Smashburger has opened its first restaurant with a full-service bar, which its president says will elevate the fast-casual dining experience
- Smashburger has opened its first restaurant with a full-service bar, which sells beer and cocktails.
- Its president said there’s huge “pent-up demand” to socialize and eat out.
- In contrast, other restaurant chains have been ditching dining rooms and focusing on drive-thru.
Smashburger is experimenting with ramping up its alcohol offering.
The fast-casual chain opened its first corporate-owned restaurant with a full-service bar in Denver in late March. As well as beer on draft and in cans, the bar sells cocktails.
The move is part of Smashburger’s effort to elevate the overall fast-casual dining experience for consumers, president Carl Bachmann told Insider.
“I think consumers in the US are demanding more out of fast-casual,” Bachmann said, adding that diners wanted a better overall experience.
“When people come in, we want to give them an elevated product — taste being paramount,” Bachmann continued. “And we realised we really have 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 was important.”
Some Smashburger restaurants already sell alcohol, though the Denver restaurant is Smashburger’s first corporate-owned restaurant with a full bar and alcohol license, Bachmann said. He noted that some of the chain’s franchisees already had large bars in non-traditional spaces like airports.
Restaurants have been redesigning their layouts and rethinking their sales channels during the pandemic to cater to soaring demand for delivery and takeout. They’ve been adding extra drive-thru lanes, boosting their apps, and even turning to ghost kitchens, which don’t have dining rooms and only sell food for delivery.
Smashburger itself is knuckling down on providing multiple order and collection points in its restaurants, including food lockers and more drive-thru sites. Bachmann told Insider that around two-thirds of Smashburger orders aren’t eaten in its restaurants.
But as the economy continues to open up, restaurants are looking for ways to lure diners in – and offering a wider selection of alcohol could be part of this.
During the pandemic, people have had to cut back on socializing and dining out due to restrictions and lockdowns, creating “pent-up demand,” Bachmann said.
“People have been locked down or fearful to go 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 the Smashburger restaurant in Denver include “Blackberry Smash,” ‘Smoke and Spice Margarita,” “Smash Rum Punch,” and “Coconut Mule.”
Many American bar owners have been switching up their cocktails to show unity with Ukraine amid Russia’s invasion of the country. Some bar owners told CNN they were renaming Moscow Mules to Kyiv Mules, for example.
According to Bachmann, however, the company doesn’t stock any Russian products. “We really focus on domestic products, for the most part so we don’t have any Russian products in our restaurants today,” he said.
The addition of alcohol to Smashburger restaurants, per Bachmann, is intended to appeal to a variety of demographics, “whether it’s a family that comes in” or people who want a burger and beer at the bar while they watch a ball game.
Bachmann said there are plans for Smashburger to test more restaurants with full-service bars, with a few opening in New York City over the next few months.