More than ever, food service operators are adopting technology to improve customer engagement. At the 2015 Nightclub & Bar Show in Las Vegas, Jon Taffer had a few
choice words to say about this trend in the beverage service industry.
The host of TV’s “Bar Rescue” said that technology can enhance the customer experience. But he also said it can’t replace the reason why patrons come in the first place, nor should it. That reason is social interaction – with their friends, the staff, even the bartender.
Yet in 2015, we’re seeing an increasing number of brew houses that eliminate some of that interaction. Self-serve bars, like Denver’s First Draft, are popping up all over the US, Canada and Europe, too.
Will this tech trend erode the guest experience at the local pub?
How the beer barrel works
According to CNN Money, a company named PourMyBeer sold the first self-pouring bar system back in 2009. In six years, this and other companies have had time to perfect the idea. And it’s taking off.
So how does it work?
Patrons enter the pub and receive an RFID-enabled card or wristband. The device is associated with the customers “tab” or credit card. It can be used to activate an automated dispenser on a table-top or on a “beer wall.” The beer wall can dispense as many different beers on-tap as the operator wishes.
When the customer slides the card – or taps the wristband – on a dispenser, their glass fills with the selected brew. The RFID device tracks the number and quantity of beers dispensed. When it’s time to leave, the customer simply “checks out.”
What you get and what you don’t
Self-serve includes micro-brews as well. Some operators even allow for “sampler” sizes, which allow you to taste without buying a whole mug.
What you don’t get is personal service from a friendly bartender. However, it is convenient in a crowded bar where you often have to wait just to get to the counter and even when you do, the bartender is often so busy that there’s little time for chit-chat – or a sympathetic ear.
One for the road?
The self-serve concept has a well-defined niche market.
It works well for bars frequented by the after-work crowd, where it’s a quick stop for a pint or two, then on home. It would also work well in airport lounges, where travelers have to keep a close eye on their departure times and don’t have time to linger.
This technology certainly has its benefits, but also presents a few challenges. For example, a dispenser could limit patrons to two beers at a time and could even track total consumption. However, this could be a problem for folks who want to buy rounds of drinks for friends. Dispensers also don’t have the ability to check the ID’s of everyone in your party – at least not yet.
Everything in moderation
For its target market, the new pour-your-own concept will save beer lovers a long wait at the bar. But as Taffer noted, we have to remember that patrons go out for the experience, not just a bite or a beverage.
Many guests will find self-serve beer a novelty, while others will still want that interaction at the bar. Still others want to sit and have their beverages brought to them.
Of course, this concept will continue to evolve. Imagine a solution where the patron’s RFID bracelet also integrates with table location solutions. This could allow for self-serve beer alongside food service and refills, right from the table.
One thing’s for certain… technology will continue to change the guest experience, even at your local watering hole.
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Jason Barge is a marketing manager at LRS and an expert in communications for the hospitality industry.