Summer brings higher demand for refreshment beverages in onsite operations, and the most effective beverage menus will be written with an eye to prevailing trends and customer tastes.
Menumakers should consider the trends that influence customers of onsite foodservice operations as well as commercial restaurants. For instance, “clean menus” is one of the top food and beverage predictions for 2016 by Baum + Whiteman, Brooklyn, N.Y.-based food and restaurant consultants. This term refers to the efforts that major foodservice operators and suppliers are making to banish artificial ingredients and nutritionally suspect substances from menus. And high fructose corn syrup — widely used to sweeten soft drinks — is one of the top growing concerns in the United States, reports market research firm, The NPD Group.
Against this backdrop, some operators are emphasizing lighter, less sweet and more natural products such as fruit-flavored and sparkling water, iced tea and iced coffee on their summer beverage menus.
At Rice University in Houston, the dining department is prepared for the first wave of summer heat, even though the weather lately has been more comfortable than usual. “We’ve had a good spring, but it can change on a dime and go up to 95 here,” says chef Johnny Curet, campus dining director at Rice.
The principal refreshers at the University are agua frescas, smoothies, flavored iced teas and specialty iced coffee. “We do our best to stay away from the sodas and juices,” says Curet.
In Houston the average high temperature can rise to 90 degrees Fahrenheit or more on nearly 100 days per year, according to the local visitors’ bureau. Keeping students hydrated is a serious task. With an enrollment of about 3,400 undergraduates, Rice draws from all 50 states and 89 countries, including newcomers who may be daunted by the climate.
“Incoming freshman and transfer students who are not from Texas may be overwhelmed and dehydrated,” says Curet. “That’s why we put out aguas frescas and the different smoothies.”
Aguas frescas — Mexican-inspired beverages made from fresh fruits, herbs or even flowers, blended with water and lightly sweetened — are particularly popular. A campus dining outlet that serves 250 students will mix up a batch of 10 to 15 gallons at a time.
Displayed in large glass jars, the colorful waters are also a hit at campus special events. “It won’t be long until we have commencement, and we will put all those clear dispensers out,” says Curet. “They look great, and they sell themselves.”
Rice’s campus dining outlets are run by chefs with extensive culinary training. They write their menus weekly based on product quality and availability. When it comes to beverage inspiration, they often look to the campus farmers market for ingredients, just as they do with food.
“They have total freedom to create,” says Curet. He recalls a unique agua fresca that had a tantalizing touch of habanero chile. “It was just enough to get your lips buzzing, but not running for a glass of milk to cool down your mouth.”
Iced tea is also a popular summer quencher at Rice. But it’s not the heavily sugared Southern staple. “It has been about five years since we got away from sweetened tea,” says Curet. “When we do a tea in house, it’s not just tea — it’s tea with lemon and mint or mango. We go beyond the ordinary.”
Other one of a kind campus creations include a vegan smoothie made with soy, banana, strawberry and a touch of dark chocolate, and Vietnamese iced coffee sweetened with agave nectar.
Summertime can be steamy in North Carolina, too. At Park Ridge Health, a 103-bed hospital in Hendersonville, executive chef Robin Pharris is mindful of the need for lighter, more healthful refreshment options on her menus when the mercury climbs.
A few years ago Park Ridge downsized bottled soft drinks from 16 to 12 ounces “to encourage a healthier decision-making process,” says Pharris. Iced teas and flavored sparkling waters are preferred alternatives.
Pharris says she has more creative license with summer beverages in the catering program than in day-to-day foodservice operations. “It is almost a separate business,” says Pharris. Functions range from doctors’ retirement luncheons to civic and charitable events
One of the favorites is ice water swimming with fresh sliced oranges, limes and lemons. Also handy for catered functions is an alcohol free punch of white cranberry juice, sugar free ginger ale and sparkling white grape juice, garnished with raspberries or cranberries. Recently, Pharris found a watermelon limeade product that might serve as a flavorful refresher for special events. “It could be a nice refreshing treat,” says Pharris.