Burger Chain Debuts 'Wine Milk Shakes'

Red Robin: Making it safe for moms to drink hard liquor in front of the kids.

(Photo courtesy of Red Robin)

Mar 25, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Jason Best is a regular contributor to TakePart who has worked for Gourmet and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

With the rollout of its new wine milk shakes, family fun night at Red Robin just got a lot more enjoyable for parents.

Although nothing would seem to signal middle-aged despair quite like Mom in the corner booth sucking down a Mango Moscato Wine Shake (to be followed, no doubt, by somebody crying on the ride home), Red Robin’s chief marketing officer, Denny Marie Post, bills it as the chain “continuing to stay on the leading edge of fun trends,” reports USA Today.

Of the unholy concoction, a combination of vanilla soft serve, Moscato-flavored vodka, and Moscato wine, even Red Robin “master mixologist” Donna Ruch can’t seem to muster much good to say about it, describing the adults-only treat to CNN as “definitely sweet.”

And pricey. The wine shake will set you back $7.49. (Eh, forget about tickets to the seven o’clock movie; we’ll just swing by Redbox instead. “Waiter, I’ll have another!”)

Red Robin may be all smiles debuting its treacly, sneaky way for parents to drink hard liquor in front of the kids guilt-free—note that though it's being billed as a "wine" milk shake, it's got vodka in it—but it’s a gimmick that betrays a whiff of desperation.

True, the burger chain is faring better than many of its competitors in the “casual dining” sector—in industry parlance, that means a restaurant chain where someone actually waits on you, but you can still show up looking like a schlub. Red Robin posted a relatively respectable 3.7 percent gain in same-store sales for the fourth quarter, thanks in part to an overhaul of its appetizer and dessert menus and remodeling of its stores.

But casual dining as a whole is in trouble, with now ubiquitous, once seemingly unassailable chains like Olive Garden and Red Lobster struggling to remain relevant. Yep, it turns out folks won’t show up for unlimited salad and bread sticks forever.

Even as America creeps back from the Great Recession, casual dining chains continue to suffer lackluster sales, with a 2 percent slide reported overall in 2013 for outposts open at least a year, according to Yahoo! Finance. Customer traffic has declined for nine of the last 13 years.

Blame it on the surging popularity of “fast-casual” restaurants like Chipotle and Panera, some experts say. Or blame it on the fact that a country that spends its nights on the couch voyeur-eating the creations of chefs on the Food Network or on any of about a gazillion cooking competition shows just doesn’t find “Lobsterfest” as thrilling as it once did.

Then there’s the possibility that, for Gen Xers and Millennials, what signaled a sorta-special dinner out growing up may now only recall the tedium of returning to the burbs to visit the folks and sitting through yet another discussion about why the bread sticks “just don’t taste the way they used to.” Which will inevitably be followed by “A 10 percent tip is more than fair—he only came to refill our drinks once.”