Restaurants Have a Tea Party

Operators offer iced, hot varieties to brew up customer interest
Restaurants Have a Tea Party
Maryse Chevriere

“At casual-dining restaurants, 31 percent of tea drinkers surveyed told us that they order tap water rather than get a poor cup of tea,” NPD account manager Vince Sgabellone said.
 The study found that poor quality, poor selection, and poor execution all were leading reasons tea drinkers didn’t order the beverage in restaurants.
 And investing in better tea offerings can pay off, experts say.

“The cost to brew a cup of iced tea is pennies per serving,” said George Jage, president of World Tea Expo. Spending 5 cents per cup instead of 3 cents can generally allow for an upsell of between 50 cents and $1, he added.

Brewing tea well can be a challenge, however, as the quality can be impacted by even subtle differences in the temperature of the water.

“It turns out that when they tell you to brew tea a certain way, it does make a difference,” said Sean Henry, owner of Houndstooth Coffee in Austin.
 He said a growing number of his customers are interested in tea — black tea in the morning, and others, such as goji berry white tea, mint tea, and green tea in the afternoon and evening.

“We try to develop people’s tastes on different types and styles of tea, and brew them as well as we can,” he said.
 Houndstooth uses loose-leaf tea brewed in 18-ounce pots. For teas requiring cooler water, Henry has calculated how much ice to add to just-below-boiling water to get the desired temperature.

At Doc Chey’s Noodle House, an Asian concept with three locations in Atlanta and one in Asheville, N.C., tea makes up the bulk of beverage sales.
 Although the chain’s Southern locations help make sweet tea a popular item, the best sellers are a spiced masala chai, a jasmine green tea, and an herbal blend called Fire Ginseng, which combines Korean red ginseng and other botanicals.

Most of the tea at Doc Chey’s is hot, sold in 16-ounce pots for $2.50 and usually split between two people. Iced tea is $1.75 and is available either as sweet tea or unsweetened jasmine tea. Owner Rich Chey said the two iced teas are equally popular, adding that, with an average per-person check of $10 to $12, the tea is a good upsell.
 “It’s also a nice point of distinction for us,” he said.

Stella Maemoto, manager of the Tea Lounge at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Las Vegas, said having a point of distinction is key to successful tea sales. She noted that the lounge’s most popular tea is the Mandarin orange blend, made with black tea, Mandarin orange blossoms, and a hint of vanilla.
 “A lot of our customers go for that because they know they can only get it at our property,” she said. 

— Bret Thorn,