McMoonshine? Fast-food outlets add booze to menus

Ever sat down for a meal at a fast-food restaurant, spread a paper napkin across your lap, picked up your plastic fork and thought, "Gee, I'd like a glass of wine with this mass-produced burger?" If you have, this news might appeal to you: A growing number of casual eateries are adding alcoholic drinks such as wine to their beverage offerings.

Full-service restaurants have been having a tough go of it during this recession as diners flocked to the kind of cheap, casual eateries called "quick-service" in industry parlance. These establishments are characterized by their no-frills atmospheres and cheap (think $10 or less) prices. Now, quick-service eateries are stepping up their game, muscling into the adult-beverage territory that more expensive dining establishments used to monopolize.

Chipotle Mexican Grill offers patrons beer and margaritas, and a chain called Burgerville in the Pacific Northwest added beer and wine to the menu at one of its locations. Even Starbucks is getting in on the game. With coffee sales coming under fire when competitors like McDonald's decided to take aim at its upscale image and repackage it with a "value" spin, the Seattle-based purveyor is setting its sights on a new category of beverages the Golden Arches can't match -- for now, at least. Starbucks is rebranding one of the stores in its headquarters city, calling it "15th Avenue Coffee and Tea," and serving beer and wine along with java and tea.

As a business move, this is a pretty smart one. Alcohol is traditionally a high-profit item (a pretty typical markup on bottles of wine at sit-down restaurants is 100%, and it can climb into the stratosphere from there). In addition, wine consumption in the U.S. hit an all-time high last year, according to this article, which means diners increasingly want to pair their vittles with some vino.


Marketing experts also talk about the "value perception" offering alcoholic beverages gives businesses: essentially, you're apt to think you're dining at a nicer place if there's a Pinot Noir or a Pinot Grigio on the menu.

While we'd be hard-pressed to think of a wine -- any wine -- that would complement a double- or triple-stacked burger and a sleeve of fries, we'd look forward to some McDownward Pressure on liquor prices when dining out. This article speculates that the markup on wine at quick-serve eateries could be in the 50% range, which would be a welcome outcome. (Before you fire off a comment about how that's still outrageous, consider the fact that you could probably buy a whole bottle of soda at the grocery store for what you pay for 20 ounces or so in a waxed paper cup.) Just remember: If you're hankering for a Chardonnay to go with your chicken sandwich, you'll have to skip the drive-thru!
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