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Alcohol in the Quick-Serve Setting
Alcohol in the Quick-Serve Setting

Quick-service restaurants are constantly searching for that special something that sets them apart from direct competitors, as well as full-service dining establishments. One emerging trend is offering alcoholic beverages on menus as a way to appeal to customers who are looking for a little variation of traditional value meals. In order to attract a larger and more diverse evening crowd, many quick-service restaurants have been integrating alcoholic beverages into their menu.

Why Alcohol and the Quick-Service Model Go Together

The great part about being a quick-service establishment is right in the name: quick service. This entails that you're attracting on-the-go customers who are looking for a fast meal and refreshing beverage on demand. Naturally, this means the peak hours of service are during the morning and afternoon when customers are rushing to get to work or hustling about during their lunch. Because of this, evening business may be a little slow. When the work day is over, people look forward to unwinding after a hard day’s work. And when they aren’t making dinner at home, they tend to gravitate more towards a traditional full-service restaurant where they can imbibe on an adult beverage with their dinner. With the built-in advantage of offering both cheaper menu items and virtually no wait time, quick-serve restaurants keep the in-and-out convenience in mind for evening mealtimes.

The Benefits of Selling Alcohol

Selling alcoholic beverages is profitable. Aside from just the sheer popularity and demand for draft beers, wines and spirits, is it cheaper and more efficient for someone to pour a beer than it is to prepare a meal. But there is still more to consider than just profits.

Attract the frugal yet refined crowd. With the economy still sluggish, thrifty diners want great deals without sacrificing quality. Offering good food with local beer and wine can bring in those micro-brew enthusiasts and vineyard connoisseurs.

Draw more patrons into your dining room. If you are a drive-thru or take-out establishment, serving alcoholic beverages to go is never a good idea. By selling beer and wine, you get more business flowing inside.

Dispel the “fast food” myth. Sometimes there can be a stigma associated with quick-serve restaurants. Whether it be an unsavory atmosphere or substandard food quality, by offering alcoholic beverages you can draw the attention of those finicky foodies and get the respect you deserve.

Examples of Quick Serves Selling Alcohol

Alcohol service has been a mainstay with quick-serve stalwarts like Chipotle, Qdoba and Noodles & Company. Chipotle and Qdoba offer domestic and imported beers, as well as margaritas to go with their speedy Mexican fare. Noodles & Company sells beer and wine to spruce up their pasta dishes.

In 2010, Burger King decided to tap into the under-30 demographic by testing the Whopper Bar in select locations. Aside from offering beer with their hamburgers, the chain also featured high-end ingredients to appeal to young bar crowds.

In an effort to attract more customers during evening hours, Sonic Drive-In tested this same idea in 2011 with two locations in Florida. Alcohol is served only to dine-in customers who sit on the patio.

Even Starbucks has toyed with the idea. With 70% of their business happening before 2 p.m., Starbucks has began to sell beer and wine at their Seattle locations in hopes of maintaining business throughout the day. So far the results have been positive. Six stores in the Portland and Seattle area have increased revenue by double digits after 4 p.m.

Challenges with Selling Alcohol

While serving alcohol can help diversify your menu and customer-base, it is not without its challenges.

Liquor License. Obtaining liquor licenses can be a tricky and expensive endeavor. It requires familiarizing yourself with your state’s liquor laws from top to bottom. Learn more about liquor laws and licensing for your restaurant.

Age Requirements. Depending on the state in which your establishment is located, you may find yourself in a bind with staffing if some of your employees are young enough that they need a work permit. Most states require employees to be at least 18-years-old to serve alcoholic beverages.

Who's Buying? Ensuring that your employees serve alcohol responsibly is paramount. Of course, you want to put trust in your employees to do the right thing, but ultimately the liability is yours. This can increase training expense as safe serving certification is often encouraged or required by state licensing boards.

Offering alcoholic beverages opens up a multitude of possibilities for quick-serve operators who are looking to gain a leg up on the competition. Consider the benefits and risks involved as you find a way to serve beer, wine or spirits efficiently and sensibly. Serving alcohol may be just the thing you're looking for to attract new people to an entirely different way of looking at quick-service restaurants.

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