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To Teach Bartenders How to Make Cocktails, Just Add RFID

Some bars and restaurants are utilizing an RFID-enabled system to train bartenders how to pour the right amount of liquor, and to measure their progress.
By Claire Swedberg
For the following 60 days, Price says, Capton works with bar managers remotely, examining the results of a night's sales and pours, hunting for inaccurate pours, and maintaining scorecards for each bartender. "We're shooting for 80 percent accuracy," he says. They also compare the number of pours against the number of drinks sold. Later, when new bartenders are hired, they typically practice their pours using water with a Capton RFID-enabled spout.

Harry Denton's Starlight Lounge has nine bartenders, each with at least five years' experience at the bar, according to Michael Pagan, the lounge's general manager. Pagan says his employees each poured out nine drinks, then evaluated their results on the screen. The target was to pour within .25 ounces of the 1.5-ounce target. "No-man's-land is outside that amount," he states.

Michael Pagean
"I have a very experienced bartending staff," Pagan says, and they did well during the training, though the next several days required more additional on-the–job training. "The tendency, those first few days, is to under-pour," he says, which is something the bartenders learned to correct. "I want the customers to get what they're paying for."

Sandia first installed the system in one bar in November 2007, according to Peter Nowotny, the casino's food and beverage director, and is now expanding it to all of its bars after the positive results of that initial installation. With the first bar, one interrogator was installed above the bar, cabled to a laptop computer with a Web-based server. Almost immediately, Nowotny found, expenses went down as the bar reduced over-pouring.

Each bottle has a specific spout with a unique ID number that links to that drink. For example, Nowotny says, a Chivas Regal spout must always be placed on a Chivas Regal bottle. In that way, it can measure how much of that particular brand was sold as opposed to another, which the manager can then compare against sales records. If a cap is removed from an empty bottle, he adds, a bartender has 45 seconds to place the spout on another bottle before an alert is sent.

"It tells you exactly if you are under- or over-pouring," Nowotny says. Even after the training program, he notes, "the first day or two was a little shaky," as bartenders found they were still over- or under pouring drinks. They then began testing their skills with plain water through the taps, Nowotny says, and pours quickly became more accurate. "We've trained every new bartender exactly how to use it," he states.

After expanding the system from one to multiple bars and a banquet room, Nowotny says, the company expanded the system from one reader and antenna cabled to a laptop computer, to connecting all bars via cable to a server in the IT room. By the end of May, he adds, all bars and banquet rooms will be fully enabled. "This ensures they are serving a consistent cocktail," he says.

During banquets, the system will be especially useful, Nowotny says, as it provides proof of the number of drinks served for billing purposes. With the first bar's system, he reports, the company experienced a return on investment in three months. He expects to see a return on the expanded system in about one year. "It's not cheap," he says, estimating Sandia's cost to be about $53 per spout—an expense that also included the software, antennas and readers. "But it is worth every penny."

The price a specific bar or restaurant pays can vary widely depending on how many readers are being used, as well as how the system is integrated. Capton indicates the Beverage Tracker's price is not generally measured per spout, but rather for an entire installation.

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