Washington Restaurant Market Watch: Self-serve beer concept makes a big splash

Washington Restaurant Market Watch: Self-serve beer concept makes a big splash https://wahospitality.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/beer543-543x198.jpg

By Paul Schlienz

Self-serve soda machines have been a fixture of quick service restaurants for many years. Now, the self-serve concept has come to beer.

While the number of fast-casual restaurants and gastropubs providing self-serve beer systems remains small, this innovation will inevitably be coming your way.

Not only do these systems cut labor costs, they also boost revenue by encouraging guests to sample what would otherwise be a confusing list of exotic beers on a traditional menu.

The technology has another attraction for restaurant operators: It measures and charges by the sip – a big moneymaker while also reducing labor costs related to bartending.

And what do customers think of the new system?

“They love it,” Sean Hale, general manager of Barrel Republic, an Oceanside, Calif. Craft beer bar, told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s about tasting all these different beers and the fun of exploring.”

And this innovative barroom concept is utilizing equally innovative high technology.

First Draft, Denver’s first standalone self-service bar and kitchen concept, utilizes iPourIt technology, including tablet computer-controlled taps, allowing customers to pour their beers by the ounce.

First Draft’s system offers 32 craft beers, four wines and two ciders on draft.

“It’s definitely an experience,” Mark Slatter, First Draft’s owner, told the Denver Post. “”First Draft allows you to choose your own adventure, so to speak. You can mix flavors and decide for yourself before committing to a larger pour.”

Although the self-serve concept is the centerpiece of his pub, Slatter has still retained a human touch.

“Our staff is very knowledgeable,” said Slatter.

Additionally, Slatter employs a cicerone – the beer industry’s equivalent of a sommelier in the wine industry – at First Draft.

When First Draft’s patrons begin a tab with a credit card, they are given an RFID-enabled bracelet, pairing their information with the tab, allowing the pouring of up to 40 ounces of beer. When the 40 ounce limit is reached, the patron’s sobriety is assessed by a staff member before up to 24 more ounces of beer can be poured. Wine has lower limits.

The self-serve beer concept has spread far beyond beer pubs, even appearing in Minneapolis’ Target Field, where major league baseball fans can also serve themselves beer.

While the self-serve concept is intriguing, there is some concern that it could eliminate bartending jobs. McCarthy, however, stresses that this is not his intention.

“The vast majority of a bartender’s time is pouring beers and ringing up tabs,” said McCarthy. “We’re freeing up staff to actually interact with clients on the floor and talk to them about different components of beer that are pouring.”

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