More Fast Food Chains Now Selling Booze

USA Today: The trip to the fast-food joint that was once all about burgers and fries is increasingly about something that could require you to flash your ID: beer and wine.

In a bid to boost business, two Sonic restaurants in South Florida soon will sell beer and wine. The move follows Burger King "Whopper Bars" recently opened in Miami, Las Vegas and Kansas City that sell beer. Starbucks recently began to serve local beer and wine in a handful of Seattle stores.

In a tough economy, the move towards alcohol is a way to compete with casual dining — and can help boost typically slow evening business, says Ron Paul, president at Technomic, a restaurant consulting firm. "For consumers, it's basically about having it your way — even if it's having a beer with your burger."

But the trend has critics.

"Fast food plus fast alcohol equals fast drunks," warns Michele Simon, research and policy director at the Marin Institute, an alcohol industry watchdog group.

Beer or wine sold at fast-food outlets might give young folks the wrong message, adds Christopher Muller, dean at Boston University's School of Hospitality Administration. "You don't want someone downing a quick beer, then getting into their cars and driving off. It's a delicate balance of risk and reward."

Several fast-food chains clearly consider the reward worth the risk:

•Sonic. Later this summer, the chain plans its first attempt to sell alcohol at two new locations: one in Miami and one in Fort Lauderdale. The Miami unit will sell three types of draft beer, 25 kinds of bottled beer and 10 varieties of wine to customers who eat on its patio — but not to folks in cars, says Drew Ritger, SVP of business analysis. The Fort Lauderdale location will only sell beer and wine inside.

"We look at this as an opportunity to drive evening business in this market," says Ritger, who says there are no plans to expand alcohol sales outside of South Florida.

•Burger King. Besides the three domestic Whopper Bars that serve beer, there are three others that also serve brews in Singapore, Venezuela and Spain, says spokeswoman Lauren Kuzniar. A cold brew at a domestic Whopper Bar fetches about $4.25.

•Starbucks. Four Starbucks coffee shops in the Seattle area now sell beer and wine, and a fifth will begin selling alcoholic beverages in September, says spokeswoman Lisa Passe. Beer goes for $5 a bottle, and a glass of wine for up to $9.

Pizza Hut. The chain has sold beer for decades in many dine-in locations, and a handful of delivery/carry-out locations offer it, says spokesman Chris Fuller. A brew sells for up to $3.


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