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“It is an efficient experience, allowing the staff to concentrate on great food and wine,” says Jeff Krevitt.

Wine Lists Go Digital

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They can be in app or website form. In either case, users say they appeal to the techno-savvy generation.
August 2011 Wine

Restaurants across the nation have started making the switch from paper wine lists to digital tablets or iPads. Despite upfront costs, the pioneers have seen beverage sales increased up to 20 percent. The market has since become saturated with companies providing affordable solutions. But the abundant options have led to confusion over which software to choose for your restaurant.

There are three basic models: the replication, or PDF, version, the app and the website.

The replication is as basic as PDFs of the wine list. To Michael Scherzberg, sommelier of L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in New York City, that simply wasn’t enough. “We wanted it to be something where guests can narrow their search, as opposed to flipping through the list,” Scherzberg explains.

Scherzberg has been working on the Incentient SmartCellar website-based program since November and finally launched the digital wine list to the public in April. His plate has been full writing 20 pieces of information about each of its 600 wine selections. That includes the history of wineries and pictures of wine labels. Although he still has a ways to go, the wine list may be found here.

“If you want to do it well, you have to plan on dedicating a lot of time to getting started,” Scherzberg cautions.

However, some companies are boasting faster transition periods. Forest Park, Illinois-based Beverage Works promises to have the new system up and running within 48 hours.

The app hit the scene last November, and its latest update was set to be released Aug. 1. According to owner Vito Claps, the company has 2,000 wines in its database. Monthly fees are $79 with a free 30-day trial. The format of the wine list is typical across the board, and the pages look standard, Claps says.

This standard formatting was one reason why Chicago Cut Steakhouse owner David Flom decided to partner with Shared Marketing to develop Chicago’s first digital wine list program. The “off-the-wall” software came at a pretty penny, though; the 40 iPads alone cost $28,000. According to Flom, the investment has paid off through an increased ratio of food to beverage sales of 20 percent in comparison with his previous restaurant operations.

Information currently available includes videos from winemakers, Google maps and wine pairing recommendations. This year’s additions include 3-D bottle images, videos of food preparation and syncing with Open Table, the point-of-sale and inventory control system.

“People are so visual today, they need more,” Flom says. “The younger generation is less concerned about personal touch and more concerned with efficiency.”

Some argue that too much information causes guests to overstay their welcome. According to David Grimm, founding partner, the AccuBar beverage management company prides itself in avoiding things like maps and videos. It does, however, provide tasting notes, scores and suggested wine pairings.

“We are trying to strike a balance providing enough information without slowing down the process,” Grimm says. “We don’t want to kill your table turns.”

The Denver-based company has been on the market since 2001 as an inventory control system, but recently launched the wine pad as an optional add-on. Existing customers should expect to pay $500 to start, with a $25 monthly fee, but the price for new customers varies.

The website-based system allows syncing with the inventory-control system as well as using QR tags to scan the wine list straight to any smart phone, not just Apple products. QR tags are quick read tags, which are black and white icons that allow smartphone users to access exclusive information and products when scanned.

Don’t have the money to invest in 40 new iPads? AccuBar has a rental program for a small number of iPads to get accounts started. Wireless WineList system by Tiare Technology also provides iPad rentals for another affordable solution.

Founded in 2002, the New Jersey-based company was one of the first to come out with the software, long before the app. The Flagstaff House Restaurant in Boulder, Colorado, uses the system for its Wine Spectator “Grand Award” winning list.

Here are five questions to ask before selecting your digital wine list software:

  1. Is it an app or website-based software?
  2. What is the cost, and what is the break-even point?
  3. How long will it take to transfer the information during the transition?
  4. How interactive is it, and how much information does it provide?
  5. Does the software link to POS, Open Table or inventory control systems?

Similar to AccuBar, it also syncs with the inventory control system. President Jeff Krevitt says Wireless WineList is a cross between an app and a website. It runs locally on the hardware itself, but uses a wireless system for updates to keep it in real time.

“We work very closely with the property and reflect the guest experience that they want to convey,” Krevitt says.

Some benefits to the app over a website-based company are that it has a faster page access time, and it is usually more affordable.

UnCorkd, a Chicago-based company, launched its product in March as an app. It charges a $300 monthly fee, $1,500 for six months, or $2,700 for a full year.

“Our goal is to move it (digital wine lists) from a rare occurrence to more mainstream,” says Josh Saunders, CEO of UnCorkd.

Whatever it is you are looking for, there seems to be a version on the market to fulfill your needs. Or, in the language of Apple: “There’s an app for that.”