Unless your mouth is permanently occupied with burgers and steaks, and your ears fixed only to the latest trends in meat consumption, you’ve heard about the benefits of juicing and drinking shakes and smoothies. The smoothie craze began to take hold in the 1970s, when healthy restaurants sprouted up in response to increased demand from consumers for natural, organic, and vegetarian menu items.
Today, juice and smoothie bars have become mainstream options for health-conscious consumers. Incorporating juices, smoothies, and shakes in your restaurant could be an inexpensive and welcome change that will boost the all-important health factor, attract customers and increase profits.
(For the purpose of this article we’re going to talk about “juice bars,” as a restaurant addition that includes all three types of beverages.)
Satisfying in so many ways, smoothies have the benefits of being good for your customers and good for your business. As today’s consumers seek out healthier menu options and food that can be enjoyed on-the-go, smoothies fit the bill perfectly. Well-liked by all ages and at all times of the day, smoothies can be paired with fruit for breakfast, eaten as a stand-alone snack, or served with a salad or sandwich for lunch. Smoothies have become an everyday choice for many consumers as demonstrated by their explosive growth in recent years, including as part of a restaurant’s menu, where smoothies have grown 16 percent in the past five years!
Health Drinks 101
The difference between shakes, juices, and smoothies has mostly to do with their ingredients and methods used for preparation. Shakes and smoothies are very similar, while juices are different.
Smoothies are filled with frozen fruits, fresh fruits, and fruit juices, but usually don’t contain any milk or yogurt. Shakes, on the other hand, usually do contain milk, yogurt, or ice cream, or they may be fortified with some type of protein powder, making them distant relatives of the classic milkshake. Shakes also have a creamier texture and will make you feel full for longer. In other words, the protein factor is where shakes really stand apart from smoothies.
Whereas smoothies offer fiber, their thinner siblings – juices – offer some nutrients without the fiber. Juicing separates the juice from the skin to retain nutrients, vitamins and enzymes, while using a blender for shakes keeps the fibrous materials intact and blends the pulp along with the juice.
Adding a Juice Bar Makes Good Financial Sense
If you are a newcomer to the restaurant business, you may want to buy a franchise of an already-existing juice-bar chain. However, if you already own a successful restaurant, why not consider adding a juice bar? Once you explore the intricacies of the juice-bar industry, you will realize that setting up a juice bar is fairly easy and requires a relatively small investment. These healthy drinks offer a simple and cost-efficient way to help increase sales and profits. In addition to adding juice-bar items to your beverage menu, you may also want to have smoothies available in a grab-and-go cooler for customers seeking a delicious ready-to-drink option.
If you’re thinking about adding a juice bar to your restaurant, here are a few of the items you will need to invest in to keep your operation running “smoothly.”
This much is probably already obvious to someone hoping to start a juice bar, but buying the right commercial blender can make or break your smoothie business. Your blenders will need to stand up to the strain of being run continuously throughout the day (at least that’s what you’re aiming for). Most non-professional, residential blenders are designed to be used once or twice a day at most, and will wear out much more quickly than a commercial-grade product, causing downtime and unnecessary expense while you wait for replacements. Aside from your ingredients, your blenders will be the backbone of your smoothie business, so try to avoid cutting corners on this part of your budget.
Immersion blenders are a great way to quickly prep ingredients for commonly ordered smoothies, or to break down larger fruits that don’t blend as well as other ingredients. Commercial immersion blenders can even be used to mix up entire smoothies, or to finish off partially mixed smoothies by carefully mixing in smaller ingredients to ensure an even blend. They are also much easier to clean than countertop blenders, making them ideal for quick jobs around your juice bar kitchen. Again, look for professional-level, high-quality immersion blenders (and not the cheap stick blenders found in every amateur cook’s kitchen).
While your blenders will take care of most of the “heavy lifting” at your restaurant’s juice bar, pre-juicing ingredients can often help speed up the process. Heavy-duty juicers make quick work of juicing fruits with tough or bitter skins, and eliminate the worry of accidentally including an inedible seed or core in a customer’s drink.
Centrifugal vs. Masticating Juicers
There are two different types of juicers you can use: centrifugal or masticating.
Centrifugal juicers, the more affordable option, stand upright; they shred food into a pulp and pull the juice out of the pulp through a filter. This type of juicer works well with fruits and vegetables, but not with leafy greens (which is where most of the nutrients come from).
A masticating juicer, on the other hand, crushes and squeezes juice out of fruits, vegetables, and leafy greens. Since these juicers crush more slowly and squeeze harder, leafy greens and even wheat grass, can be juiced with them. While all juices are best consumed right away, any juice produced through a masticating juicer can last longer than those produced with a centrifugal juicer.
Many juice bars prefer to use disposable cups when serving their drinks, as many customers order on the go. However, as a restaurant owner, you will want your customers to order these drinks as part of a meal, so reusable cups are a worthwhile investment. (Nonetheless, have a good supply of disposable drink cups in difference sizes on hand – with covers! – for your mobile customers.) Serving your dine-in orders in reusable cups and glasses will save money on disposables and give your establishment a classier vibe, but it also means that you’ll need….
A large, functional sink, alongside the blenders, juicers, and glasses, is a must-have to keep your operation running smoothly. A spacious sink will make all the difference when it comes to cleaning up both mid-operation and at the end of the day. If you plan on using reusable glassware in your shop, a standard three-compartment sink with large drain boards will help speed up the glass-washing process.
Knives and Cutting Boards
Good kitchen knives are sometimes overlooked as an essential piece of equipment in juice bars. While chopping up fruit to toss into the blender may not require as much precision as julienning carrots for a stir fry, having sharp, reliable knives in your prep area is still just as important as it is in any professional kitchen. Dull knives are slow and unsafe, regardless of what is being cut. Investing in quality knives will come at a higher initial cost, but good knives—when kept properly sharp—will provide you with years of safe and reliable cutting power. Also, be sure to equip your prep area with a variety of knives: chef knives for chopping and slicing and smaller pairing knives for quickly peeling smaller fruits with inedible skins (like kiwis).
Without a set of quality cutting boards, premium knives will be a waste. Although easier to clean—especially when washing away sticky sugars from fruit—glass or marble cutting boards should generally be avoided, as they will dull your knives faster than you will be able to sharpen them. High-quality wooden cutting boards are perhaps the best choice for most all-purpose chopping, and they will last longer than plastic cutting boards when properly maintained. However, high-quality plastic cutting boards are generally less expensive and are dishwasher safe for quick and easy cleaning and sanitizing.
Refrigerators and Ice Machines
Keeping your ingredients on hand makes for much quicker drink preparation. Under-counter refrigeration units at the prep/service area are the perfect way to keep your employees from having to constantly fetch ingredients from the back refrigerator, thus increasing efficiency and speeding up serving times.
As your juice-bar business picks up, you will also need to have a constant, replenishing supply of ice to keep things running smoothly. Since ice is a vital ingredient in smoothies and shakes, investing in a high-production ice machine means you won’t get caught without a fresh supply of ice during peak hours, which can be fatal to your business.
Smooth Sailing for Your Restaurant
Once the initial set-up of your juice bar is completed, feel free to have fun – and always listen to your customers’ feedback. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different fruit and veggie combinations to come up with something unique. You should also find out about what types of juices are trending, because you can use that information to appeal to new and old customers alike. Don’t forget to update your website and Facebook page to promote and feature your new additions. Then sit back and watch your restaurant’s smooth transition to the great juice, shake, and smoothie trend.