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Alcohol in the Quick-Serve Setting

Quick-service restaurants are constantly searching for an x-factor that can set 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 on traditional value meals. In order to attract a larger, more diverse crowd in the evening, 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 attracting on-the-go customers looking for a fast meal a refreshing beverage on demand. Naturally this means the peak hours of service are during the morning and afternoon hours when customers are rushing to get to work or hustling about during the lunch hour.

Because of this, evening business may be a little slow. When the work day is over, people are 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 the traditional full-service restaurants, places where they can casually 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 of 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 more to consider than just reaping the profits. 

  • Attract the frugal-yet-refined crowd. With the economy still sluggish, thrifty diners want great deals without sacrificing quality. Offering quality food with local beer and wines 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, obviously serving alcoholic beverages to go is a no go. By selling beer and wine, you get more business flowing inside. 
  • Dispel the “fast food” myth. There can be a stigma associated with quick serve restaurants, whether it be unsavory atmospheres or cheapened 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 the classic Whopper 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 the waters 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 began testing the selling of beer, wine and cheeses at their Seattle locations with the hope of maintaining business throughout the day. The result so far has 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. 

  • Obtaining liquor licenses can be a tricky and expensive proposition. It requires familiarizing yourself with your state’s liquor laws from top to bottom. >>Learn more about liquor laws and licensing for your restaurant
  • Quick-serve restaurant employees skew younger than bar staff and wait staff at full-service restaurants. Depending on the state in which your establishment is located, you may find yourself in a bind with staffing. Most states require employees to be at least 18-years-old to serve alcoholic beverages. 
  • Monitoring who your staff sells to. Ensuring that your employees serve alcohol responsibly is paramount. While you might want to put trust in your employees to do the right thing, 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 an edge 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 just be the ticket to attracting new people to a whole new concept of quick-service restaurants.