Person pouring from a carafe in a crowded dining hall

Self-service Beverages, Their Time Has Come Again

January 3, 2022

These do-it-yourself beverage solutions continue to adapt to today’s fast-changing business environment. Here are some ways to get the most from your self-service program.

Whether it be a convenience store stretched for labor, a college café wanting on-trend beverage options, or a hotel welcoming guests with a premium experience, self-service coffee, tea, and cocoa are taking on new importance for operators.

It’s no accident that many self-service programs center around coffee, after all it remains the favorite beverage of Americans. According to the National Coffee Association (NCA), 60% have had a coffee in the past day making it more popular than any other beverage including tap water. The average daily coffee drinker consumes three cups each day.

And there are signs that consumers are eager to resume out-of-home coffee consumption. As of fall 2021, out-of-home coffee consumption was up 16% since the beginning of the year, the NCA says, nearly back to January 2020 levels. And restaurant lunch visits are forecast to grow by double-digits through 2024.1

But the marketplace has changed in the past two years. For example, the latest generation of self-service machines provide customers with safe, touchless experiences. Customers can order by just hovering their fingers over sensors while other machines are smart-phone enabled, allowing customers to order after a quick scan of a QR code.

And, with labor shortages rippling through the industry, self-service coffee presents a do-it-yourself solution that doesn’t require a heavy outlay of manpower from operators, especially during the hectic morning rush.

Self-service tea and hot cocoa can also play an important role. Tea offers an enormous variety of flavors and styles that fit virtually any part of the day, while hot cocoa offers an indulgent treat especially popular during the colder months.

Here are some tips to get the most from all three of these self-service beverage platforms.

Give Your Coffee Service a Lift

  • In addition to caffeinated and decaffeinated, offer variety by adding some trending international styles and varieties including: Café de Olla, also known as Mexican coffee brewed with cinnamon and sugar; and Vietnamese coffee, a rich brew made with sweetened condensed milk. Include attractive signage to educate your customers and provide the necessary ingredients to turn your coffee corner into a memorable international discovery experience. Or try offering a monthly rotation of an exciting new flavor.
  • Other emerging styles that appeal to today’s guests include a ristretto or "short shot" of a highly concentrated espresso coffee that can result in a sweeter and less bitter coffee and a cortado, espresso “cut” with warm milk to reduce the acidity.
  • Iced coffee continues to grow in popularity. Among the more popular cold offerings, especially with younger consumers, are nitro and cold brew. Nitro grew by 904% on coffee menus over four years. Cold brew, by 245%.2  
  • Create your own signature house or reserve blend coffee and keep customers coming back for more. Customers know what they like and will seek it out when it comes to coffee. Some 44% of consumers say they are loyal to a specific café because it serves their preferred coffee brand.3
  • One of the things customers enjoy the most about self-service is how it allows them to customize the beverages to their liking. So, be sure to offer a variety of lighteners, including regular, low-fat, half-and-half, and plant-based alternatives, such as almond milk, coconut, soy, oat, banana, cashew, walnut, rice, peanut, hemp, sunflower seed, pea, and flax.4Oat milk is predicted to grow 33% on U.S. menus over the next four years, according to Datassential.5
  • The same goes for sweeteners. Pair your coffee with the popular options like honey, brown sugar, cane sugar, raw (or turbinado) sugar, stevia, or maple syrup, and up-and-comers like agave nectar, monkfruit, or coconut sugar.
  • When it comes to safety, shared stations with individual lids, straws, and creamers are less of a concern than shared bottles and pourers.
  • Customers love to add a shot of their favorite syrups to their coffee. Hazelnut, caramel, honey, and blueberry are a few popular do-it-yourself flavored syrups.

    Reading the Tea Leaves

    • Kick up your tea service a notch by including on-trend flavors and styles, such as raspberry, peach, Earl Grey, strawberry, orange, green, mint, apple, cinnamon, chai, mango, matcha, fruit, pomegranate, dragon fruit, papaya, tangerine, blackberry, and chocolate.
    • Add herbal teas such as chamomile, ginger, rooibos, rose hip, or passionflower to your tea offerings. Rising in popularity has been hibiscus, which Whole Foods picked as one of its “Trends for 2022.”
    • Another tea exploding in popularity over the past few years has been matcha. This Japanese import has a lot more room for growth. Of American consumers, 62% know of it, but only half of those have ever tried it. On only 4% of U.S. menus, it is most popular with Asian and Gen Z consumers.6 Offer matcha tea bags to a self-service urn with hot water, an easy way to get in on the trend.
    • Add a spicy kick to your tea service with the Indian spice turmeric. Whole Foods predicts the spice will be big in 2022.  

    Keeping Cocoa Sales Sweet

    • Sweet spinoffs of hot cocoa, such as cookie-flavored versions, have been appearing in convenience stores. Having cookie-flavored creamers on hand can be an easy way to add this extra indulgence to hot cocoa service stations.
    • Adapt your hot cocoa offerings to various holidays for a festive touch. Pumpkin spice continues to be popular in the fall, while peppermint mocha cocoa, or some crushed candy cane sprinkle, adds a holiday feel. And don’t forget about lesser-celebrated festive opportunities, such as Valentines Day and Pride Month.
    • Younger consumers prefer sweeter flavors. Many in this demographic gravitate to hot beverages that can double as desserts, so position your cocoa station, or coffee, near garnishes of chocolate syrup, whipped cream, and marshmallows.

    Self-service Factoids

    • Hispanic-Americans and Asian-Americans are the strongest consumers of specialty coffee, says the National Coffee Association. 7
    • Some operators are situating comfy couches near their coffee stations so customers can stay longer. This provides opportunities for upselling with refills or an added food item.
    • 48% of consumers expect bakery cafés to be transparent about where they source their coffee, according to Technomic. 8

    Get Started

    • NESCAFÉ® offers black coffee and coffeehouse-style beverages, including lattes, cappuccinos, mochas, and more. Choose the single-serve coffee maker with the features you need, such as a water reservoir, plumbed water line, and pods or no pods. Click here for more information.
    • Coffee mate® creamers are available in a variety of formats and flavors, including Natural Bliss Oat Milk, French Vanilla, Salted Caramel Chocolate, and Café Mocha.
    • 21% of operators say low-sugar or no-sugar added foods are the most-requested option from consumers, according to Datassential.9
    • Coffee terms that resonate with consumers today include “specialty” and “single origin.” 
    The information provided is based on a general industry overview, and is not specific to your business operation. Each business is unique and decisions related to your business should be made after consultation with appropriate experts.

    Sources: 1. NPD’s “Future of Lunch” study. 2. Datassential “The World of Coffee” Report. 3. Technomic’s 2020 Bakery and Coffee Cafe Consumer Trend Report. 4. 2020 Beverage Consumer Trend Report: Technomic. 5.Datassential Trendspotting Vol. 75. 6. Datassential: Matcha the SNAP! Profile. 7. 2021 National Coffee Data Trends Specialty Coffee Report (NCA).   8. Technomic’s 2020 Bakery and Coffee Café Consumer Trend Report 9. Datassential’s Tips: Summer 2019 - “Alternative Sugars”

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