Like it or not, iPad wine lists are coming

Wine — By KF Louis on December 2, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Did you guys catch the September 3 New York Times technology story, “Choosing Wines at the Touch of a Screen”?

I’ve been mulling it for a few weeks now.  It does a great job of covering the pros and cons of putting a tablet PC device in the hands of a customer, rather than a paper list, and the potential impacts that the new device may have on the way wine is served in a restaurant.

An iPad wine list at a high-end Atlanta restuarant. Courtesy of New York Times.

To the quick, here is my assessment of the potential:

  • Top restaurants - not much will change.  In general, they already have great wine lists and great wine service.  Other than the early-adopting restaurant trying something clever (like Aureole, 6 years ago!), I expect you’ll still get the printed list in a snazzy binder and a more-than-capable wine steward.
  • Second-tier through n-tier restaurants – this is where the potential is quite unlimited.  On the bright side, restaurants can greatly drive down operational costs with the right technology approach, and perhaps offer a better wine service experience than they are currently offering.  But the dark side looms large… I can imagine dozens of scenarios where marginal wine service gets worse.

Here is a case where a tablet PC wine list is sorely needed:   Last night, I was at Waterfront in San Francisco.  The paper wine list came out with the menus, and we quickly ordered a bottle of pinot grigio from Alois Lagerder ($44/decent QPR).   No less than 10 minutes later, the server told us that the sommelier was backed up, and coming shortly.  At minute 15, he comes out — does an extremely minimal presentation of the wine, unscrews the cap, and pours it.  The minute I accept it, he is gone for the rest of the night.

This is the kind of service that drives me crazy, and I am not the only one.  One of my friends said:  “I waited all this time for this?”   But  I get it — Waterfront is one of those restaurants with a lot of pomp and circumstance, which its clients (mainly tourists, SF biz, B&T) no doubt love.  But for me, I would rather be handed a computerized wine list, well designed, with an order button so I can and skip the wine steward alltogether.

While I do think that we are headed into a “fad-of-the-iPad” era where we will see many laughable failures, I hold open the possibility that tablet PCs, paired with brilliant wine service strategy, could ultimately turn into a 1+1 = 3 situation.

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  1. Ken Rosen says:

    My first thought was: expensive, breakable gimmick. But I came around quickly–a beautiful front end to an up-to-date wine list with unlimited room to add detail on grapes, region, style, tasting notes on the three bottles on which I’ve narrowed my choice sounds like a pretty nice upgrade from the usual lists. And I can then hand it to my son to play with to keep my iPhone battery charged!

    Cheers, Ken

  2. KF Louis says:

    Ken – I, too, dream of an interactive wine list that gives me so much more than a simple listing of wines like what we get in the leather binder today. The potentials are nothing short of endless. I think that wine stewards would also like such a thing as long as it doesn’t put them out a job!

  3. The USA is always a step in frnt. In Germany or Austria I haven’t seen a IPad Wine list yet. I agree to KF and see grear potentials, too. At the end, and that is what I hope, a good wine steward will keep his job.

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