Fast Casual Restaurants Serving Up a Tasty Change

Fast casual restaurants like Five Guys and Chipotle are known for their premium food and contemporary décor.

But many of these brands have discovered a way to not only distinguish themselves from their fast-food counterparts but also pull in business from fine dining and other establishments – and that’s by putting beer, wine and liquor right on the menu.

Up until recently, QSRs in Europe were the only fast casuals allowed to sell booze. Here in the U.S., strict laws, local politics, watchdog groups and more conservative mindsets have kept liquor licenses out of the hands of many fast casual owners.

There’s an important reason alcohol on the menu at a fast casual restaurant makes sense. It’s good for business.

The National Restaurant Association recently pointed out that alcohol could help to lure affluent customers, even in a fast casual environment. With high-margin alcohol sales, owners of these establishments could see big dividends by giving beer, wine and liquor offerings a chance.

Let’s take a look at a few of the fast casuals leading the alcohol-laden charge.

  • You would never expect to walk into a Taco Bell and be able to order beer, would you? Well, you would if you walked into Yum! Brands’ new sleeker, more millennial-friendly Taco Bell in Chicago, which now sports wine, beer, and alcohol “freezes” on the menu.
  • Burger King recently opened its Whopper Bar in South Beach, where it offers a small selection of domestic beers by the aluminum bottle.
  • Noodles and Company sells beer and wine to complement its pasta dishes.
  • Smashburger offers burgers-and-beer pairings, which are proving to be quite popular with the happy hour and late night crowds.
  • Chipotle now offers margaritas in many of its stores, which have recently been upgraded with fresh citrus juice.
  • Blaze Pizza – a rapidly growing chain in California – offers beer and wine pairings in many of its establishments, which has been shown to boost its top-line sales by 5-7%.
  • Other honorable mentions include Shake Shack, Baja Fresh, Qdoba, and even Starbucks and Sonic Drive-In.

And the list continues to grow…

If you own or otherwise run a fast casual restaurant, here is why you might want to consider following in these major brands’ footsteps.

It’s Profitable: Due to the high-margin potential of beer, wine, and alcohol, putting booze on the menu can significantly increase your bottom line.

Attracts the Budget-Conscious Yet Refined Consumer: Millennials like to stick to their budgets, but they don’t always want to stick to fast food. They want a more upscale environment paired with quality food. Members of this generation also love their alcohol, and are more likely to experiment with different kinds of drinks.

Draws More Customers Into Your Dining Room: A fast casual dine-in can get more business flowing inside during happy hour and late night.

Eliminates the Veto Vote: By adding alcohol to the menu, fast casuals won’t just steal back quick service customers, but they’ll gain those customers who would otherwise choose not to dine somewhere that doesn’t serve alcohol.

The lesson is clear. For fast casual owners looking to lure more affluent and post-recession customers, making an investment in a liquor license and an extensive beverage menu is an option worth considering.