3 ways to entice delivery customers to add drinks

Illustration: Shutterstock

The boom in delivery provides great opportunity to get in front of new diners and upsell them on items such as extra sides and desserts. But those same diners may be less likely to add a beverage to their meals, given that they have options at home or work that can often be bought at the lower retail price. In fact, nearly half (48%) of operators at least somewhat agree that offering delivery hurts beverage sales. And it’s true: Of the 36% of consumers who say they are ordering delivery more often, 48% are ordering beverages less often as a result. Here, three operators share ways to recapture those high-margin beverage sales.

Offer on-brand, specialty beverages customers won’t find at home.

“Most of the items that are offered through beverage programs can be found at the consumer’s home or workplace, which isn’t exciting or a value-add,” says Tad Low, director of off-premise for Moe’s Southwest Grill, which is exploring the addition of specialty drinks such as Mexican Coke. The brand also offers a Moe-Rita—a margarita-inspired nonalcoholic beverage that can be mixed with alcohol by the customer —to capture drink sales on its catering orders.

Proprietary drinks win with delivery customers of McAlister’s Deli, a fast-casual concept that’s famous for its sweet tea. While McAlister’s offers delivery customers traditional options such as soda and lemonade, the sweet tea is the star performer. “It’s part of the McAlister’s heritage, so we absolutely overindex there on delivery,” says Robert Dimson, McAlister’s vice president of marketing.

Not every operator has a legacy beverage to lean on, he notes, but there are ways for restaurants to differentiate the beverage lineup. McAlister’s offers “shots” of various fruit purees, for example. “A half-tea, half-lemonade with a shot of peach puree isn’t something they’ll find at home,” Dimson says. “So even if you don’t have that iconic drink, you can still get creative.”

Bulk up.

For Church’s Chicken, it’s all about family-size meals featuring the signature fried bird and loads of sides such as gravy-topped mashed potatoes. To cater to families and other large groups, Church’s started selling half-gallon sizes (and full gallons in select areas) of its lemonade and sweet and unsweetened teas as part of delivery. This bulk offer started as a small four-week test in Miami, but almost from day one, it was clear they had a hit: Today, Church’s sells three times more bulk drinks via delivery compared to in-store.

“Honestly, we thought we’d sell less—that while people don’t want to take the time to make their own mac and cheese at home, they can grab their own drinks,” says Pete Servold, EVP of U.S. operations for Church's. “We were happily surprised. So don’t underestimate the demand for guests to have a drink with their meal. It’s just a matter of how it’s done.” In fact, the bulk lemonade and teas proved so popular that Church’s pulled bottled offerings from its delivery menu, “and it had no effect on sales,” Servold says.

Move beverages from the depths of the delivery menu.

Merely shifting the placement of beverage selections can have a massive impact, says Low: “If the drink menu is tucked all the way at the bottom, no one’s going to get there.” Moe’s is currently preparing to roll out a test of entree-and-beverage combo meals as an option for select delivery customers. The meal won’t be discounted compared to a la carte, but it will be placed high on the delivery menu. “It’s about placement and prioritization,” Low explains. “If you don’t treat beverages like an afterthought, consumers won’t either.”

In fact, potential in-app suggestions may help as well. Some 43% of consumers at least somewhat agree that server suggestions often influence them to consider trying a new beverage. A prompt on the digital ordering platform may garner the same interest from curious guests.

Members help make our journalism possible. Become a Restaurant Business member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.


Exclusive Content


Brands need to think creatively as the industry heads into a value war

The Bottom Line: Giving customers meal options they can afford will be key to generating traffic this year. But make sure those offers can generate a profit.


The Red Lobster bankruptcy is a seminal moment for the restaurant business

The Bottom Line: The seafood chain’s bankruptcy declaration was not surprising after months of closures and Endless Shrimp recriminations. But that doesn’t make it any less notable.


The White House has ideas about how all that AI on the Show floor should be used

Reality Check: President Biden issued a set of guidelines Thursday for protecting workers from the digital onslaught.


More from our partners