All foodservice establishments need drinkware for guests, regardless of the style or volume of service. If you’re a foodservice operator, you may have been faced with the decision of whether to purchase glass or plastic drinkware. But with so many options, the choice can be difficult to navigate or even know where to start.
You have your bottom line to consider, as always, but what other areas of operation might be impacted by the material you choose? Most importantly, how will your decision impact your bottom line beyond the initial investment?
Here at G.E.T., we’re big fans of our customers getting the best bang for their buck, but also finding the perfect product to fit brand and service style needs. We’ve put together some key cost points to consider when deciding between plastic or glass drinkware.
Cost of Ownership for Plastic vs. Glass Drinkware in Foodservice
As preconceptions go, plenty of folks assume that the upfront cost of glass drinkware will always be more expensive than plastic. However, in foodservice at least, that's not always the case. Based on what you buy, you very well may pay more for the initial purchase of plastic drinkware than glass. But it's not the initial price you should be concerned with.
It's the overall cost of ownership, which boils down to the replacement rates of either material.
Replacement Rates Either Cost or Save Your Restaurant Money
If you walk away with only one point from this article, let it be this:
Plastic drinkware is replaced at 10%-20% annually compared to 50%-100% for glass drinkware
The contrast in replacement rates between these two materials can translate into different long-term outcomes for your bottom line.
Whichever material you prefer, you’ll eventually need to replace your inventory due to normal wear and tear, including chipping, cracking, and scratching (yes, glass can scratch just like plastic). The replacement percentages above assume that operators are practicing good care and maintenance and retiring their pieces from service when it's time to let them go (e.g., not using beat-up drinkware).
Since most foodservice operations use tumblers, we'll compare two similarly designed 16 oz. plastic and glass tumblers as a pricing example.
Two-Year Cost of Ownership Model Between 16 oz. Plastic and Glass Tumblers
Sample Price Per Dozen
Order Quantity by the Dozen
Low End Estimated Replacement Rate
Total Annual Cost for 1st Year
1st Year Savings
|$658.18, or 51%|
2nd Year Savings
|$374.02, or 87%|
We'll walk you through the math so you can figure your own costs if you need:
- Find the cost per dozen, then multiply by how many dozens you intend to order
- $24.16 x 24 = $579.84
- For plastic drinkware, add 10% to the result for the low end of the replacement rate, 20% for the high end
- Remember the replacement rate for glass is 50%-100%, so adjust accordingly if you're figuring for glass drinkware
- $579.84 + 57.98 = $637.82
- Find the difference between the initial costs for plastic drinkware vs. glass drinkware to find savings (or expenses) of one material over the other
- $1,296 - $637.82 = $658.18
- In this case, plastic is 51% of the cost of glass for the first year
- For the second year, take the difference of the two replacement rates (10% for plastic and 50% for glass). Then take the result ($374.02) and divide by the 50% replacement rate of the glass, multiply by 100 to get the percentage savings (or expense).
- $432 - $57.98 = $374.02
- $374.02 / $432 = 0.8657
- 0.8657 * 100 = 86.57%, or round up to 87%
The math clearly shows that plastic drinkware's low replacement rate can save you money in the long-term, regardless of how much you spend up front. Additionally, glass drinkware's higher replacement rate will increase your costs, further widening the savings gap between these two materials.
But we know that, although cost is a major factor for restaurateurs, the considerations don't stop there. So let's take a look at some other areas of your operation that can be affected depending on which drinkware material you select.
Pictured: Comparison of glass vs. plastic drinkware - can you tell which is which? Share your answer in the comments!
What to Consider Beyond Drinkware Costs and Why
Aesthetics of Plastic vs. Glass Drinkware
Without a doubt, the look of your drinkware matters for your brand positioning and guest expectations. The preconception that glass will always look better than plastic may have been true a few decades ago, but it’s no longer the case. Thanks to advancements in material technology and design, an abundance of plastic drinkware exists that mimics the look of glass so well you’d have to touch it to tell the difference.
Of course, there are some restaurant segments where:
- Drinkware that's obviously plastic is perfectly fine, like classic red tumblers often found in fast-casual settings
- Plastic drinkware that effectively mimics glass is more appropriate, like middle-tier, casual dining, and high-end hospitality poolside and patio service where glass is typically prohibited
- Glass drinkware is the only appropriate option, which is often the case with fine dining
If your operation falls within the segments in the first 2 bullets, the good news is that you now have more options than before in terms of style and levels of formality (not to mention helping your bottom line). If glass is the only acceptable option, you can now calculate your replacement rate and budget/set menu prices accordingly.
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Save Money by Increasing Guest and Staff Safety with Plastic Drinkware
Plastic drinkware’s durability far outweighs that of glass. Plastic isn’t break-proof – it can chip, scratch, and break – but in general withstands the rough handling common in high-volume foodservice. Glass drinkware, on the other hand, is likely to break if it’s bumped, struck against a hard surface, or even dropped just once.
Using plastic drinkware reduces the opportunity for guests and staff members to cut themselves, which saves you money in the long-term due to reducing injury claims. Workman's comp is also a significant expense for most operations. Finding ways to reduce these risks is critical to running a lean operation and keeping your employees and customers safe. It can even help maintain staffing levels because you won’t need to worry about broken glass drinkware injuring an employee mid-shift.
Ultimately, it’s up to individual operators to find the drinkware that works best for their operation. Now you have tools to help figure actual costs over the long-term, which will aid your decision-making.
Whatever your choice, we hope it’s one that serves you, your bottom line, and your guests well for years to come. If you’re interested in learning more about how tumblers made from different plastic materials perform in a commercial foodservice environment, you’ll enjoy “PC vs SAN Plastic Tumblers: What’s the Difference?”