As consumers manage restaurant checks by cutting back on beverages and ordering food-only at main meals, restaurant chains are driving incremental beverage-only occasions at other times during the day through the introduction of new beverages and beverage marketing efforts, according to market research company The NPD Group. For the year ending June 2012 total restaurant visits were flat whereas visits that included both food and beverage declined by 2 percent, according to NPD's Crest foodservice market research.

Consumers ordering beverages without food represent an increasing percentage of restaurant traffic and the occasions occur throughout the day, according to NPD's Expanded Beverage Service, which tracks all beverage foodservice occasions. The new foodservice beverage research finds that beverage-only foodservice occasions steadily increase during the morning, peak between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., and then gradually taper off through the late afternoon and evening hours.

Shakes, smoothies, slushy drinks, coffee and bottled water are among the beverages more likely to be consumed at a restaurant occasion that doesn't include food.

"Consumers are responding to new beverage introductions and the aggressive promotion of beverages, and as a result beverage-only has become a significant growth opportunity for the foodservice industry," said Kyle Olund, director, foodservice product development at NPD. "There is, however, a complexity to beverage-only foodservice occasions and it's important for foodservice operators and manufacturers to have a full understanding of the foodservice beverage landscape in order to capitalize on this growing and changing market."

Read more about trends and statistics.

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