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Few of us are virtuous all the time, especially when we look at a menu. Depending on mood and occasion, we may opt for better-for-you fare or swing to indulgence.
Restaurant operators should prepare for both contingencies when devising a beverage menu. They are advised to offer a balanced selection of no- and low-calorie items like specialty coffees, iced teas, artisan sodas and fruit-based drinks as well as gratifying specialties such as flavored smoothies and shakes, lattes with toppings and syrups and beverages with alcohol.
Panera Bread Co. is balancing better-for-you and indulgent choices on its beverage menu, which includes new non-carbonated craft beverages with disclosures of calorie counts and added sugar. The choices range from unsweetened iced black tea and peach-ginger-hibiscus tea with no added sugar to medium-sweet agave lemonade, blood orange lemonade and passion papaya green tea with up to 34 grams of sugar. In comparison, fully sweetened soft drinks contain up to 75 grams of sugar.
And for those seeking more of a treat, the St. Louis-based bakery-café chain has the 410-calorie Iced Caffe Mocha, with foamed milk and chocolate, and the 560-calorie Frozen Caramel, with iced coffee, whipped cream, and caramel sauce.
One operator striving to please all visitors is Johan Engman, founder and owner of San Diego-based Rise & Shine Restaurant Group, with five Breakfast Republic breakfast-only restaurants there. His menu ranges from Oreo cookie pancakes and breakfast bacon mac and cheese to veggie tostadas and granola with yogurt and fruit.
Beverages cover a lot of ground as well. The restaurants offer 20 craft beers on tap, specialty cocktails and lattes in enticing flavors such as Oreo cookie, Mexican mocha, and salted caramel. On the healthier side are organic ginger kombucha on draft and organic antioxidant shots. The latter, made with organic fruits, minerals, and bioactive nutrients, are available in Tropical Detox, Cellular Boost and Immune Boost variations.
“The intent is to offer something for everybody, whether you are celebrating an engagement or a birthday or maybe you’re just on some kind of a cleanse,” says Engman. “If it’s the latter, you can have a kombucha, a nonalcoholic, low-calorie drink that’s great for your stomach.”
At Rotisserie Ema in Chicago, the quick-casual adjunct to Ema, a full-service Mediterranean restaurant, you don’t need a menu to choose between a better-for-you beverage or a sugary soft drink. Iced chai tea, mango agua fresca, passionfruit agua fresca and iced ginger-mint tea are on colorful display in self-serve bubbler dispensers. However, if the mood calls for a conventional carbonated soft drink, there is a fountain right alongside.
“We definitely show off the iced teas and aguas frescas because they are made in house and fit the profile of light and refreshing,” says Aaron Covert, executive chef of Ema, a Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises restaurant.
One of his favorites, passionfruit agua fresca, is a blend of passionfruit puree, peeled cucumbers, green cardamom seed and water. “The cardamom provides depth of flavor and the cucumber adds a nice lightness, then you have a little tartness from the passionfruit,” Covert says.
Notwithstanding the trend of healthier beverages, there is still a place for over-the-top creations. “Freakshakes” — milkshakes extravagantly garnished with ice cream, cake, sauces, cookies and candies — made the list of hottest food and beverage trends for 2017 by Baum + Whiteman, the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based food and restaurant consultants.
For example, the Original Dinerant in Portland, Ore., has offered a shake with coffee syrup, a buttermilk donut and mocha caramel, while The Boston Burger Co. famously menued a “freak frappe” containing M&Ms, sprinkles, a cupcake and gummy worms.
True Food Kitchen, Phoenix-based Fox Restaurant Concepts' health-driven dining concept with 16 locations, is spreading the word that good-for-you food and beverages can also please the taste buds. At brunch, sippable specialties include cherry chia lemonade, a kale and coconut smoothie and Hangover Rx, the latter a medley of pineapple, orange, honey and coconut water. From the bar, there is a Bloody Mary with organic tomato juice and organic vodka and a Cranberry and Pomegranate Mimosa with sea buckthorn, an herb with medicinal uses.
The key to creating healthy beverages that taste great is using seasonal ingredients at peak freshness, according to Jon Augustin, True Food Kitchen’s beverage manager. “This allows us to rely on the natural sugars, instead of adding sugar,” says Augustin. “We also use supplemental ingredients such as flax and nettle oil to provide an additional health boost, but mainly we rely on what is already in each nutrient-rich item.”
But while today's beverage menus must contain a choice of better-for-you drinks for nutrition-minded guests, savvy operators also know it is wise to offer a balance of selections that appeal to consumers' more indulgent moods and guilty pleasure occasions as well.