As America’s favorite beverage has gradually become an all-day affair, coffee distributors and roasteries have started thinking outside the box—the neighborhood café. While some business owners are banking on patrons’ thirst for coffee extending into the afternoon and evening hours, other entrepreneurs are having it both ways—coffee by day, wine by night.
Pushing The Limits
One reason restaurants are driven to offer tempting deals at “happy hour,” is a natural disinclination to purchase alcohol earlier in the day. This is partly due to an American stigma about when drinking alcohol is or is not appropriate, partly related to productivity at work, and partly a reflection of when sales of alcohol are permitted according to United States law. The effort to stretch that window of time when most Americans feel drinking alcohol conforms to etiquette, many bars and public venues cut their prices around 4pm or 5pm, which often helps to boost sales—taking advantage of what Restaurant.org calls “untapped day parts—can go a long way toward building a successful business.
In much the same way, most restaurant owners cherish the thought of selling coffee past 3 p.m., but they face significant challenges: some coffee drinkers don’t care to have caffeine in the evening. However, a smaller, but certainly devoted demographic of coffee drinkers continues to enjoy a late-night espresso, and restaurants have found a solution to meet this need—the coffee and wine bar, which is best described as a café that changes into a bar at an indeterminate time in the late-afternoon—generally, around the time patrons begin to switch from coffee to wine or beer.
The Coffee/Wine Revolution
Coffeehouse owners have discovered a significant trend—specialty coffee drinkers are a very similar demographic to those who like wine. Even more important is how much profit margin tends to increase once beer and wine are added to the menu; while the average café transaction is around $4.25 during the day, that number rises (particularly in the evening) once alcohol comes into play, to nearly $6.50.
The café also offers an alternative to the sports bar or club, as a place to sip a glass of wine in a mellower atmosphere. Increasingly, patrons who once left the café in the mid-afternoon are staying for happy hour, perhaps ordering a beer and a few appetizers along the way.
It was Western Europe that pioneered this cultural movement. The French, Italians and Spanish have been ordering espresso and liquor in the same restaurant—though not at the same time of day— for many years, and bars and cafés are seen as more or less synonymous (in fact, in Italy, ). SlowTravel France advises tourists to experience the classic café/bar throughout the day, “Have breakfast there (coffee and croissant or bread, butter and jam). Drop in for a pick-me-up coffee during the day. Most offer something sandwiches for a snack or a light lunch. Have a pre-dinner aperitif or glass of wine.”
The all-day café is standard-issue dining custom for Europeans, and it seems Americans are once more seeing the light.