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The complicated business of foodservice coffee

As fewer consumers opt to go to a cafe or a drive-through for their daily cup of coffee, what can foodservice operators do to drive traffic? 

4 min read

FoodRestaurant and Foodservice


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Did you get used to making your own coffee at home during the pandemic, and now find yourself in an actual coffee shop less often? You’re not alone. 

Brewed hot coffee consumption across restaurants, retail and other foodservice locations has not rebounded since the pandemic, according to Datassential’s BUZZ 2023 Annual Report, as more consumers perfected their at-home brews and opted to make more coffee at home. 

So as fewer consumers opt to go to a cafe or a drive-through for their hot cup of joe, what can foodservice operators do to drive traffic? 

Specialty options enhance a hot cup of joe

Hot coffee consumption at foodservice peaks at midday, though that’s shifting more toward home. But there may be an opportunity for shops and retailers to focus on options for an evening mug, as those purchases have been slightly increasing in recent years. 

What else do customers want with their hot brewed coffee? Options. Customer satisfaction levels are declining in part due to a lack of sweeteners, creamers and other add-ins. Offering a variety of creamers including both dairy- and plant-based options are a must. Sweeteners are also important, though regular sugar is by far the most commonly used sweetener for hot brewed coffee. Consumers also appreciate house-ground beans and other aspects of the experience they can’t get at home, so operators should consider adding those where it makes sense as well. 

With hot specialty coffee, daily consumption remains steady, but consumers are making far more of these drinks at home as more work virtually and have purchased in-home equipment, like espresso machines. Currently, only about 20% of hot specialty coffees are consumed outside of the home. 

So where can operators draw more sales for these drinks? Additives and toppings. Sure, stocking a variety of sweeteners and milks is important, but operators can stand out with indulgent and eye-catching toppings including everything from whipped cream, drizzle and spices to latte art. Seasonal flavors as limited-time offers are also key to drawing more visitors. 

Iced coffee offerings reign supreme

The bright spot in coffee is all about the ice: daily cold coffee consumption has increased slightly across all times of the day. 

Some consumers have shifted to more unique offerings. Options like cold brew and nitro are growing in popularity both at foodservice and in-home and could be a great way to bring more customers in, particularly in those times of the day when sales of other coffees wane. 

Another way to grow cold coffee sales? Food pairings. Meals combined with cold coffee have been growing since 2019. These drinks are generally consumed in social outings or when others are present, so a cold coffee and snack pairing or a two-for-one offer could encourage sharing.

Above all, and regardless of what kind of coffee consumers choose when away from home, they want something — whether it’s the add-ons or the experience — that they can’t replicate at home. It’s a big plus when operators can offer house-ground beans or hand-crafted made-to-order beverages, but the key to keeping and growing a strong coffee offering is in the details: niche, local or specialty brands, syrups or toppings that make drinks special and vary by the season and a variety of plant-based and dairy milks alike. 

Samantha Des Jardins is the content marketing manager at Datassential.

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