Starbucks acquires a taste for booze

Ever drive by one of those cozy Starbucks coffee houses at night and think that those big stuffed armchairs would be a great place to relax with a bottle of beer or a glass of wine? Apparently the Seattle-based coffee chain agrees and is continuing to tiptoe into the liquor business.

Starbucks announced Monday that it will start offering beer, wine and premium food -- essentially a nighttime bar menu -- at a handful of stores in Atlanta and Southern California by the end of 2012.

Calling it a "a natural progression," Starbucks senior vice president Clarice Turner said: "We are always looking for ways to evolve and enhance the Starbucks experience based on what our customers are telling us.

Besides, the concept seems to be working in the handful of Pacific Northwest stores where it has been tested for more than a year. "We're pleased with the response of our customers to the introduction of wine, beer and premium foods at several of our stores in the Pacific Northwest, and we're excited to see how the idea translates to other markets," she said.

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Five stores in Seattle and one in Portland already serve wine, beer and bar food, and the company earlier announced plans to offer spirits in a few Chicago locations, too. Although the company will not provide details, it appears that offering alcohol draws more people into the company's coffee houses late at night -- an important way to boost same-store sales. By the same token, Starbucks is being careful about its offerings. There will be no Irish Coffee or other drinks with hard alcohol, which offer the potential of getting drunk and wired at the same time.

The wine and beer will be hand-selected to reflect local tastes and refined over time, according to the company. In addition, the locations chosen for bar fare will be revamped to offer "flexible seating" able to accommodate larger groups, such as book clubs and community meetings.

"It's less about the wine and beer as it is about creating a new occasion," a Starbucks spokesman told CBS.

Pricing details haven't yet been worked out, but Seattle Starbucks charge $5 for a beer, and a glass of wine runs between $7 and $9.

"Customers love our stores and have been looking for ways to enjoy them in the evening after work," the spokesman added.

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