Brewing up profit: Top tips to boost tea sales at Canadian restaurants

By Sean Moon

Tea lovers continue to search for the perfect daily brew at Canadian restaurants

Canadian tea drinkers are a passionate bunch when it comes to their daily cuppa, but for foodservice operators in this country, that passion doesn’t always translate into increased sales of the world’s second-most popular beverage. For many confirmed tea lovers, if they can’t get a quality cup of tea when dining at their favourite restaurant, industry surveys suggest that they’d rather order tap water or even nothing at all.

“For a tea lover, it’s all about choice and preparation,” says Louise Roberge, president of the Tea Association of Canada. “First, we know we can order coffee, but can you offer us a nice cup of tea as well? So much attention is paid to coffee that tea is usually an afterthought.

“Secondly, the actual preparation of tea is so important, especially when it comes to the temperature of the water. Most restaurants use water that just isn’t hot enough. As a result, some consumers who want a really great cup of tea won’t bother ordering it at all, knowing there is a good chance they will be served an inferior product.”

Cuppa day

Although the average tea drinker consumes nearly one cup a day (6.56 cups a week), most of that is being sipped at home, according to the most recent study commissioned by the Tea Association. In fact, the study, conducted by independent research firm The NPD Group, found that over one-third of tea drinkers would choose water over a poor cup of tea.Despite the NPD findings, however, not all of the news is glum when it comes to tea consumption in Canada. In the year ending November 2011, sales of both hot and iced tea were up two per cent when compared to the previous year, with quick-service restaurants driving growth for hot tea while full-service establishments are losing tea occasions. Total servings of hot tea in 2011 reached 376 million and 5.7 per cent of all restaurant meals or snacks included hot tea. Iced tea proved only slightly less popular, with 210 million servings and 3.2 per cent of meals or snacks including the chilled version.
Green, herbal teas popular

When it comes to ordering tea and deciding among the available offerings, consumers may face myriad options. Many restaurant menus simply list “tea” as an option, without specifying a variety. When hot tea is listed on the menu, green and herbal tea are the top two specific varieties mentioned. Both varieties appear on over 40 per cent of beverage menus where hot tea is listed, according to a report by market research firm Datassential. Earl grey is the most common black tea variety indicated on menus, found on 33 per cent of restaurant menus where tea is listed.

Roberge believes that while some servers may perceive “proper” tea service as being “too complicated,” restaurant operators might be wise to look at some of the bottom-line benefits that can accompany improved tea service, chiefly that along with increased tea consumption comes a bigger meal check.

Brewing up profits

“Tea drinkers most often order something such as dessert to go along with their tea and so the guest check goes up,” says Roberge. “Also, tea is not very expensive and the profit margin can be significant. In dollar terms, the markup is obviously not as high as with a bottle of wine. However, in percentage terms, due to the low cost of the product, the margin on tea is excellent. This can be increased even more by such things as offering tea by the pot instead of just by the cup.”

Much of what Roberge refers to as “poor tea service” stems from the fact that servers may not be receiving the education and training required to adequately appeal to the particular tastes of tea lovers.

“There are three basic aspects of tea that servers need to know: what are the various types of tea, what is the best water temperature for each variety and how long should it be steeped. The Tea Association of Canada has developed a tea sommelier course, which is now offered at a number of continuing-education college programs across Canada. Like a wine sommelier, a tea sommelier is someone who can make recommendations about varieties and food pairings.

“If tea were treated in the same way as specialty coffees, for example, I think it would go a long way into improving the restaurant experience for tea lovers.”

Demographic shifts

Although some of the fastest growing beverages are smoothies and iced/frozen/slushed coffee, according to NPD Group research, there is some positive news for the Canadian tea industry, thanks mainly to shifting demographics and increased immigration from tea-friendly regions.

“Canada is seeing more immigration from regions where tea is traditionally widely consumed, particularly Southeast Asia, India, China and the Middle East. When these people go out to restaurants, they are expecting to be able to have a good cup of tea,” says Roberge.

“The first thing operators can do is ensure that a selection of tea is offered on the menu. Next, it is important to have boiling hot water available specifically for tea preparation – it can make all the difference.”

Top tips to boost tea sales

  • Set-up in-store “tea day” demos focusing on new teas and how to prepare them.
  • Partner with your tea suppliers; they’re your best source of information and support in helping you grow sales in your tea category.
  • Know consumer market trends and be prepared to adjust your in-store sales strategies to take advantage of them.
  • Offer taste-testing sessions; become a “tea sommelier.” A great resource and information on tea sommelier training is the Tea Association of Canada’s web site:
  • Create cross-merchandising displays by combining specialty teas from China, Kenya, and India, for example, with foods from that country or region.

Source: The Tea Association of Canada

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