The 411 Behind Four Recent Stories

Information on Four Recent Beverage News Stories Effecting Chain Restaurants The way restaurants sell and manage alcohol beverages was in the news recently, but what's the story behind the news?

1. Moonshine is here to stay.

Yet another high volume chain restaurant has added moonshine cocktails to the standard menu, signaling further acceptance of the unaged American whiskey. Even though definitions are slippery (some of these so-called moonshines could be sold in bottles marked “Vodka” and no one would complain), the style of unaged whiskey is hot and getting hotter. House of Blues just announced the addition of an Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine drink at a number of locations that did very well with a limited time offering this summer. As a result, their flavored apple pie shine and ‘shine soaked cherries join the chain list, according to Ole Smoky.

The drink - the Dolly - consists of equal parts apple pie moonshine and ginger ale with a splash of lime juice and the cherries for garnish. This follows placement of Ole Smoky drinks at Outback Steakhouse, and the spirit maker says Buffalo Wild Wings will also start serving up Ole Smoky Apple Pie Moonshine recipes at its 1,020 locations across the U.S. in November.

2. Keep your spats private.

In Texas, the owner of Deep Ellum Brewing Company alleged that a rep for Dallas restaurant Scotch and Sausage asked them to pay to sell Deep Ellum's beer at the restaurant. But the owner of Scotch and Sausage says that didn't happen. The problem is, this has all played out painfully publicly, on Facebook, of course.

Rightly or wrongly, the brewer started the public tussle by posting their complaint, saying “This is called pay-to-play, and although it happens all too often, it is illegal - not to mention, unethical.”

The Scotch and Sausage owner says he was not on-site when the sales call happened but said he is certain his employee did not ask for payment. The back and forth played out on Facebook for much of the day last week, with the net result being both parties sound as childish as any teenager in a Facebook spat. The lesson: If you have a complaint about a business encounter, resolve it in person or forget about it. Or expect the local authorities - in this case the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission - to start an investigation. Which is just what happened.

3. Will Chipotle learn how to sell alcohol?

Chipotle introduced hand-made Margaritas made with top shelf ingredients more than a year ago, but according to Bret Thorn at Nation’s Restaurant News, sales are disappointing, only two percent of sales, about a quarter of the percentage what Olive Garden and Red Lobster ring up.

Chipotle's bottled beers and Margaritas aren’t making a dent in their lunch- and take-out-heavy business, and at counter service places like theirs, there’s little time to contemplate the extra $5 - 10 of those drinks cost. And with take-out orders accounting for two-thirds of Chipotle transactions, according to Chipotle Chief Financial Officer Jack Hartung, that cuts out a giant majority of chain orders not eligible for alcohol. And few Chipotle units are conducive to lingering over any sort of drink at rush hours, with long lines crowding the space. The question is: how long will Chipotle hang in there before 86ing their Margs?

4. Save your breadsticks but sell more alcohol.

Olive Garden is getting heat from investors looking to spruce up parent company Darden Restaurants, with a major group asking Olive Garden to limit the free breadsticks, add salt when they cook their pasta, and find a way to sell more drinks.

Among the moves the investors outlined in a presentation: Improve Olive Garden's food quality and alcohol sales, introduce technology to reduce waiting times at restaurants and cut millions in costs. The investor group Starboard said the opportunity to sell more alcohol at Darden chains had the potential to create $56 million in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. That’s a lot of Hospitaliano!

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