Imagine taking a seat at a Carl's Jr. or some other fast-food restaurant and finding on the table one of those tents promoting the latest sandwich or dessert, only this one suggests that one kind of burger be paired with a Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon and that another be enjoyed with an Italian barbera.
The people at Carl's Jr. sent me just such a tent, and my immediate thought was: Wow, is a fast-food chain really going to offer diners wine as well as shakes and colas with their meals? The concept is old-hat in Europe. But when fast-food chains have suggested that they offer customers wine in the United States, they've quickly retreated in the face of complaints from neoprohibitionists who see McDonald's, Burger King, Carl's Jr. and the like as "family restaurants" incompatible with wine service.
I'm not going to predict that some fast-food chain again will try to add wine to its menu board in 2007, but I wouldn't be surprised if it were to happen. Wine is becoming increasingly accepted and accessible in American culture, and people who worry about the well-being of the dining public have shifted their prohibitionist impulses to other targets - for example, foie gras in Chicago and trans fats in New York, both banned this year. What will it be next year? Lard in Sacramento?
The Carl's Jr. table tent is a mock up for a special event, a tasting of various burgers and other sandwiches in conjunction with wines chosen by Wally's Wine & Spirits in Los Angeles. While Carl's Jr. "has no immediate plans to offer wine in the restaurants, we definitely encourage our patrons (of legal age, of course) to enjoy burgers and wine at home," said a spokeswoman for the company. A first step, perhaps.