies and small ones.”

The touch-screen beverage dispenser comes in three different varieties and pours a range of beverages from Pepsi’s portfolio of carbonated and noncarbonated beverages. Operators can select the brands they offer, as well as a number of no-calorie flavor shots. “A lot of mixology goes on with this,” Tanner says, noting that at up to three different flavor shots can be added to each beverage pour. The Spire machines can offer up to 16 different brands in bag-in-box format with eight different types of flavor shots. What makes the devices good for operators is that they use the same back-end technology as current Pepsi beverage dispensers, Tanner says, “so it’s not much of a problem for the restaurant to switch over” to the newer digital devices.

Two of the Spire designs, the 1.1 and 2.0, are countertop self-serve units, with 10-inch and 15-inch touch screens and the capacity for 40 and 500 beverage combinations, respectively. The 2.0 also comes in a crew-service unit. The top of the line, 5.0, gives consumers the option of more than 1,000 beverage combinations, uses a 32-inch touch screen, and comes in both a countertop and freestanding unit. The touch screens can be changed to show different products. The systems provide quick feedback to operators as to what products are selling best. Through the first couple of days of the NRA Show, for example, Pepsi and Mountain Dew were the best sellers at the new Spires, while cherry was the top flavor.

Expanding domains

There are plenty of technology companies at this year’s show that are selling devices and software solutions, but a couple are selling names—domain names. This year, a number of new generic top-level domains, or gTLDs, are being added to well-known ones like dot-com, dot-org, and dot-gov.

Restaurants are following in the trend. GoDaddy, for instance, is promoting its dot-menu. And Mexico City-based Punto 2012 has dot-rest and dot-bar. Punto is “dot” in Spanish, and the business was started in 2012, says founder Aaron Grego. He chose dot-bar for obvious reasons, but selected dot-rest because “rest” is the beginning of the word for restaurant in dozens of languages.

“We wanted to create a universal domain,” he says. The general availability to buy a name with one of the new domains begins in July.

By Barney Wolf

Beverage, Menu Innovations, News