With soft drinks likely to become more sought after, how confident are you that your restaurant, pub or hotel's offering is up to scratch?
If you think your soft drinks could do with a shake up, follow our three steps to improving them.
Ensure you cater for the grown-ups
Let’s be honest, it isn’t common to see pubs, restaurants and hotels promote their soft drinks to their adult customers, yet with so many of them deciding to cut back on alcohol or cut it out of their lives altogether, failing to do so could be classed as missing a trick.
“The ONS released some data earlier in the year which showed that one in five drinkers are now classing themselves as tee total and so you’ve got this significant proportion of the market place wanting non-alcoholic drinks,” says Russell Kirkham, senior shopper marketing manager at Britvic Soft Drinks.
“TNS Alcovision have also done a piece of work into the behaviour of 18-24-year-olds versus those 10 years previously and their behaviour is around wanting to go out but not drinking a lot, if not at all. They are therefore looking for alternatives, so if you are an owner of a bar or restaurant you need to make them aware you have an offer for them.”
Gabriel David, founder and chairman at artisan soft drinks maker Luscombe Drinks has a stronger view and says any hospitality outlet failing to sell soft drinks suitable for grown-ups ‘is hugely disrespecting their non-drinker.’
“Look at where we’ve come with wine. Pubs have joined restaurants with wine lists now and soft drinks are now on that trajectory,” he says. “You can’t really just offer a cola and think that’s going to be good enough for a large percentage of your adult visitors.”
Simon Thompson, restaurant director at restaurant 45 Jermyn St., which re-opened on the former site of The Fountain restaurant within Fortnum & Mason in London last month, is one hospitality operator who has put non-alcoholic drinks at the heart of his menu.
“More and more people are going for non-alcoholic cocktails due to transient and busy lifestyles and they are looking for something just as interesting as the alcoholic option,” he says.
“This is especially important when you have an international clientele as different cultures have different tastes. We are past the days of having a limited soft drinks offer.”
So, how do you reach the adult non-drinker?
45 Jermyn St. offers a selection of ‘Rickies’ – a range of homemade syrups which are mixed with a house blend acid and house soda – and Ice Cream Floats on its drinks menu.
Both have a distinctly adult leaning with the Rickies featuring more sophisticated flavours such as passion fruit, thyme, tarragon, rose and ylang ylang while the Ice Cream Floats, featuring an element of fun have been given a ‘sharper edge for today’s refined tastebuds’.
“We wanted to give a nod to the very first Soda Fountain to come to London which was introduced on this site,” says Thompson.
“What we have created today is an evolution of an idea that no one had seen before, we wanted to do that again. We’ve created homemade syrups and our own house blend acid to mix with our highly carbonated house soda. It’s makes for an eclectic list, every element of the drinking experience has been given great consideration.”
Kirkham recommends that operators looking to promote their soft drinks simply make it obvious that they have a decent range of soft drinks available.
“As a soft drinks business we’d love it if pubs or restaurants had a chalk board outside leveraging their soft drinks, but in reality it’s much more around linking drinks to the rest of the offer.
“When you’re promoting certain dishes or a particular menu, a lunch one for example, make sure you call out the other things available to consume with it because people don’t go into a restaurant and just order food, they want something to drink with it.
“If you don’t tell them and consumers don’t want to drink alcohol they will they will default to the standard but won’t be inspired by that which is what you want them to be if you want them to return.”
Understand the products you’re selling
Staff tastings for new wines, beers or dishes are common in many restaurants and pubs, but can the same be said for soft drinks?
“How many publicans actually taste their soft drinks?” asks Luscombe Drinks’ David. “I bet it isn’t many.”
David suggests regular staff tastings for new soft drinks on the menu and then ensuring feedback is gathered to then pass on to the customer.
“The decision of one person who owns a small chain of restaurants may be good, but getting help of staff would certainly help hone the offering,” he says.
“Why not have tasting notes with your soft drinks as you do with wine? Having a one-liner would certainly help sell a drink better, especially if someone doesn’t know the brand.”
Britvic's Kirkham agrees that educating staff and customers about the soft drinks on offer would help in their promotion, but says the person responsible for putting them on the menu in the first place is also responsible for building excitement around the category.
"Sometimes staff are really interested in knowing what goes into soft drinks and sometimes they aren't," he says. "If soft drinks were higher up on the agenda for the trade and they really looked at the stories they told about their soft drinks range alongside their full drinks range I think they will yield the benefits from it."
If you want to promote your soft drinks to all types of customers then you and your staff need to know more about them and education, particularly in the light of the campaign led by Jamie Oliver to place a 10p levy on non-alcoholic soft drinks with added sugar, is crucial if you want to be able to sell them with confidence.
“We have got to get the facts right because there are different types of sugar - cane sugar, sugar beet and high fructose corn syrup. The latter is the most dangerous from a diabetic point of view,” says David. “All sugars put weight on people as they are carbohydrates, but ones up for serious scrutiny are the high fructose corn syrups and that’s where the education needs to be around.”
Britvic itself has removed 18bn calories from its soft drinks and upped its no-sugar and reduced sugar products, but Kirkham agrees that both those selling drinks and consumers need to understand what is in the drinks being sold, so they can do so with confidence.
“From our part it’s about making sure the trade and consumers are aware of the choices they can make," he says. "Our leading cola is Pepsi Max and we've done a lot of work around the taste while also removing sugar. I think if we can give reassurance to the trade, they can reassure their customers that they're offering a no sugar or low sugar product which still tastes great," he says.
Innovation consistently happens within hospitality. New dishes are added to the menu, wine lists are updated and new cocktails created, but how often are the same principals applied to soft drinks?
Kirkham says work it undertook recently with pub chain Fuller’s to sell its Lipton Ice Tea and with Pizza Hut on its new drinks system had shown that a little work in soft drinks had gone a long way.
“Fuller’s has seen some benefit to serving Lipton Ice Tea in the way we recommended – using jam jar glasses and fruit and Pizza Hut’s touch screen dispense with flavour shots, allowing consumers to make a drink bespoke to them has brought about some excitement ,” he says.
“The research always says if drinks are served in a fantastic way consumers will be more likely to order another one and go away feeling satisfied and that’s no different with soft drinks.”
Creativity is always a good thing, but don’t rush it, as 45 Jermyn St.’s Thompson reveals the best ideas can take a while to come to fruition.
The Rickies it serves took a year from conception to appearing on the menu with tastings starting six months before they were placed on the menu in October.
“It was great to have the time to allow our imaginations to run wild. Time is a very important part of the creative process, and we were lucky to have it on this project,” says Thompson. “I believe it is one of the main reasons why we feel the menu is in such a strong position today. It’s something we feel very proud of, mainly because we know we’ve explored every avenue to get our results.”
However, if time and money isn’t on your side, just simply applying some love and attention to how you present your soft drinks could still be enough.
“If operational constraints mean mixing drinks may not be an option at this stage, then think about how you serve the drink in a way that makes it look as good as other drinks on your menu, whether that’s alcoholic, or coffee or whatever,” says Kirkham.
“Treat your soft drinks with reverence. Make sure you’ve got ice in it and the right glass for the drink and it’s got a garnish in it to show the consumer that you care about what they’re looking for.”