The Self-Serve Surge

“What I liked was that I could do quarter pours to keep the beer at the desired temperature,” says Miller. “There are few downsides, but the largest is that you are tied to the beers on the table and if the only available table has beers you don’t want to drink, there’s no advantage.”

Long acceptable with fountain soda at fast food restaurants, it is not just beer that can now be controlled by the customers.

At the Wine Room in Winter Park, Fla., well-heeled customers with glass in hand, maneuver around several tower stations, each holding bottles of wine. After looking through the glass display case to examine a label, customers insert a pre-paid card into a slot, select the amount they would like poured (it can range from 0.5 to 3 ounces) and then hit a button. Like a fountain drink dispenser, the wine is evacuated from the bottle and deposited into the glass. It is a chance for oenophiles and novices alike to try a new wine and, if they like it, purchase a bottle before leaving.

Steve DiDonato of the Pennsylvania-based Wine By The Glass Solutions, says his company has seen a spike in sales to a variety of clients in recent years and not only to restaurants.

“We are in a development deal with a hotel chain to outfit concierge lounges with the machines,” he reveals. “Rewards customers will get a card with drinks credits and use it for wine and liquor. It allows them to make their own drink.”

DiDonato also cited a new chain of restaurants—Café Caturra—as one that is not only using the technology but also incorporating it into the concept.

Jeff Libby, president of Table Tap LLC, which manufactures and sells pour-your-own beer systems under the name TableTender, notes that his company gets several calls a day from customers interested in the equipment, and now finds himself traveling the country installing taps for bars and restaurants. Bar owners can monitor beer poured to the ounce, view inventory via the Internet and patrons and access features like Twitter and Facebook from a screen on their table.

He also addressed the complaint by Miller. Libby says a system that can alternate between beers giving customers the opportunity to choose the beer they pour is “prohibitively expensive.”

“It’s a $6,000 tap,” Libby said of the rotating tap system, “and no one is really willing to do that. It’s cumbersome and difficult to implement.”

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