Fast casual Smashburger is adding a bar

The better-burger chain said it is looking to capitalize on consumer desire to socialize following the pandemic.
illustration by Nico Heins

Fast-casual chain Smashburger on Friday opened its first location with a full bar.

While many quick-service brands are building prototypes without dining rooms and with contactless service, Smashburger’s president said his burger chain is bullish on consumer readiness to dine out and gather following the pandemic.

“I think what people are really looking for if you work from home five days a week, or even three or four days a week, people are looking for a social experience,” President Carl Bachmann said.

The new Smashburger opened in Denver, where the 250-unit chain is headquartered.

It features a separate bar area, with a bartender, serving fresh-made cocktails such as a Blackberry Smash, Smoke & Spice Margarita, Coconut Mule and more, as well as wine and beer.

Several more Smashburger restaurants with bars are planned in New York.

“This is definitely our test into it,” Bachmann said. “The key to it is the cocktails match the quality of our food.”

As consumers are paying more across all segments of food service, he said, they are demanding a more-premium experience.

“The high price of food and the high price of service demands a better experience,” he said. “The consumer is pushing the industry.”

But adding a bar doesn’t mean the chain is ignoring the massive shift to off-premise that has happened in the last couple of years.

Bachman said he sees the chain taking an “omnichannel” approach to serve customers who want to drop in and pick up an order, sit for a bit and have a drink at the bar and, soon, grab their food from an order-ahead drive-thru.

Smashburger intends to open its first “Smashlane” (the name is still subject to change) by the third quarter of this year in Houston.

A former bank building is being remodeled to house the restaurant and its order-ahead, pick-up drive-thru, which will closely resemble Chipotle Mexican Grill’s Chipotlanes, he said.

“That is definitely the wave of the future,” he said of the small-footprint drive-thru that will allow his chain’s food to continue to be prepared to order. “That allows us to not sacrifice our standards.”

Smashburger has remodeled 75% of its locations with an updated color scheme that’s more vibrant and modern.

It’s looking to re-launch a franchising push, which had been postponed during the pandemic, Bachmann said.

“It was really important to me that we really nailed the box economics, nailed the refresh of the brand,” he said. “There’s not only a fiscal responsibility, there’s an emotional responsibility, to make sure we set our franchisees up for success.”



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