WASHINGTON — It’s been a long day at work, and your friends want to meet up to grab
a drink and a few appetizers. Where do you go?
Well, if you want to nosh on some bacon-wrapped dates, paired with a nice Chardonnay, Starbucks may be an option.
The company first launched its evening beer, wine and shared plates menu four years ago
in Seattle. Since, “Starbucks Evenings” has expanded to Chicago, Seattle, Portland,
L.A. and Atlanta — and it has plans to continue growing.
But Starbucks isn’t the only coffee company with its eye on the dinner crowd: Dunkin’
Donuts also plans to sell more dinner-friendly food in 2015.
What’s the motivation behind this trend of traditionally breakfast-oriented chains
going after dinner clientele? Brian Sozzi, retail analyst for TheStreet.com, says it’s
all about the money.
“These are publicly traded companies, and as a publicly traded company, you have a
goal, an obligation to your shareholders, to try to increase your stock price through
higher sales and profits,” he says.
“They look at the evening hours and say, ‘Hey. We want people to visit us after they
get out of work.’ Why haven’t they in the past? Because the menu items, they just
haven’t been set up.”
Setting up those menus is exactly what they’re doing now. Sozzi says Dunkin’ Donuts is
adding more steak options to its menu — both in its breakfast sandwiches and bakery
“Starbucks, on the other hand, is almost going to start to resemble a TGI Fridays or an
Applebee’s or even a Chili’s, and bring out small, shareable plates.”
These shareable plates include everything from grilled vegetables to Parmesan-crusted
chicken skewers, to truffle macaroni and cheese and artichoke and goat cheese
flatbread. A list of about 10 wines, and a selection of beers, is also available.
Even if your local Starbucks doesn’t offer the evening menu, Sozzi says, the company’s
shift into dinner is obvious with its newer “artisan” options, such as the Holiday
Turkey and Stuffing Panini, Hearty Veggie and Brown Rice Salad Bowl and Turkey Pesto Panini.
“That kind of gives you some insight that they’re starting to think about ‘How can I get dinner into so many other different items?'” Sozzi says.
And while Starbucks hopes to attract the customers who want to sit and stay for a
Dunkin’ Donuts’ dinner caters to a more on-the-go customer. Sozzi says Dunkin’s main competition is fast-food chains that are open for dinner.
“[Dunkin’ Donuts] is not set up to sit down in large groups. So for them, I think
you’ll see more portable options to feed people on the go,” Sozzi says.
Will the shift into appetizers ruin the reputation — and quality — of the brand
your Americano? Sozzi says it’s unlikely.
“It doesn’t hurt them to be known for something else, and ultimately, it increases
their sales; it increases their profits,” he says.
“Starbucks, and secondarily Dunkin’ Donuts, want you in their restaurants instead of
all these other places that are selling appetizers.”