In short, it seems like a sporadic and possibly short-lived
"This is a flash in the pan," said Harry Schuhmacher, editor of
Beer Business Daily, a leading beer trade publication. "I don't
think that people go into fast-food restaurants with the intention
of lounging and sticking around and having drinks." And "in the
case of Starbucks, people are looking for a quiet place to go, not
necessarily a raucous place to go. And alcohol can sometimes
transform the ambiance. I think it's a test , and I think these
guys are going to find the risks don't outweigh the benefits."
There are plenty of risks. For one, most states require that
people who handle or serve alcohol be at least 18 years old and be
supervised by someone age 21 or older, said Alex Heckathorn, a
consultant at Compliance Service of America, a consulting firm
providing alcoholic-beverage licensing assistance. This poses
complications for fast feeders that often hire minors. Mr.
Heckathorn also noted that many states require special alcohol
training for employees, a potentially costly and time-consuming
endeavor for fast-feeders relying on part-time help.
Starbucks mandates that all employees in booze-selling locations
be 21 or older, said Clarice Turner, senior VP-U.S. retail at
Further complicating matters, local licensing rules make it
nearly impossible for fast feeders to sell booze in some places.
"Fast-food menus would not qualify for licensing as a restaurant
because many jurisdictions define restaurants as places that serve
entrees, and entrees do not include sandwiches or salads," Mr.
Heckathorn said. "We have to remind clients on a routine basis that
hamburgers fall into the sandwich category."
So with all these hurdles, why are fast feeders even
experimenting in the first place?
Michael Schaefer, global head of consumer foodservice research
at Euromonitor International, said that since the recession, many
chains are looking to grab the group of consumers that are on tight
budgets but would otherwise want to go out for an informal dinner
Sonic agreed to serve alcohol in two Miami-Fort Lauderdale
locations at the request of one franchisee."[The franchisee] didn't
expect [alcohol sales] to be a huge part of the business, but the
competition around them offered beer and wine," said Drew Ritger,
senior VP-business planning and purchasing at Sonic.
Starbucks was looking to boost sales in the evening, when the
coffee giant typically sees lower traffic. Along with the booze,
Starbucks serves small plates of food, such as cured meats. Ms.
Turner noted that the alcohol option is attractive for customers
who don't want to go to a bar or restaurant, but still want to
relax somewhere before heading home.
Eric Giandelone, director-foodservice research at Mintel, said
Starbucks has the best chance of long-term success among the chains
because "they have so many locations that are in urban or walkable
areas that would get nighttime walking traffic."
Burger King in 2010 announced plans to sell beer in select
locations, but has run into roadblocks. For instance, Florida
regulators earlier this year ruled against a "Whopper Bar" in Miami
Beach, finding that four investors had common interests in both the
fast feeder and Anheuser-Busch, which violates rules meant to
separate alcohol makers from retailers. Burger King has appealed
the decision and can keep its license until a final decision is
rendered. The chain in 2010 had plans to offer beer at its Whopper
Bar near Times Square in New York, but was unable to get a liquor
license and has since given up on obtaining one.
Fast-casual chains such as Chipotle and Smashburger have long
served alcohol. But even the most successful ones are only
generating some 5% of sales from booze, said David Henkes, VP at
Technomic, a food-research group. Smashburger serves beer at more
than 90% of its 156 U.S. locations, said Tom Ryan, founder and
chief concept officer. "We knew from all the consumer research that
there were several key burger occasions that required alcohol,"
such as "date night, girls' night out or guys' night out," he