New consumer beverage preferences impact the restaurant industry

It's no secret that today's consumers are becoming more health-conscious about their food choices. While obesity and obesity-related diseases continue to climb, more Americans are looking for ways to find healthier alternatives in their meals.

One of the ways they've been doing that in their own homes has been to reduce soda intake. According to Fortune, soda consumption has fallen to its lowest level in 30 years, with overall soda sales dropping for the 11th year in a row.

But new studies are now showing that this disinterest in soda isn't limited to people's shopping habits. Though trends have long shown that people are more likely to indulge when they go out to restaurants, soda consumption has been markedly on the decline in eateries as well as grocery stores.

"Fountain sodas are a significant source of profit."

Consumers turning away from soda 
One of the biggest changes in how people order at restaurants is that more patrons are opting away from sodas than they were a year ago. The Washington Post reported on a Mintel study that shows 23 percent of Americans report ordering less soda than they did a year ago when they go out to eat. 

This presents a problem for restaurants, because fountain sodas are a significant source of profit in the food industry. According to Restaurants.com, fountain drinks on average will sell 20 times what the actual product costs are for a business. 

Many consumers are becoming more educated and concerned with the nutritional value of what they order when they go out to eat. Twenty-five percent of those surveyed by Mintel said they are looking for nutritional information on their menus more now than they did a year ago. Simply cutting calories is no longer a big enough focus for many, as diet soda sales are dropping along with their more sugary counterparts.

Emphasizing healthier drink options, like iced tea, can help restaurants. Emphasizing healthier drink options, like iced tea, can help restaurants improve beverage sales.

Giving consumers more beverage options
Another cause of concern for restaurants that have patrons turning away from soda is a matter of which drinks they order instead. As customers avoid the sugary drinks to become more health-conscious, many are turning towards plain water as their beverage of choice, which restaurants typically offer for free. 

To help bring in more money, restaurants will need to provide customers with more options that meet their nutritional goals. For example, offering flavored seltzer waters could be a good way to entice thirsty visitors to add some flair to their typical water routine. Servers can also try to upsell customers who ask for water by asking if they'd like any branded bottled waters, the second-highest restaurant markup after sodas. 

Teas are also a good investment for restaurants to focus on. According to Restaraunt.com, these beverages come in as the third-biggest profit driver for restaurants. Tea can usually sell for $2 or $3 without customers thinking twice about it, but tea bags only average $0.35 apiece Green tea is an increasingly trendy drink for health-focused consumers, so placing an emphasis on hot or iced green teas could help restaurants compensate for the downturn in the soda market. 

Hospitality and restaurant industry piece brought to you by Marlin Equipment Finance, a nationwide provider of commercial lending solutions for small and mid-size businesses. Marlin's equipment financing and loan products are offered directly to businesses, and through third party vendor programs, which include manufacturers, distributors, independent dealers and brokers in the security, food services, healthcare, information technology, office technology and telecommunications sectors.