Challenging times can often result in new opportunities. The Pandemic did create exactly that with Drinks-To-Go.
In many states across the nation, most notably, New York State, what began as a lifeline to the restaurant and foodservice industry has now become permanent legislation. So far, 11 states have made Drinks-To-Go a permanent option for operators. Consumers have become much more comfortable with ordering more upscale items for takeout and delivery. The Pandemic moved all of us beyond pizza and traditional carryout fare to gourmet meals and craft cocktails.
With this change in consumer behavior, it’s time for operators to look at drinks and cocktails-to-go as an important source of revenue and an opportunity to delight patrons. In addition to the beverage menu offering, an important factor is the packaging which can enhance, or detract, from the customers’ experience.
Let’s start with a big picture look at beverage packaging. These items are typically part of the food and beverage bundle for every operator. The basics include cups, lids, bev naps, straws, stirrers, and carriers. With the addition of alcoholic beverages on the to-go menu, additional items include bottles, jars, pouches, and tamper-evident bags.
The needs will differ between a fast casual concept or a coffee shop, which serve most beverages to go, compared to a fine dining establishment which only uses to-go packaging for a portion of their sales. Large entertainment venues, which offer delivery service directly to fans’ seats, now need to use lids and other supplies to ensure the drinks arrive intact and free of any contamination. Serving hot beverages adds concerns including avoiding spills that could cause a burn as well as ensuring the drink is served at the optimum temperature to maximize the quality of coffee, tea or hot chocolate, and now, a hot toddy.
We know that operators have many things to worry about including food costs and labor, insurance and rent, and even marketing. Packaging may not warrant much mind share these days. However, given that beverages and other to-go items can bolster revenue and profits, packaging does play an important role. That’s where a good packaging distributor adds value by doing the analysis and making recommendations that will complement the menu offerings and perform well under various conditions.
It’s intriguing that at the height of the pandemic, some 30 states had made Drinks-To-Go legal. As I mentioned, 11 of them have gone on to make this option permanent. Each state has different requirements and rules. In some states, an alcoholic beverage sold for off premise consumption needs to be accompanied by a significant portion of food. A bag of peanuts may not qualify; an actual entree may be required. Some states allow a bottle of wine to be purchased for delivery or carry out while others have dictated individual servings only.
The first step for an operator developing a program is to check the laws which may vary by city or state. The next step is to determine which items to offer and how everything from a cold beer to a chilled glass of wine will travel. A simple approach is often the best, perhaps picking a few items that are both popular and will travel well. Batch cocktails that can be made in large quantities and then portioned out are a good option. Ice can be added by the consumer at home to chill and dilute the product just before serving. With staffing shortages, preparing individual portions to order may not be efficient.
Once the menu offering is selected the next step is to select the right packaging. From a single serve pouch with a durable seal to plastic bottles with tamper evident lids, there are many options to choose from for mixed cocktails. Beer can be packaged in carry out plastic growlers.
What really enhances a cocktails-to-go program is making the experience fun for the consumer. Include a recipe card or a QR code to take patrons to a video of their bartender demonstrating how assemble the cocktail, add garnishes, or providing some information on the origin of the recipe. People go out for drinks with their friends and family to have fun. By recreating that bar experience, customers are likely to order again.
Imperial Dade recently hosted our Innovations Expo in Fort Lauderdale. Attendees got a close look at the type of packaging that is needed to support the future of Drinks-To-Go. Exhibitors displayed various options for beverage packaging ranging from single serve items to party-size carafes with insulated bladders to maintain temperatures. We also saw various tamper evident bags, labels, and other features ideal for delivery.
The show also brought some of the latest technology to the forefront. Among the more interesting items we have seen is the GP PRO Automated Sealing Machine that replaces the traditional lid with a heat-sealed film closure for cups and containers ranging from 8oz to 44oz. This method is fast and convenient, and the film can be custom printed with a logo or marketing message. It works with paper cups, plastic cups, and even soup containers as long as they have a rolled rim. Benefits include less storage and less waste compared to traditional lids. We are all about finding and offering these value-added game changing solutions to our customers.
With the growth of Drinks-To-Go has come a new look at the trays and carriers used to transport those beverages. We continue to see the traditional two and four compartment molded trays and of course the folded paperboard tray. The big change is coming as we see designs that are aimed at the full meal takeout. These new designs feature different configurations of compartments for bags, cups, and condiments.
Right sizing of cocktail packaging is important. If you sell a 5oz portion in a 10oz bottle, the customer may think they only received half a drink. Also, separating fruit and other garnishes is important to maintain quality. Your packaging supplier can go over the many options you need to create the perfect kit for your cocktails to go. And, if you’re serving something with a sparkling wine component, the best practice is to provide the unopened bottle of bubbly to keep it from going flat.
An on-going debate is the selection of a straw. The public has spoken, and they don’t like paper straws. We recommend agave plant-based straws and the Phade™ straw that are compostable and hold up just like plastic straws.
Finally, as we have discussed in many of my columns, you can create a Drinks-To-Go strategy that can be green and sustainable. PET bottles are commonly recyclable and can be used for cocktails to go. Keep in mind that these containers are going to be disposed of at home and most residential recycling haulers will pick up PET.
Our foodservice packaging experts are here to help. We offer complimentary packaging assessments of your in-restaurant, Drinks-To-Go, and third-party delivery beverage menus. Imperial Dade can help you update your beverage packaging bundle with efficiency and guest satisfaction in mind.