The word is out …and it’s about time! In 2006, we started to see the wheels of the foodservice industry turn to take notice of consumers demands for better specialty coffee. There’s still a long way to go, but clearly coffee is now in the minds of the best and brightest of the culinary arts. Just recently, the National Restaurant Association announced in its annual “What’s Hot and What’s Not” chef survey that “espresso and specialty coffee” placed in the top 10 among over 200 popular restaurant food and beverage concepts. 71% of respondents from the 1,146 members of the American Culinary Federation rated specialty coffee “hot” in addition to the 15% that consider the beverage already a “perennial favorite.” Wow!
Andrew Hetzel was recently featured in a foodservice coffee article written by specialty tea and coffee author Diana Rosen:
Your chef has sourced the finest ingredients, developed recipes with imagination and creativity, and your wait staff has served everything with professionalism and grace. So, why don’t some of your diners return?
The answer may be that their dining experience was sabotaged by a less-than-fabulous cup of coffee—the last taste experience of the evening—and, if it wasn’t wonderful, that’s all they’ll remember.
It’s no secret how customers have elevated their awareness of good coffee. Starbucks has made drinking fine coffee an iconic requisite of daily life. Knowing the difference between a café au lait and a latte and understanding the difference between a Kenya AA and Hawaiian Kona are part of our cultural lexicon. In short, good coffee matters.
QUALITY INCREASES MARKET SHARE
The Seattle-based chain is hardly the only one in the game, even if the “one on every corner” image of it seems indelible. Independent coffee shops have increased nearly 100% in the last ten yeas and they repeatedly show an increase in their business when the behemoth chain moves into the neighborhood, often as much as 20%. Like any business, coffee shops well managed and well-focused on quality can withstand most competition; those that are not, fail.
QSRs SWITCH—TO HIGHER PROFITS
The switch from a “whatever” to “gotta have” coffee programs has not gone unnoticed by those in QSR (quick service restaurants.) Burger King, Del Taco, and McDonald’s have all upgraded the quality of their coffees. According to business analysts from the Wall Street Journal to trade media, a QSR does not change on a whim, but in answer to consumer-driven demand. The demand this time has been from those who’ve experienced (and enjoyed) better coffee. The expansion of the breakfast part of their menu has exploded for many QSR units, and, what do most Americans want with their first meal of the day? Coffee. Great coffee. Improved coffee services has also made these venues the “go-to place” for an afternoon cup of Joe; the quality is good and the price is right.
Even businesses which have dedicated themselves for years to premium coffee have made changes to capitalize on the increased appetite for variety and style choices in their coffee menu. The venerable Dunkin’ Donuts, which has more than 5,000 outlets, has brought both iced and hot “Turbo” drinks aimed at the 20something crowd eager to have the extra jolt of premium (and in DD’s case, Fair Trade) espresso, a word hardly uttered outside fine Italian restaurants fifteen years ago.
Demand for both premium coffee and coffee “drinks” is so high that recent surveys estimate that coffeehouses alone sold $8.3 billion in coffees and coffee drinks and that amount is expected to reach almost $19 billion by 2011, according the Specialty Coffee Association of America. It reports that the overall U.S. coffee industry has grown almost 50% from $7.76 billion in 2000 to more than $11 billion in 2005 and the figures keep climbing.
CAPITALIZE ON THE TREND
So, how can an upscale restaurant capitalize on this trend? Coffee industry consultant Andrew Hetzel of Cafemakers believes the upscale market needs to follow the trend in QSR. “Fine restaurants and hotels need to make a greater commitment to coffee quality. That means understanding up front that coffee is critical to the diner’s experience and absolutely positively impacts the bottom line.”
What changes are necessary, and, naturally, how much is this going to cost? When you make the commitment to better coffee service, invest in quality ingredients and water, and you train your staff to use the right equipment to do justice to both water and bean, profits soar, Hetzel adds. “It doesn’t take a lot of investment in time or money to improve coffee service, it takes recognizing that the customers really do know the difference between mediocre and fine coffee and not addressing that means you’ll have to scramble even harder to bring the diner back to your restaurant, to earn your market share,” he says.
Just as any chef learns that all the ingredients in a dish need to be of high quality, the same goes for pouring a great cup of coffee. “What goes into the coffee is as critical as how the coffee is made,” Hetzel says. “Since coffee is 98.5% water, a thorough understanding of water choices is vital.”
CHOOSE WELL AND NEGOTIATE LIKE HECK
“Matching the right equipment to your business, especially for espresso preparation, will definitely provide a great, flavorful cup of coffee each and every time, and that means consistent customer satisfaction,” Hetzel adds, “and, last but not least, buying good quality coffee, especially from local or regional artisan coffee roasters, helps the savvy foodservice manager to avoid the pitfall of buying whatever coffee is offered by the same suppliers who provide janitorial supplies, linens, and generic food items.”
Hetzel believes the strongest link to an improved bottom line is negotiation; whether purchasing food, beverage or equipment, the edge of profit rests on good negotiation skills for the best price. Fortunately, amortization evens out the investment and good maintenance extends the life of high-quality coffee making equipment for decades, he adds.
TRAIN, TRAIN, TRAIN
One other investment criterion for improving coffee service is staff training. F&B managers need to view the coffee “maker” more like what he/she really is, a “coffee chef” responsible for excellent coffee service just as the head kitchen chef is responsible for the rest of the menu, Hetzel asserts. A barista is to coffee what a sommelier is to wine, with similar technical competency, and the related style to interact with the diner. A well-trained barista can offer advice about coffee and food pairings, suggest one style of coffee preparation over another, or, if the restaurant offers a variety of choices, help diners choose from country, single estates or blends. For the customers who want to extend the evening’s adventure by trying something different in the world of coffee, this demonstration of skill and knowledge is both exciting and innovative and helps seal the experience as a good one for them. And, good experiences bring diners back.