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Adding Alcohol in Restaurant Menus To Boost Sales: Is It Worth The Trouble?

Some restaurant chains have tried offering alcohol in their menus in the hope of boosting revenues, but realized that the move might not be worth the effort at all.

Restaurants that normally focus on cheap and quick daytime meals have tried experimenting with alcohol in their menus. Chains like Sonic, Burger King, Starbucks, the New York chain Guy & Gallard, and the London-based sandwich maker Pret a Manger all thought that with alcohol in their menu and menu card holders, restaurant revenue will shoot up and increase. It is, after all, considered as a high-margin item on a menu.

“The past years had been very challenging for restaurants across the U.S., and everyone’s just trying various ways to get consumers to visit their establishments,” said NPD Group’s restaurant industry analyst Bonnie Riggs. “Alcoholic beverages are known to be very profitable.”

Most of the restaurant chains, however, are claiming that the menu changes they implemented to accommodate the sales of beer and wine have proven to be more trouble than reward. It turns out that customers don’t think much of pairing their value meals with any kind of wine. Add the fact that the logistics involved in selling alcoholic beverages can be really troublesome and costly; there are just too many hindrances connected with the move—acquiring permits; training of staff who doesn’t stay long enough; slowing down of service because IDs need to be checked; and devoting a specific area solely for alcohol service.

“Quick-service restaurants aren’t really meant to be bars,” according to David Henkes, an alcohol adviser at Technomic. “If you will base it on the sales that are generated from selling alcohol, it’s not really advisable for restaurants to pursue the effort.”

“Another issue that confronts quick-service restaurants is the age of its employees, who are often under the legal age of 21,” said James Seff, a lawyer at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman law firm. Seff acts as advisor for numerous breweries and wineries in the country. “Regulatory authorities would go after these restaurants should it notice that they serve to minors.” To top the other hurdles, restaurants often have to go to the extent of hiring security guards to ward off underage drinkers. Insurance rates are also sure to increase.

If asked about the returns, restaurants say that customers aren’t really keen on buying the beverages at all. “All these efforts to include alcohol in our menu and menu card holders don’t seem to be a big deal to the customers—it’s quite clear that the reason they visit us is for the food, not the alcohol,” said Drew Ritger, vice president at Sonic. “They just seem to have accepted the fact that most fast-food restaurants in America do not offer wine, beer or any other alcoholic drinks. They’re used to that idea.”

But there are those that are seemingly doing well, albeit treading cautiously. Other than Sonic, Pret a Manger is now selling alcohol in several of its airport stores, while Starbucks is currently experimenting on beer and wine sales in five of its Pacific Northwest locations. Burger King has started their move last year, and despite some controversies that went along with it, they seem to be faring well.