More places hop on self-serve beer pouring trend

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Your next draft may be pulled not by a bartender, but by you.

A small but growing number of gastropubs and fast-casual restaurants are going self-serve, installing systems that enable drinkers to draw their own taps, like a soda fountain but far more sophisticated.

Establishments in the notoriously low-margin restaurant industry say the technology cuts labor costs and boosts revenue by encouraging customers to sample what can be a bewildering array of Belgian quads, India pale ales or oatmeal stouts on a menu.

The technology has another attraction: It can measure and charge literally by the sip — something not lost on Barrel Republic, a craft beer bar in Oceanside, Calif., and San Diego’s Pacific Beach, where there are dozens of craft beers on tap and no bartender.

Sean Hale, general manager of the recently opened Oceanside pub, said customers pay for what would be free samples at traditional pubs while making it simpler to try exotic brews.

“They love it,” he said. “It’s about tasting all these different beers and the fun of exploring.”

Fast-casual sausage joint Dog Haus is on board, too. The chain has a four-tap self-serve system at its Santa Ana store, and a six-tap one is coming soon to a location near California State, Fullerton.

Quasim Riaz, the chain’s co-founder, said that with customers charged by the 10th of an ounce, there is less waste. Customers tend to be more careful than a bartender, who might be prone to spill, overpour or give away a beer on the house, he said.

“In theory, you get a 100 percent yield on a keg,” he said.

Both establishments installed systems from iPourIt of Santa Ana. “Our goal is to really redefine the concept of craft beer dispense,” said company co-founder Joseph McCarthy. Its system, like others, requires drinkers to provide an ID to receive a wireless bracelet or card that enables them to operate the tap. Providers sell table- and wall-mounted systems, along with mobile units for fairs and sporting events.

But some labor is required to ensure that establishments are not selling beer to inebriated customers, which can pose a legal liability. After a customer drinks a certain amount — usually two full beers — an employee has to determine whether the drinker is sober enough for more.

The technology runs about $25,000 for a wall-mounted 20-tap system, plus a monthly maintenance fee. But if they prove profitable, the systems could become ubiquitous across an industry in which online ordering and reservations are already popular, said Brandon Gerson of restaurant data firm CHD Expert.

“A system like this didn’t even exist 10 years ago,” he said. “I don’t see why they wouldn’t have the potential to become just as standard as a booth.”

Source: Los Angeles Times

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