Taco Bell to Open First US Location With Alcohol in Chicago

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Taco Bell Wicker Park Chicago alcohol beer wine

Taco Bell is joining Starbucks, Chipotle, Sonic, White Castle and Burger King in using alcohol sales to attract US customers to make it a hangout after work and into the evening—but only, so far, at one test location in Chicago.

A new location opening this summer in Chi-town’s hipster-friendly Wicker Park has applied for a liquor license to serve customers draft beer, glass of wine or a vodka-based Starburst Strawberry Freeze cocktail in a bid to make it more of a destination—or at least convince customers to relax and stay for a while.

If approved, its first licensed location in the US (it also sells alcohol at locations in South Korea, Japan and Spain) will serve as a model for other locations to serve alcohol. “We are always trying to stay relevant and listen to what people want,” said Rob Poetsch, Taco Bell’s director of public affairs, to USA Today. “I think it’s no secret that Taco Bell and late nights are synonymous. This model we’re testing is much more experiential.”

Taco Bell Chicago Wicker Park alcohol concept

“This concept is very different for us,” Poetsch added of its first US alcohol menu, which will include other “Twisted Freezes” (mixed alcohol frozen drinks) like Mtn Dew Baja Blast and Mtn Dew Sangarita Blast. “The one thing when you look at our restaurants is that we are not very well represented in urban areas.”

While it will offer a similar food menu to the company’s other 6,500 locations, it will have a different look and feel, with local art on the walls, an open kitchen and bar seating that may become a signature of its design for urban markets. It will also be about half the size of a traditional US location.

taco-bell-wicker-park-chicago-600

What it won’t have: a drive-thru window, which USA Today cites as accounting for about 70 percent of its sales, or a 24-hour opening policy, as the Yum Brands-owned chain isn’t applying for a late-hours liquor license.

Alcohol sales requires more employee diligence with ID, so Taco Bell “is ensuring that alcohol is served responsibly by requiring that all team members be trained to National Restaurant Association Guidelines and by hiring a third party secret shopper vendor to monitor alcohol sales.”

What’s more, alcohol consumption “will be restricted to inside the restaurant, and a new cup design will distinguish between non-alcohol and regular beverages.”

Yum! Brands was rumored to be eyeing the Wicker Park location for a second outpost of its US Taco concept, which had applied for a liquor license at its Huntingon Beach location but was turned down.

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