White Castle, known for its square "slider" burgers, is testing the sale of beer and wine. The 90-year-old chain is already selling glasses of wine for $4.50 and beer for $3 at a location in Lafayette, IN.
The Lafayette location is a dual-concept restaurant that houses a White Castle and a Blaze Modern BBQ, one of three new concepts being tested by the company. The burger joint is also testing an Asian food concept, Laughing Noodle, in Springfield, IL and Deckers, selling grilled sandwiches, in Lebanon, TN.
"This was something that customers had been suggesting," Jamie Richardson, a spokesman for White Castle System Inc. told the Chicago Tribune. "They thought that beer and wine might go nicely with the barbecue that was available at Blaze. We're certain that we might have some customers who might enjoy some sliders and a beer or wine as well."
Other fast food restaurants also are dabbling with alcohol. Earlier this year, Burger King opened its first Whopper Bar concept in South Beach selling beer and now has six across the country. Sonic began serving beer and wine this summer in two of its Florida locations. Chipotle Mexican Grill, one of the first large scale fast food restaurants in the U.S. to obtain a liquor licenses for a majority of its locations, is said to benefit not only from sales but from longer visits.
In Europe, alcohol sales in fast food chains are common. The first McDonald's to open in Munich in 1971 was the first worldwide to sell beer.
Sales at fast food chains have been flat over the last few years, partly due to heightened competition from sit-down restaurants like Applebee's and Chili's, as well as from coffee houses such as Starbucks, which now sells craft beers in its Northwest locations.
"Fast-casual restaurants have done well during these times as fast-food restaurants have struggled," Bonnie Riggs, an analyst with NPD Group, told the Columbus Dispatch. "So you're seeing fast-food companies trying to compete by raising the bar to meet a wider variety of needs."
One challenge for fast food chains is that much of their workforce is under 21. Given its in-and-out nature, some also see a higher chance of drunk driving. Christopher Muller, dean at Boston University's School of Hospitality Administration, told USA Today earlier this year, "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."
Are the risks of selling alcohol at fast food chains higher than at other food establishments?