Fast-food customers are hearing something new as they order burgers, pizza and all things fried: Would you like wine with that?
No one's selling cases of McMerlot just yet, but a number of so-called "quick-serve" restaurants are adding beer and wine to the menu, partly to boost sales but also with an eye to amping up the ambiance.
"We simply wanted to create a different kind of dining experience," says Jeff Harvey, CEO and president of Burgerville, a 39-unit chain in the Northwest which recently added wine and beer to one of its restaurants in Vancouver, Washington.
More than typical take-out
The trend comes at a time when "quick serve" or "quick casual" restaurants – a restaurant that has counter service but aspires to offer something more than typical takeout – are looking to attract cash-strapped diners searching for cheaper options, but not willing to give up the amenities of full-service restaurants.
Among the quick serve restaurants selling alcohol is Denver-based Chipotle Mexican Grill, which sells beer and margaritas.
Meanwhile, Seattle-based Starbucks Corp. announced in July that it will change the name of one of its existing stores in Seattle – to 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea – and begin serving wine and beer as well as coffee and tea.
For Burgerville, wine and beer was a logical next step in their program of using local ingredients to create monthly dishes based on seasonal ingredients.
Sales are up
Sales are up at the Vancouver restaurant selling beer and wine, but says Harvey, "That wasn't our motivation. My measure of success is really more the dialogue that's happening at the tables."
At the three-location Shake Shack in New York City owners decided to sell beer and wine when the first restaurant opened at Madison Square Park five years ago.
The Shack even has its own beer, Shack Meister Ale, created by Brooklyn Brewery, as well as wines including Shack Chard and Shack Shiraz.
Like Burgerville, Shake Shack's plans to serve beer and wine drew concerns it would create problems, particularly since the restaurant is in a park.
"Of course, the opposite is true," Garutti says. "People hung out longer and made the park the safest it's been."
Serving beer and wine isn't a step to take lightly. Restaurants need to obtain a license, which can be a complex and expensive process, and the servers must be 21 or older and trained to serve alcohol.