What is in this article?:
- Fast-casual chains ramp up alcohol offerings
- Tapping consumer demand
Offering upgraded beverages can help fast-casual chains boost dinner sales and enhance the overall guest experience.
Beer and wine — or even wine-based margaritas — have long been a part of fast-casual chain restaurant menus, but a growing number of concepts are ramping up their alcohol offerings to stand out from the crowd.
Last year, Smashburger launched a new craft beer pairings program that matches local brews with burgers on its menu. The Denver-based chain plans to bring the program to six markets this year.
Chipotle Mexican Grill is also testing the offer of local craft beers in Chicago in partnership with the 5 Rabbit brewery.
The Dallas-based Snappy Salads chain is seeking approval to add beer and wine for the first time at a unit in Richardson, Texas.
The 90-unit Freebirds World Burritos offers a selection of beers, including some on draft and craft brews like Shiner Bock, Saint Arnold and Shock Top alongside national Mexican and domestic brands like Corona, Dos Equis and Budweiser. Some franchised locations also serve tequila-based margaritas, which are unusual in the fast-casual Mexican realm.
Noodles & Co. has been testing an expanded beer and wine program that includes an upgrade to the experience, with new glassware and a focus on “wines from around the world and beers from down the street.”
And six-unit Los Angeles-based Pitfire Artisan Pizza chain recently opened a location with a full liquor license. Though the chain has long offered beer and wine, the Costa Mesa, Calif.-based restaurant will feature a speakeasy concept with a full bar, called Pie Society, in the back of the freestanding unit.
One reason fast-casual concepts may be focusing more on differentiated alcohol opportunities is the fact that some quick-service competitors are also experimenting with adult beverages.
Sonic, Burger King, Johnny Rockets and Burgerville have been testing beer and wine additions, and Starbucks is increasingly adding alcohol to certain markets to build sales later in the day.
Introducing alcohol into the menu mix is not without challenges. There are training costs, varying state laws and permit processes.
However, for fast-casual concepts, offering more upgraded beverages helps boost dinner sales and enhances the overall guest experience. The addition of local craft beers that vary by restaurant also enhances the “anti-chain” vibe sought by a growing number of concepts.