- Smashburger has opened its first restaurant with a full-service bar, which sells beer and cocktails.
- Its chairman said there was huge “pent-up demand” to socialize and eat out.
- In contrast, other restaurant chains have abandoned dining rooms and focused on drive-thru.
Smashburger is experimenting with increasing its alcohol offering.
The fast-casual chain opened its first company-owned restaurant with a full-service bar in Denver in late March. In addition to draft and canned beer, the bar sells cocktails.
The move is part of Smashburger’s efforts to improve the overall fast-casual dining experience for consumers, chairman Carl Bachmann told Insider.
“I think American consumers are demanding more fast-casual,” Bachmann said, adding that diners wanted a better overall experience.
“When people walk in, we want to give them a premium product – taste being paramount,” Bachmann continued. “And we realized that we really had a great product when it was done right, and so to pair it with first-class cocktails and draft beers to give people the overall experience, we thought it was important.”
Some Smashburger restaurants already sell alcohol, although the Denver restaurant is the first Smashburger-owned restaurant with a full bar and liquor license, Bachmann said. He noted that some of the chain’s franchisees already have large bars in non-traditional spaces like airports.
Restaurants have redesigned their layouts and redesigned their sales channels during the pandemic to meet the growing demand for delivery and takeout. They’ve added additional drive-thru lanes, improved their apps, and even turned to shadow kitchens, which have no dining areas and only sell food for delivery.
Smashburger itself is working to provide multiple ordering and collection points at its restaurants, including food lockers and more drive-thru locations. Bachmann told Insider that about two-thirds of Smashburger’s orders are not consumed at its restaurants.
But as the economy continues to open up, restaurants are looking for ways to attract diners – and offering a wider selection of alcohol could be one of them.
During the pandemic, people have had to cut back on social activities and restaurant meals due to restrictions and closures, creating “pent-up demand,” Bachmann said.
“People have been locked in or scared to come out and it’s almost surreal to walk into a Smashburger and be able to sit down with your family and have a great meal,” he added.
Signature cocktails at Smashburger Restaurant in Denver include “Blackberry Smash”, “Smoke and Spice Margarita”, “Smash Rum Punch”, and “Coconut Mule”.
Many American bar owners have changed their cocktails to show their unity with Ukraine amid Russia’s invasion of the country. Some bar owners have told CNN they are renaming Moscow Mules to Kyiv Mules, for example.
According to Bachmann, however, the company does not stock any Russian products. “We really focus on domestic products, for the most part, so we don’t have Russian products in our restaurants today,” he said.
The addition of alcohol at Smashburger restaurants, according to Bachmann, is intended to appeal to a variety of demographics, “whether it’s a family walking in” or people who want a burger and a beer at the bar while they are watching a football game.
Bachmann said Smashburger is expected to test more restaurants with full-service bars, with a few openings in New York over the next few months.