When The Polite Pig opened in April at the Disney Springs dining and entertainment complex at Walt Disney World Resort, management projected alcohol to account for around 10% of total sales. But four months in, sales of beer, wine and cocktails at the fast-casual barbecue spot reached 22%—quadruple what other limited-service concepts were doing in the park. “The tap system is what’s making [those numbers] work,” says James Petrakis, co-owner of The Polite Pig.
Offering drinks on tap is not a new idea for fast casuals. But some are going beyond the expected bulk wines, beers and margaritas, meeting demand for premium drinks, food pairings and greater variety with their tap selections—sometimes turning to tech to raise the bar on booze. Read on to see how.
Doing double duty
Petrakis, who also owns a brewery and a full-service restaurant, drew on his bar experience for The Polite Pig. He had the same utility company that supplies its cooking gas run carbon dioxide lines to the restaurant’s cocktail kegs as well as the usual beer kegs. The carbonation keeps the cocktails effervescent, he says, thus eliminating the need to turn the kegs to blend the ingredients after they settle. The resulting sparkling cocktails include a whiskey smash (a top seller), an Old-Fashioned and a Cuba libre.
The Roast by Whole Foods Market, a standalone fast casual that opened in June adjacent to an Atlanta store, offers 12 seasonally changing drinks on tap that complement The Roast’s Brazilian churrasco-style menu. Along with local draft beers, there are cocktails such as a Southern Prescription Julep and the Peachy Duck.
Guests order food from kiosks, then belly up to the counter for an alcoholic beverage as they wait for their customized fire-roasted bowl or roasted chicken over grits. The taps’ positioning behind the registers and oversize signage have spurred purchase, says Quentin Arndt, prepared foods director for Whole Foods Market’s South region, even though the alcohol flows only during evening hours
Curating the list
For The Sosta, a new fast-casual Italian spot in New York City, co-founder Ali LaRaia reached out to boutique wineries, convincing them to convert some of their wines into bag-in-box packaging for her tap system. They bought into the idea when LaRaia shared her plans to expand The Sosta and emphasized the opportunity to grow with the concept. Plastic and cardboard also is cheaper to ship than bottles. The result is a highly curated short list of food-friendly keg wines, says LaRaia, including a dry rose, a Barbera blend and organic whites, all $7 a glass. Beers also are available on tap. “If you have beer lines, it’s easy to switch over to wine, and vice versa,” says LaRaia. “We’ll see what sells best and swap things in and out.”
With The Sosta’s July opening, LaRaia added three summery spritzes to the menu, too, made by pulling prosecco or white wine from the tap and adding an aperitif, club soda, and mint or citrus juice.