CHICAGO — Starbucks is going big on booze.
Starbucks will expand its evening alcohol and light bites menu, which includes bacon-wrapped dates and Malbec wine, to thousands of stores, Chief Operating Officer Troy Alstead said in a phone interview. The rollout, which can help boost sales, will take several years, he said.
"We've tested it long enough in enough markets. This is a program that works," he said. "As we bring the evening program to stores, there's a meaningful increase in sales during that time of the day."
Starbucks has been focused on selling more non-coffee items, such as alcohol, juice, Teavana tea and food, to stoke U.S. growth. The company also is expanding and improving its rewards program and mobile applications. Earlier this month, Starbucks said it would soon test a way for customers to order items ahead of time with their smartphones.
Shares for the Seattle-based company has dropped 3.2 percent this year, compared with a 0.7 percent increase for the Standard & Poor's 500 Index.
The company first sold alcohol in October 2010 at a Seattle store. In January 2012, Starbucks said it was expanding the test to as many as 25 locations in Chicago, Atlanta and Southern California. In Chicago, the after-4 p.m. menu includes fare such as truffle macaroni and cheese, chicken skewers, Chardonnay and chocolate fondue.
The evening food and drinks, which are in about 40 stores now, won't work in all Starbucks cafes, Alstead said. He said they've seen success in some urban areas, near other restaurants and theaters, where people are out at night.
Last month, Chief Executive Officer Howard Schultz handed over the company's day-to-day operations to Alstead, so Schultz could focus more on digital, mobile, loyalty and electronic- commerce initiatives. The company said yesterday in a statement that its mobile-payment application has been gaining traction.