Shake It Up
Milkshakes' enduring appeal is strong enough to build brands around
Milkshakes exude an allure that most customers find hard to resist. Thick and creamy with dizzying flavors, the frozen concoction holds a host of joyful memories for guests in almost all industry segments. What’s not to like about sipping happiness through a red-striped straw?
Operators know that each menu item plays a role in building sales, and milkshakes are no exception. With competition for consumers’ dollars more fierce than ever, it is worth remembering that a beverage as simple as a milkshake can enhance brand identity. Fuddruckers, In-N-Out Burger, Johnny Rockets, Steak ’n Shake and other chains have nurtured reputations for high-quality milkshakes.
Hand-dipped shakes made with superior ice cream help operators stand out from the pack. Developing more-complex taste profiles and giving the frozen treat a seasonal spin also add excitement to the beverage menu.
|The Burgerville chain keeps customers returning with new milkshake creations that incoporate seasonal fruits.
Shakes have enough drawing power to serve as limited-time promotions. San Diego-based Jack in the Box, for example, offered an Ultimate Berry Shake (vanilla ice cream and strawberries, blackberries and raspberries) as a Father’s Day treat. At Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, students are enticed with a milkshake bar.
When dining services at the University of Chicago (an Aramark account) decided to replace the C-Shop coffee shop, Einstein Bros. Bagels was student focus groups’ top choice as successor. However, one major concern was voiced and accommodated: The C-Shop’s tradition of $1 milkshakes on Wednesdays continues at the new branded bagel unit.
The best and brightest flavors
DeDe Lahman and Neil Kleinberg of the Clinton Street Baking Company can identify with the simple pleasure of milkshakes. When they launched their neighborhood restaurant last year on New York City’s Lower East Side, they decided to serve the everyday foods that they most enjoy eating. Their list of personal favorites included house-made potato chips, hefty cheeseburgers, Vidalia onion rings, pancakes with maple syrup and, of course, a variety of milkshakes.
Their stipulation was that the menu would be built upon the best available ingredients—right down to ice cream, which is produced in small batches by a local business. “It’s not that the ice cream is richer or sweeter than others but that its flavors taste real. The vanilla tastes the way vanilla should, and the strawberry tastes like strawberry. Great ice cream makes a difference,” says Lahman. “We have a very loyal clientele. A lot of them come just for milkshakes.”
Shakes are blended with whole milk but no flavorings unless the beverage is a Black and White. In that case, house-made fudge blends with vanilla ice cream and just enough milk to achieve the right consistency.
|Clinton Street Baking Company uses locally made, small-batch ice cream as the base for its milkshakes.
Kleinberg applies the same techniques to mixing a milkshake that he does to crafting an entrée, layering ingredients for depth and weighing contrasting flavors for balance. For a berry shake, strawberry ice cream is blended with fresh blueberries, strawberries and raspberries. Chocolate-raspberry shakes mix chocolate ice cream, fresh raspberries and house-made raspberry sauce reduced to intensify flavor. The restaurant’s mocha-espresso milkshake whirls chocolate and vanilla ice cream with hot fudge, espresso and milk.
Quick-service chains are the prime purveyors of milkshakes, with 73% of QSR operators offering the treats, according to Reed Research Group/R&I Menu Census data. But healthcare, colleges and business-and-industry foodservice operations rate milkshakes as strong sellers as well.
At Burgerville, a 39-unit chain based in Portland, Ore., the most popular shakes are seasonal creations, says George Brown, executive chef. California strawberries are late-April ingredients, giving way to Oregon varieties by early June. Raspberry shakes appear in July and then blackberry shakes move in. “We went through 65,000 pounds of berries for blackberry shakes last year—our single most popular,” Brown says. The shakes begin with vanilla ice cream flavored with seasonal fruit made into a compote with citric acid and sugar.
When cooler weather approaches, the chain rolls out pumpkin, caramel-apple and eggnog shakes. “I can come up with a million ideas, but we like asking our customers what they like,” says Brown. “Whatever we do, it has to be tied with the Northwest. It’s been a pretty successful approach for us.”
Mixing milkshakes is a simple affair: ice cream, liquid and a choice of flavorings. Correct amounts and techniques, however, transform a good shake into a memorable one.
- Ice cream to a milkshake is like stock to a soup. Start with a quality base.
- Add liquids to ice cream slowly to create greater volume and lightness.
- For optimal flavor, match flavorings with ice cream. For instance, strawberries blended with strawberry ice cream.
- Use ripe fruit to flavor milkshakes. Intensify flavor by adding citrus to fruits, such as lemon juice to puréed raspberries or blueberries.
- Consider classic dessert pairings to add excitement to shake choices: lavender and vanilla; mint and chocolate; and strawberry and chocolate.
- Top shakes with whipped cream for added flavor and presentation appeal.
A classic comfort food, milkshakes are menu favorites in settings from drive-ins to fine dining.
Assorted cookies with vanilla malted milkshake
Chocolate-banana frappé (chocolate ice cream blended with ripe banana, milk and syrup); tropical fruit frappé (ripe banana, coconut-pineapple ice cream, milk and crushed pineapple)
Cabot’s Ice Cream & Restaurant, Newton, Mass.
Satyricon milkshake (espresso, chocolate ice cream and orange juice); Casanova (espresso, coffee ice cream and cola)
Fellini’s Cafe, New Orleans
Sugar-free peach milkshake
Holy Name Hospital, Teaneck, N.J.
Espresso, fresh banana, pineapple, butterscotch or coffee milkshakes
Mel’s Drive-In, multiple locations
Create-your-own shakes with chocolate syrup, peanut butter, caramel, pineapple and blueberries
Moon’s Kitchen Cafe, Boise, Idaho
Almond, caramel, chocolate, coconut, hazelnut, raspberry or vanilla milkshakes
Phillips European Restaurant, Rochester, N.Y.
Strawberry cheesecake (above) or banana cream pie shakes
Sonic Drive-In, multiple locations
Cool Jazz Blast coffee milkshakes
University of Maryland, Baltimore County (Sodexho USA)