In foodservice operations, tea service typically involves some version of the traditional tea setup with a choice of blends, both caffeinated and decaf. But “traditional” doesn’t have to imply the formality of high tea; nor does it require an elaborate undertaking.
“We saw the [increased] interest in tea as an exceptional opportunity to service our guests and increase profits,” says Cary Spence, general manager of Poets Inc., an English-pub-style restaurant in Jackson, Miss.
Iced tea is the big seller at Poets Inc.–the average lunch customer downs three glasses at a sitting. A couple years ago, though, as cooler fall weather arrived, Spence noted increased calls for hot tea. In 1995, the restaurant added a line of hot tea blends, each served in an elegant silver urn, which allows the guest to determine steeping time.
“It looks really impressive without requiring a lot of effort on our part,” Spence explains. “Our tea sales are picking up, largely because we describe them on the menu and that gets guests interested.
Chamomile as companion. Tea is also an offering at many of the coffeehouses opening around the country. “Tea has always been part of the concept,” says Derric Becker, assistant manager at the 2-year-old Cafe Driade in Chapel Hill, N.C. “About 10% of our customers order tea.”
Cafe Driade treats tea with the same reverence it does coffee: A separate tea menu describes the 12 loose-tea blends available, and the tea is served in press pots for proper steeping.
“We don’t have a lot of storage space, otherwise I’d offer loose tea in press pots,” says A. J. Cataffo, manager of The Grill Room, Hauppauge, N.Y. As a compromise, Grill Room patrons are served boiled water in sleek glass carafes, accompanied by a selection of six tea bags presented in a silver mesh basket.
Proper presentation of hot tea is part of the server training process at Dallas-based T.G.I. Friday’s, according to David Commer, the 1,050-unit chain’s director of beverage development. “Hot water is bought to the table in a sterling silver pot on a napkin-lined plate,” he says. “The guest has a choice of three or four blends of tea. In some markets, managers add flavored teas according to customer request and regional preferences.”
Commer also believes the overall interest in highly flavored beverages will drive sales of flavored hot teas as well.
Worth the effort. Whether the leaves are loose or in bags, tea should be served with boiled water and presented in a manner that allows it to steep properly.
Sometimes, this extra effort causes operators to treat tea as an after-thought. But tea, like coffee, can be a profitable pour: Most tea blends cost operators about 3 cents per cup, with specialty blends reaching 10 cents, according to tea-industry figures.
At Poets Inc., where hot tea comprises about 2% of after-dinner drink sales, the profit margin makes the program worth the effort. Says Spence, “At $1.50 per serving on the specialty blends, it’s a nice addition to the check and the bottom line.”