Goodbye printed wine lists, hello interactive, information-packed electronic lists that wow customers and operators alike.
Roast in Detroit two weeks ago launched SmartCellar from Incentient, which runs on 15 Apple iPads the restaurant hands out to diners.
Waiters drop the wine lists at tables along with the regular printed food menus. Diners can search the wines by country, varietal, price, and vintage. The most popular searches are by grape and price.
They can select a wine and then order it with their waiter. Alternatively, they can put several wines into a shopping cart and show them to the waiter for the ultimate decision on what will best pair with their dinner.
There’s no food and wine pairing feature since Roast’s menu changes so frequently.
“Our servers are great with food pairing suggestions so I don’t see a need for the iPads to offer this,” says Joseph Allerton, food and beverage director.
“The servers are there to pamper and hold [guests’] hands through the process if they are clueless about wine,” he says.
Typically diners love the interactive wine list. “Most people have responded really well,” Allerton says, “and it has a nice wow factor to it. We’re really happy we can give our guests this technology because it’s cutting edge and it really helps them.”
Most of Roast’s guests are in the 30 to 50 age range. “Those people are excited by the technology. For many it’s the first time they’ve seen anything like it. It takes them out of their comfort zones really easily.”
Allerton says he’s noticed sales of more esoteric wines and grapes increasing. “It’s giving people that nudge to try something new and experience something they wouldn’t usually go for,” he says. “California Cabs and Russian River Pinot Noirs sell themselves but I’ve seen some really odd stuff from niche corners of Germany and Austria sell recently.”
The electronic lists also raise the confidence and comfort level of diners.
“Their comfort level goes through the roof,” Allerton explains. “It gives information on the region, the grape, and there’s even pronunciation information in there.”
But it’s not just the guests who like the technology; the restaurant staff does, too.
It’s helping servers with time. Roast’s wine list is 300 to 400 strong and on a typical night, the restaurant might be out of 10 to 15 wines.
“With the paper lists we’d have to memorize which wines we were out of. In a perfect world servers would have that list memorized but they wouldn’t always. They’d go and look for a wine and then not be able to find it and go and ask me, then I wouldn’t find it so it would take up five or 10 minutes of time,” Allerton explains.
Now, he says, wines that the restaurant has sold out of are removed from the electronic list simply.
“We just hit a couple of buttons and bing, bam, boom it’s no longer on the list. It’s saving us a lot of time, a lot of paper, and a lot of runaround.”
This also prevents customer frustration, he says, since it’s beyond annoying to review a wine list, order a bottle then find out it’s not available.
Electronic wine lists can also help restaurants to create superior wine offerings.
“An electronic wine list is great because [a restaurant] can track searches, bottles and varieties sold, which would make it possible to design a better wine list,” says Marian Jansen op de Haar, owner of Vines 57, a wine consultancy in Napa, California.
“It’s also easy to eliminate wines from the list that are out of stock, which would prevent reprints and paper,” she says.
And contrary to what might be expected with an exciting—and some may say, sexy—piece of technology in diners’ hands, customers are ordering their wine faster than they did with a paper menu.
“We thought it might take people longer to choose with this wonderful toy in front of them,” Allerton says. “But we’re finding that people are spending less time with the list because it helps them find what they’re looking for faster since it has this great process of elimination.”
Jansen op de Haar agrees: “Guests will become more savvy as the possibilities for searches become more useful for them,” she says. “For instance, for a large list it is very useful to search for the varietal. If you know that you would like a Pinot Noir, for example, and in a certain price range, this will cut your list of choices enormously and you can select a wine quickly.”
Jansen op de Haar adds that the information on the iPad should be concise and easy to read. “This is not a seminar after all, but dinner,” she explains.
The downside to the technology was the cost of the iPads “but we think it’s worth it and we are always trying to be cutting edge and enhancing out guests’ experience,” Allerton says. “So we though they were worth every penny.”
Occasionally customers don’t like the technology, he adds. So far a diner with some vision issues had difficulty reading the iPads, and an elderly couple preferred not to use them. Traditional paper menus are on hand for these people.
But most people are happy to learn how to use them and servers walk guests through the technology when they first visit the table. And the learning curve for the employees was fast. “We gave it to them to play with for hours and they were all whizzing around on it in 20 minutes,” Allerton says.
But perhaps the biggest bonus is that he expects to see wine sales increase. Roast’s sister restaurant, Lola, in Cleveland, introduced the technology a year ago and saw prices of the wine bottles that were selling notch up by $10 to $15.
Beer and cocktails will hopefully be added to SmartCellar before too long.
“There’s so much room for improvement and adding more depth and information,” Allerton says. “We feel that the more we add to it the more enhanced that experience will be for the guest.”
By Amanda Baltazar