Sick of flagging down a server when you’re ready to place your drink order? Here’s a thought. Why wait for beer when you can be your own bartender?
That’s the idea behind the new taproom at Frankie & Fanucci’s Wood Oven Pizzeria in Mamaroneck. Opened in 2010, co-owners Brad Nagy and Angelo Viscoso built the restaurant at 301 Mamaroneck Ave. without a standalone bar. But in recent months, the duo began searching for a way to both increase beverage sales and differentiate themselves from the plethora of bars and restaurants that dot the busy street.
“The economics in the restaurant business are changing, so it’s how do you involve the customer more in the service model to drive cost out of the business,” Nagy said, “and also give them a different experience.”
That search led Nagy and Viscoso to iPourIt, a Lake Forest, Calif.-based company that supplies software and hardware powering a pour-it-yourself, pay-by-the-ounce dispensing system.
“It’s like the salad bar for beer,” Viscoso said.
With iPourIt, customers start a tab and are given an RFID-enabled card. The thirsty patron can then head over to a wall lined with tablet computers that control taps distributing a variety of craft beer and wine. After touching the card to the tablet dispensing the drink of their choice, customers can enjoy as little or as much as they like, up to 32 ounces before they must check in with a staff member.
At Frankie & Fanucci’s, customers are free to choose from 32 taps of both craft beer and wine. To mitigate any ill effects of a novice pourer, Nagy and Vicoso said they put a high amount of focus on finding the “perfect” beer distribution system. They also employ a “tap tender” who can assist patrons with pouring, along with helping them choose the right beer or wine.
“We hear customers all the time say they stay safe (with their beverage choices),” Nagy said, adding that the newly installed system provides customers with a chance to sample a craft product they’ve never tried before without committing to a fully priced glass they may not enjoy.
And don’t worry about any upcharges. Nagy said the price per ounce is prorated based on the cost per pint.
Darren Nicholson, iPourIt’s vice president of sales and marketing, said his company’s model is perfect for the pizza joints and fast-casual spots that sometime struggle with alcohol sales.
“This is an experience that people don’t normally have, and haven’t had, because you can’t go behind the bar and pour yourself a beer,” Nicholson said.
And since customers are able to refill their glasses without depending on a bartender or server, iPourIt provides business owners with an opportunity to keep down costs.
“You look at the pressure that’s in the market with minimum wage increases, and we’re all for people making more money, but the pressure in this low-margin business is difficult when that happens,” he said. In December, the minimum wage for tipped employees jumped to $7.50 from $5.50.
Jay Holland, government affairs director with the New York State Restaurant Association, said the pair’s decision to install the system in lieu of a bar was “not surprising,” especially given the recent hike in labor costs.
The self-pour method also works to eliminate a common problem in the industry: shrinkage. Nagy said he has seen liquor losses in his restaurants hit 15 to 20 percent, whether from overpouring, theft or the product being given away.
“With these systems, literally none of our staff nor us can pour an ounce without it being allocated to a customer card,” Nagy said. “So you have a yield that’s 100 percent, theoretically.”
Another plus, Nagy said, is “it’s just cool. It’s fun to be your own bartender.”
But cool doesn’t come cheap. The partners say renovations and the installation of the iPourIt system has cost more than $100,000. They expect the upkeep and maintenance costs to be similar to those of a regular bar’s draft beer system.
Along with the initial install costs, which averages around $1,350 per tap, iPourIt also charges a monthly subscription fee of 1 cent per ounce of beer sold, which Nicolson said averages around $25 per tap, per month.
“A lot of these companies are really small and new, so you’re really making a $100,000 investment in a company that’s tiny,” Nagy said.
“And might not be there tomorrow,” Viscoso added.
But Nicholson said the future is bright for iPourIt. Launched in 2012, the company boasts 1,126 taps in 60 locations nationwide, up from 770 taps installed at the end of last year. And since the RFID cards are activated by scanning a patron’s ID, iPourIt can track the analytics of who’s drinking what and how much, data the company hopes to monetize at some point.
And while Nicholson said he hopes to bring more self-pour taps to Westchester, the technology won’t be making its way to Fairfield County anytime soon. Connecticut is one of seven states that prohibit alcohol self-dispensing machines.
Nagy and Viscoso also have their eyes on the future and will likely install the self-pour system at Frankie & Fanucci’s Haverstraw location.
“If you asked us yesterday, it would’ve been, ‘I’m never doing this again,’” Nagy said. “Today is the start of a new day, so maybe we’ll do it again.
“Call me later, it’ll probably be, ‘No way.’”