NEW ALBANY, Ohio (COLUMBUS BUSINESS FIRST) — Bob Evans Restaurants is rounding up liquor licenses in Ohio, but don’t expect beer and wine to be added to menus soon.

After the successful addition of alcohol to restaurants in Florida, Indiana, and West Virginia, the company is plotting expansion in Ohio and is looking at other states in its footprint.

“We’re not going to be a bar business, obviously,” CEO Saed Mohseni said. “But we want there to be an option for those who want it. Some guests might not even notice that we have alcohol.”

Beer and wine are coming to Ohio restaurants, but it could still take a few years. Though Bob Evans is applying for licenses around the state, it won’t add alcohol until it has enough licenses to give it critical mass. Mohseni said he expects that will take some time.

“We don’t want customers to have a dissimilar experience,” he said. “We don’t want them to be able to have a drink at one location, but not at another across town.”

But why is a traditional chain with down home dishes like the Rise & Shine and its Dinner Bell entrees adding beer and wine?

The thinking behind the addition was simple – enough customers were asking for it, be that a beer with dinner or a mimosa at brunch, Chief Marketing Officer Bob Holtcamp said.

There’s also industry momentum. Bob Evans actually is a slower adopter than others in its family dining space as the likes of First Watch, Denny’s, IHOP and Cracker Barrell either already were testing the idea or have rolled it out.

“It’s not going to be a driver of business, but it’s a nice add-on,” Mohseni said. “It’s not going to be a large percentage of sales, but it can eliminate that no vote.”

If a group wants to go out for a meal but one of them wants a glass of wine or bottle of beer, now Bob Evans can be part of the conversation.  

Holtcamp sees it as yet another innovation to keep customers happy and coming back, no different than moves in recent years towards fresher producer and better meat suppliers and improvements with customer service.

The goal is simple operations. There restaurants that do offer alcohol have a small selection of bottled beer including Budweiser, Bud Light and Yuengling, plus bottled, single-serve wines including a sparking wine, a white zinfandel and a cabernet. Staff isn’t pouring any drinks or uncorking wine tableside. No liquor. No cocktails.

Chief Operating Officer Mickey Mills said the addition did require more training for staff, and that the teams have embraced it.

Drinks, where offered, are available throughout the day, though to no surprise sales are coming after 5 p.m. in the evenings and at brunch on the weekends.

As for the most popular drink in the restaurants that have alcohol? It’s mimosas. The combination of Bob Evans’ orange juice with sparkling wine thus far accounts for 50% of its alcohol sales.

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