Cool down your customers with flavored iced tea

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, and I’m going to show you how to get started. Bottom line, tea is too simple, cost-effective and unique not to offer to your customers.

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 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, fresher-tasting iced tea. Mighty Leaf makes an excellent whole-leaf iced tea called Classic Black. Each 1-oz filter bag brews one gallon of iced tea. We offer Classic Black in cases of 100 bags for ~$65.00, a cost of ~.65¢ per gallon. 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 less than a nickel 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.

For example, my favorite chicken chain sells a 16-oz sweet iced tea for $1.19. The quality of the tea determines a lot of its value, but so does its presentation. At that price, I get a branded paper cup that sweats a lot, a flimsy plastic lid, and a straw. Sometimes, there’s a lemon wedge. The tea is good (well, the sugar is good), but the presentation is not up to par.

Better tea demands better presentation to convey its quality. I won’t choose your tea over the chicken chain’s if you’re putting it in a sweaty cup, too. Imagine how much more 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 chicken chain puts their iced tea in three offers: the drink itself, the drink with meals, and the drink in quantity. Alone, the 16-oz iced tea costs $1.19. But it’s offered for free with meal combos, and if you want to get a whole half-gallon, it’s 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 chicken 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 chicken chain, and you can do that with materials that you probably have on hand. A flavored syrup like Monin 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¢?”

Stockton Graham & Co. can get you started with an iced tea program today. Just give us a call at (800) 835-5943, and we’ll help you get set up our turnkey Iced Tea Toolkit which includes 1 cs of Mighty Leaf Classic Black, fruit flavored syrups and a pitcher.