RFID Users Help Themselves With Beer Server

By Claire Swedberg

PourMyBeer integrates readers and tags with its self-serve taps, tables and wall-mounted fixtures, enabling customers to help themselves at bars and restaurants, such as Florida's Brewers' Tasting Room.

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Two self-serve beer technology companies have partnered to broaden their range of radio frequency identification-based solutions allowing bar and restaurant patrons to serve themselves beer from taps. The new solutions also enable businesses to track how much each customer consumes, and thus how much to charge, as well as when he or she has reached a pre-set maximum limit.

Innovative Tap Solutions, commonly known as PourMyBeer, began selling a rudimentary self-service product three years ago. The system consisted of a beer table containing self-serve taps, hoses attached to kegs in coolers, and switches to turn those taps on and off. The use cases were limited, the company reports, since the product offered no means of monitoring who was pouring the beer and, therefore, who would pay for it.

The mobile version of the PourMyBeer tap table

Last year, says Declan Duggan, Innovative Tap Solutions’ owner and cofounder, PourMyBeer learned how RFID could be employed to identify who is pouring beer at any given time, and the amount dispensed, based on RFID tags in wristbands, and to then calculate the cost accordingly. So the firm teamed up with an existing self-serve beer company called iPourIt, he says. The iPourIt system consists of a management workstation, RFID wristbands and readers, a valve that controls beer flowing through the tap, and a meter that measures the amount of beer a customer pours to within 1/100th of an ounce. The company utilizes StrongLink SL018 Mifare RFID readers (see IPourIt Serves Up ‘Enhanced Customer Service’ for Beer Drinkers).

The PourMyBeer solution provides tables or wall-mounted fixtures that include taps integrated with iPourIt-supplied RFID readers, wristbands, valves, meters and software. In the meantime, iPourIt continues to sell its own product to businesses, while working with additional partners that supply tables or wall-mounted fixtures that include taps. Brett Jones, iPourIt’s CTO, considers the partnership with Innovative Tap Solutions a benefit for both companies, since they offer complementary services. “We are currently in the process of interviewing and qualifying third-party sales agents, distributors and value-added resellers,” Jones states. “PourMyBeer is the most experienced and best group we have encountered to date, so we are lucky to be working with them.”

Brewers’ Tasting Room, located in St. Petersburg, Fla., has been using a PourMyBeer wall-mounted fixture since early this summer. The brewpub’s owner, Rick Wolfe, says the solution seems to have increased sales, though he notes that it is still too early to measure that improvement.

Upon arriving at Brewers’ Tasting Room, if a visitor opts to use the self-serve system, he or she first provides a credit card and driver’s license to a staff member. The employee scans the license’s bar-coded ID number and swipes the credit card, triggering the bar’s software system to open a tab for that customer, while the name on the license is stored in iPourIt’s software on a hosted server. The worker then has 60 seconds to read a wristband containing a built-in 13.56 MHz NXP Semiconductors Mifare RFID chip. The wristband’s unique ID number is linked to the individual in iPourIt’s software.

The user proceeds to a self-serve beer wall containing 10 taps, each for a different beer, brewed onsite by one of the area’s aspiring local brewers. Each tap has a high-frequency (HF) RFID reader mounted next to it, manufactured by iPourIt, with a touchscreen tablet also installed within the vicinity (a single touchscreen covers two taps, via a split screen). The patron holds his or her wristband in front of the interrogator, which captures the wristband’s ID number. That information is forwarded to iPourIt’s server, via a cabled connection, which displays that individual’s name on the touchscreen, along with an indication of how much he or she is allowed to dispense, based on the amount already poured. Once the customer dispenses another glass of beer, the screen displays the number of ounces poured and the balance remaining. Individuals can help themselves to additional beers by following the same procedure.

If patrons reach their limit and wish to buy more beer, they can speak with a staff member. That worker can then opt to load an additional allowance onto the customers’ balance, using his or her own wristband for authorization.

Wolfe says he installed the system to provide something that would excite customers. “My hopes were for a high coolness factor, and it does provide that,” he says. On the other hand, Wolfe adds, he feared it “might disenfranchise” his serving staff, since drinkers who pour their own beer may be less inclined to tip. Therefore, he spoke with servers at a restaurant that had deployed a similar system, and was informed that tips had not been affected.

One of the greater challenges with the system, Wolfe says, involved determining how his staff would train users to pour their own beers properly. For example, visitors are instructed how to pull the tap in such a way that it will not cause the beer to foam.

Because users pay for the beer they pour, Wolfe says, they tend to do so very carefully, thereby leading to less waste. Although he says he has heard a figure of 23 percent product loss for beer pours at most restaurants and bars, the majority of that, he notes, is likely not due to employee theft. “I don’t think there’s nearly as much theft as there is neglect,” he states. Bartenders may, for instance, pour out excess beer from glasses if the beverage is foaming, or offer a second glass to the customer to make up for loss due to froth.

With the self-serve technology in place, Wolfe says he feels “confident that every beer that’s poured went through the register.”

PourMyBeer also offers a mobile version of its tables and wall-mounted fixtures, for use by restaurants that often change the location of interior furniture, or conference centers or hotels at which a temporary party or event can be set up and then taken down on the same day. In such a scenario, Duggan explains, a tap tower is mounted on a wheeled table measuring 36 inches square, and is connected to smaller kegs beneath the tabletop.

Other RFID-based self-serve beer-dispensing systems on the market include DraftMagik, launched in 2011 by a company called DraftServ Technologies (see Wall of Beer Lets Patrons Draw Their Drinks).