Technology and wine move towards the future

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 November, 2012, 10:59am

Digital technology is dipping its toe into the world of wining and dining. At Aqua, Assaggio and FoFo by el Willy, patrons scroll through electronic wine lists. Touch-screen systems have arrived at Amo Eno wine bar and shop in Central. Aside from being able to peruse a wine catalogue of 2,000-plus vintages on tablets, customers can also explore 80 wines available by the glass on the interactive communal table devices. For instance, tap on adjectives on the screen, such as "full-bodied" or "toasty", for bottles that match these characteristics.

The proliferation of mobile applications is changing how gourmets search for, order and buy food and drink. Capitalising on the smartphone's location capabilities are apps such as Wine2Go, which tells you which merchants nearby have your favourite tipples and can also filter the search according to price or the food it could go with.

The BUZZTheBar app takes a leap further, turning a smartphone into a digital wallet to buy drinks - and even tip the bartender - all with a few swipes of your device.

But how do these digital developments affect your gourmet and nightlife experience? Hi-tech advocates claim these platforms deliver multidimensional layers of information to encourage education, exploration and confident purchases - all of which can enrich a customer's experience.

Patrons won't have to commit to a full bottle of wine they don't know anything about, says Brook Bradbury, design director of Amo Eno. Together with founder Andrew Bradbury and Rick Stoelinga (owner of Mind Wrack, which helped Amo Eno with its hi-tech makeover), the trio have been fusing wine and cutting-edge technology for 12 years for establishments such as Aureole and Clo in Las Vegas. Since the venue stocks bottles from traditional to obscure wineries, the interactive menus let consumers explore, for example, the bottles' stories.

David Garrett - chief executive of Entaste, a developer of electronic wine lists - claims patrons confident in their purchases make more adventurous choices. Since the company also provides real-time statistics for vintners to track how their wines are selling, he can detect changes in drinking behaviour. Over the years, drinking habits have changed little. Patrons select wine and request the same bottle when it's finished, he says. "It's like a law written in stone: 70 per cent of the time, you're going to order that same bottle of wine."

But restaurants with electronic wine lists have flipped that figure. "Now 30 per cent of people order the same wine, while around 70 per cent ask for the wine list again to order a different one," Garrett says.

But there are downsides to these innovations. There is a generation gap between the more and less tech-savvy patrons. Langham Place was aware of this when the hotel installed 50 iPad menus in most of its food and beverage outlets - a move embraced primarily for eco-friendly reasons. Tokoro, Robatayaki & Whisky Bar, The Backyard and the Wine Buff have gone fully paperless. But Ming Court, its Chinese restaurant with a loyal family-oriented clientele, still has printed menus (with iPads optional), in sensitivity to older regulars less familiar with such gadgetry.

However, buying with mobiles does pose risks. Tommy Chan, of BUZZTheBar, says it uses reputable third-party credit card processing systems such as Stripe and PayPal plus policies to protect consumer data. "We can't see your password as it's all encrypted," Chan says.

The ease of buying cocktails through your device has drawbacks, too, such as accidental orders. Jeffrey Wong, BUZZTheBar's spokesman, says the app has multiple prompts for users to confirm their orders, and "if you accidentally order 10 bottles of Dom Perignon, you can still run to the bartender to cancel the order".

Although technology advocates acknowledge adjustments will have to be made for the approaching tide, "the technology is here to stay", Stoelinga says. "There are too many benefits from the owners' and customers' standpoint."

Bradbury agrees. "With smartphone technology, location-based services, in addition to near-field communications, tracking options and social media, it's interwoven and coming together quickly, and it's all complex and daunting."

That's why simplifying the technology is a must. "It's an evolving field right now," Bradbury says. "It'll be amazing to see how all these things will flow together."