Are Automated Bar Systems the Future?
Around the world, business owners are implementing advanced technology as a means of improving efficiency while reducing overhead costs. Automation in point-of-sale systems and service delivery has risen to the forefront of this emerging technology trend, including such customer service-oriented stalwarts like the bar and restaurant industries.
A Chicago-based company called Innovative Tap Solutions has developed a unique automated beverage-pouring system. Still in its infancy, the company and its technology have begun to appear in bars and restaurants in New York, California, and Indiana. The national restaurant chain Buffalo Wild Wings recently signed a contract to include the company’s PourMyBeer system in a new restaurant located in the Minneapolis suburbs as well.
Automated Bar Pouring
The Innovative Tap Solutions system features a novel method of providing security in bar operations. Customers who wish to use the system must have an RFID-enabled card to access the service; once the card is waved in front of the system’s computer screen, it pours beer or wine on demand. Each customer is limited to 12 ounces of wine or the equivalent of two beers, helping to prevent over-serving situations.
The PourMyBeer system is characterized by a series of taps installed on one wall of the bar or restaurant. Each tap handle costs about $1700 to install; additional maintenance fees are charged to ensure smooth operation. These costs may seem expensive, but bar owners save money in costs by eliminating human bartending staff; bars can reduce staffing by one or two tenders for each shift.
State and local regulators have been skeptical of the technology, often requiring bar owners who wish to add these systems to their services to get specialized approval before installation. Several states, including Texas, Utah, Vermont, and Montana, have not permitted the technology in establishments in their states; the technology developer is working with regulatory agencies and lobbyists to create legislation allowing for automated bar services.
Several other companies have developed similar systems, each with their own unique security and operation parameters. New automated systems will dispense pre-mixed cocktails, wines, and beers on tap. Restaurant industry analysts suggest that these systems will eventually occupy about 10% of the beverage service market.
The Human Element
Automated drink pouring technology is not without its detractors. Many bar and restaurant owners are reluctant to add these systems to their service offerings, even if overhead costs can be reduced. The reason these owners have not embraced the technology is the human element. For the most part, bar patrons and restaurant guests value the experience of interacting with professional bartenders and service staff. Automated beverage systems remove that human interaction, and are also limited in the types and quantities of drinks they can dispense.
Customers who wish to enjoy custom-mixed cocktails or specialty beverages are not well served by this technology in its current state. As the technology matures, however, analysts indicate that these automated systems will become a valuable part of bar operations in the U.S. and beyond.
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