If you ever doubt the importance of beverages to Americans, take a look around next time you’re out in public and notice how many people are toting water bottles, sipping sodas or carrying coffee containers. We can’t live without our liquids — and some restaurant chains are profiting from that fact by adding new beverage varieties.
Whether it’s alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages, customers today have gotten used to having more options when they eat out at a quick-serve or casual restaurant. Not satisfied with just your ordinary sodas, they expect fruit drinks, energy drinks and diet drinks. Realizing that beverages are a high-margin item, many franchises are looking to drinks as a growth area. For instance, Taco Bell recently announced it plans to add a wider selection of beverages, inspired by the success of its Fruitista Freeze smoothies.
In the latest twist, MSNBC.com reports that some quick-serve restaurants are adding beer and wine to their offerings. Chipotle Mexican Grill is one franchise that’s part of the trend; the Denver-based company has added beer and margaritas. Even Starbucks is testing a Seattle store that it’s dubbed 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea, which sells wine and beer along with coffee and tea. Burgerville, a 39-unit chain, recently began serving beer and wine at a Vancouver, Washington, location. The company says the menu addition was a natural extension of their philosophy—using local ingredients to create seasonal dishes. Burgerville’s sales have increased, and most customers have been happy to see alcohol on the menu.
Serving liquor can attract customers who are trading down from full-service restaurants, but still want a more festive dining experience than a takeout restaurant typically offers. For restaurant franchisees whose customers are tightening their belts, adding alcohol can encourage diners to linger longer and spend more money when they visit.
Adding alcohol also brings new regulations, of course, so this trend isn’t for every restaurant. Still, I am curious to see how this trend plays out and whether it takes a wider hold.