September 15, 2015 / 12:16 PM / 2 years ago

Taco Bell joins fast-food booze bandwagon with new U.S. eateries

2 Min Read

A woman buys products at a Taco Bell restaurant in Paramus, New Jersey July 8, 2015.Eduardo Munoz

(Reuters) - Yum Brands Inc's <YUM.N > Taco Bell chain next week will debut a new restaurant concept that dumps the drive-thru and brings on the booze as it seeks to appeal to hip, young city dwellers and fend off popular rival Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc (CMG.N).

The first of the chain's new Taco Bell Cantina restaurants will open in Chicago's hipster Wicker Park neighborhood on Sept. 22, with a second later this month in San Francisco.

The Wicker Park restaurant will serve beer, wine, sangria and twisted freezes - frozen drinks spiked with rum, vodka or tequila. The San Francisco outlet will serve beer and wine only.

The Cantina restaurants, like Chipotle's roughly 1,900 restaurants, will have open kitchens. The Cantina restaurants also will offer a tapas-style menu of shareable appetizers during designated hours each evening, in addition to the standard Taco Bell menu.

Chipotle already offers alcohol at about 1,000 restaurants. Most of those sell both beer and margaritas, while some sell only beer.

The move from Taco Bell comes as U.S. restaurant chains experiment with new ways to add sales and lure customers.

Taco Bell, which recently had a huge hit with its Doritos Locos tacos, debuted a Chipotle-like "Cantina" menu a few years ago and is testing a separate urban taco concept called U.S. Taco Co in Huntington Beach, California.

On other fronts, 75 Starbucks Corp (SBUX.O) cafes offer that chain's "evenings" menu that includes craft, local and regional beer, wine and small plates of food. Starbucks goal is to have "evenings" in roughly 2,000 Starbucks locations by 2019.

Taco Bell, which now has more than 6,000 restaurants, plans to add 2,000 new restaurants by 2022. It did not say how many new or remodeled restaurants would become Taco Bell Cantinas.

Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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