Is iced tea on your menu? It should be. It’s easy to make and can bring in extra cash in hot weather when coffee sales tend to fall. A typical café has almost everything needed to start a distinctive, successful iced tea program… here’s how to get started.
Many commercial coffee brewers can brew iced tea. You may need to program or calibrate the machine for tea, and you may need a special baskets or dispensers, but these things are much easier and cheaper than buying a seperate tea brewer. The same clear cups or glasses you use for other cold drinks are ideal for iced tea, too. Brewing is made even easier by using proportioned filter bags, which require no equipment. All that’s left is deciding what kind of tea to use.
The tea you choose to brew will influence how your iced tea program compares to others. Iced tea is available at fast food drive-thrus, nearly any restaurant, and other cafés. If you serve the same instant-brew dust teas offered for sale at burger joints and on supermarket shelves, you’ll never distinguish your tea program from more downscale ones. You wouldn’t serve instant coffee, would you?
Whole-leaf teas produce more flavorful, fresh-tasting iced tea. Mighty Leaf and Two Leaves & A Bud both offer excellent whole-leaf iced tea. Each 1-oz filter bag brews one gallon of iced tea, and we offer black and flavored tea for an average cost of around a penny per (liquid) ounce. If you serve 16-oz glasses of iced tea, 8 ounces will be taken up by ice, so you’ll be serving 8 ounces of tea per drink. One gallon yields 16 servings, so your cost per serving is about five to ten cents, plus the cost of your cups, lids, and other materials.
As you can see, high quality doesn’t necessarily mean high cost. Iced tea is a high-margin item, but high profit margins can be a double-edged sword. You can make a lot of profit from them, but only if your customers buy it. The key to building and maintaining high sales on iced tea is building your customers’ perception of its value.
Better tea demands better presentation to convey its quality. Imagine how attractive your iced tea would be in a chilled glass rimmed with sugar. Add a fresh wedge of lemon or lime, maybe even a sprig of mint. A drink’s appearance goes a long way toward making the first sale, and that’s as true for iced tea as it is for anything else. A good-looking drink that’s made from premium ingredients and tastes great is worth more than the fast food alternative, and your pricing should also reflect that.
You should also consider what position iced tea plays in your sales strategy. The corporate chains usually put their iced tea in three offers: the drink by itself, the drink with meals, and the drink in quantity. Alone, the 16-oz iced tea sells for around $1.19. But it’s offered for free with meal combos, and if you want to get a whole half-gallon, it sells for only $1.99. You can even get free half-gallons with family-sized combos. They establish the value of the tea alone then use it as an incentive to entice you to order items that build larger ticket totals. You probably do something similar with your coffees already, discounting muffins sold with cups of drip. Iced tea is a natural fit with lunch menus, particularly in warmer weather. You can even encourage group sales by offering pitchers for tables.
However you position iced tea, distinguishing the product as premium will increase sales. The secret is to offer more than one class of iced tea. You offer your basic iced tea with free refills. Ideally, this drink will have a more appealing presentation than the corporate chain’s tea—maybe you can use simple syrup instead of sugar in the sweetened version. You also definitely need to offer a specialty iced tea that customers won’t find at the typical corporate chain, and you can do that with materials that you probably have on hand. A flavored syrup like Torani Pomegranate or Raspberry can make an excellent flavored iced tea, and it’s as simple as adding a shot. You can make a wide variety of drinks with the syrups you currently have on hand.
Both classes of tea can be prepared from one batch, since you can flavor each individual serving differently. Simply charge more for the flavored tea with no refills, or charge for each flavor added. As a pleasant side effect, the option to add flavorings and garnishes gives the customer the sense of choice and control that makes specialty beverages so appealing in the first place. It’s a simple up-sell for your baristas as well: “Would you like to add some peach syrup for .75¢?”
To sweeten or not to sweeten, that is the question! The last thing you will want to consider is whether to serve sweetened or unsweetened tea. If you’re in North Carolina (or other southern states for that matter), you will definitely want to have both sweetened and unsweetened tea available. For shops north of Virginia, you may just want to have simple syrup on hand so customers can sweeten as they please. You may also want to consider offering several varieties in addition to black. Ginger-Peach, Alpine Berry and Calypso Mango are all popular choices as well.
The corporate chains often set new trends, but as independent operations, you have the flexibility to add new items easily and often with better quality, so keep your eyes peeled for other hot ideas from the “big boys”!