Tapping the pre-club crowd

July 28, 2011

Beer and wine at fast food restaurants could generate new waves of post-dinner customers.

By serving beer (and sometimes wine) in select locations, Sonic, Burger King, Starbucks and potentially other fast-feeders vie for evening traffic. More than adults that might want a casual drink with their low-cost meal, The Lempert Report thinks they’ll successfully tap the pre-clubbing crowd aiming to build an early buzz at far less than $15 per drink.

These drinkers would already have their designated drivers, and they’d be arriving long after most families and children have dined. No buzz-kill there for them, and they’d be in well-lit, highly accessible locations where they could easily meet up with their friends. Whole Foods, Wegmans and Schnuck Markets have served beer and wine with similar effect.

Alcohol could bring a new cycle of customers during typically slow post-dinner hours, and generate incremental traffic and sales. Since these drinkers want to move onto their clubs and into their nights out, we don’t envision them becoming the new neighborhood bars. Rather we see their purpose as short-stay and meet-up points.

The fast-food operators might need to take steps to ensure the integrity of this business. Among them: hire servers of legal age to dispense alcoholic beverages, card buyers to ensure they’re old enough to drink, and perhaps monitor for designated drivers, limit the number of drinks anyone could have or limit the hours during which they serve alcoholic beverages.

Risk can be managed. For example, a senior vice president of Sonic told USA Today that its new Miami and Fort Lauderdale locations will serve beer and wine later this summer to customers who eat on its patio, but not to anyone in cars. 

Depending on the last-call times at clubs in different markets, the post-drink crowd could also develop into another opportunity to sell food at fast-feeders.