Restaurants’ push to offer specialty beverages is attracting more customers, according to market research company The NPD Group — but fewer of those customers are ordering drinks with meals.
The NPD Group's new Expanded Beverage Service research, which tracks all beverage foodservice occasions, found that while the total number of restaurant visits was flat in the year ending in June 2012, visits in which customers ordered both food and beverage declined by 2 percent.
“Consumers are responding to new beverage introductions and the aggressive promotion of beverages, and as a result, beverage-only has become a significant growth opportunity for the foodservice industry,” Kyle Olund, director of foodservice product development at NPD, said in a press release.
The NPD Group's new Expanded Beverage Service found that the number of beverage-only visits peaks between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., shortly after lunchtime traffic peaks, and then tapers off.
Shakes, smoothies, slushy drinks, coffee and bottled water are among the drinks ordered during non-food occasions.
Casual-dining burger chain Red Robin is among the restaurants that are introducing and marketing new beverages. Most recently, the chain introduced a spiked milkshake and spiked lemonade to its menu in celebration of Oktoberfest. The Octoberfest Milkshake is made with soft serve ice cream, Samuel Adams Octoberfest draft, vanilla and caramel. The new Honey Bourbon Lemonade blends lemonade with bourbon and agave nectar, and is shaken and served with mint. The drinks are available through November 11.
Beverage specialists Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks recently tapped into their customers’ penchant for between-meal drinking with the introduction of seasonal reprises of fall-themed drinks. Starbucks has brought back its Pumpkin Spice Latte for the season and Dunkin’ is bringing back apple cider and pumpkin coffee and latte , as well as a seasonal pumpkin-flavored coffee in K-cup form.
Crumbs Bake Shop, a 51-unit chain based in New York City, also recently announced a deal to start serving Starbucks coffee  at all of its locations in an attempt to increase its beverage business.
Dairy Queen, too, is expanding its beverage line by incorporating Orange Julius-branded juice drinks  and smoothies systemwide. The frozen treat chain acquired Orange Julius in 1987, but it has recently pushed for the drinks to be incorporated system-wide, which management said it’s on target to do by the end of 2013.