99 Bottles Of Beer On The Touch Screen: The Spread Of Self-Serve Taps
As a blind person, I really hate this idea and hope it doesn’t find its way to Canada assuming it hasn’t already.
Touchscreens are pretty much the bane of my existence. The damn things keep popping up in more and more places while the number of usable ones in my life stays firmly stuck at two. My microwave because we stuck braille all over it, and my iPhone because it has Voiceover. Every other one might as well have a big flashing display on it that just says “fuck you, Steve.” I can’t even buzz into my own apartment building if I ever lose my keys, because someone decided to replace the simple phone keypad with a touchscreen keyboard that you have to write names into. And to add insult to injury, it talks, but only so it can tell you to “please enter the building” as if you’re going to be stumped by what to do when confronted with a door. I doubt these bar ones are going to talk, and even if they did, bars aren’t the quietest places. Good luck hearing your choices.
What about braille, though? Couldn’t they label each tap? Technically? Maybe they could. But practically? No. How many places do you go to that have the same things on tap all the time forever? For me, the answer is zero. Things are constantly shuffling in and out of the rotation. So unless somebody at the bar is super diligent about making sure that the braille is always up to date (spoiler alert: that’s not happening), your boy is screwed.
And the reduced number of staff will make a bunch of little but important things about the experience of going out a lot more difficult. Without them, there’s no one to show me an unoccupied seat. Nobody to point me in the direction of the bathroom. No one to help me sort out the menu if I need that. There are apps that can help with this, but they’re dependent on you having a smartphone which not everyone does, they’re only as good as the lighting and the cell connection between you and the person helping, and some of them are pricey enough that you’ve blown the beer budget before you’ve even left the house.
Maybe this is going to be great for bars, but for some of us customers it’s going to be maddening enough to drive us out your door forever.
On a recent night, the bar was quieter. Still, customer after customer strode up to a stainless steel wall lined with beer taps to insert a card, touch a screen and pour a glass of self-serve beer.
No waitstaff. No waiting.
“This is my first time doing a beer wall!” says one patron, Chris Porcaro, over a yeasty IPA. “I’ve been to many sports bars, but never a beer-wall sports bar.”
The shiny beer wall allows customers to choose from 23 different varieties of beer — or “24 if you count Bud Light,” says owner Jeremy Gifford. Pour-your-own beer isn’t just a novelty, Gifford says; the idea is to cut down on waiting for alcohol (which means selling more of it) and freeing up bartenders to make cocktails.
“If you have 50 self-serve taps, then you essentially have 50 employees you don’t have to pay to service your customer,” says Josh Goodman, who runs a company called PourMyBeer that sells this technology.
According to Goodman and others in the industry, self-serve taps are exploding in popularity. Back in 2015, Goodman says, his company sold fewer than 200 taps. But over the past five years, it has sold more than 5,000, he says.
Business doubled in 2017 at a similar company called iPourIt, says its vice president, Darren Nicholson. And last year, he says, it grew by a whopping 70%.
“When I entered the industry back in early 2016, there were probably only 80 locations in the U.S. [that sold self-serve beer],” Nicholson says. “There’s currently about 400 in the U.S.”