A sure pour

Once upon a time, restaurant owners and manufacturers were content to serve up beverages, both alcoholic and nonalcoholic, as they had done for years: the typical soda gun behind the bar, the self-serve fountain machine, the chilled bottle of wine in an ice bucket next to the table, the draft beer that would often overflow when poured. Today’s beverage serving technology, however, makes those methods—tried-and-true as they may be—look like memories from the distant past. Now, a pint of draft beer can be poured in three seconds fl at, wine preservation systems can keep bottles fresh for weeks, and endless soda combinations can be selected on a touch-screen. As far as beverage serving goes, the future has definitely arrived. 

Modern consumers drive the demand for high-tech solutions. They crave customization and a personalized experience. They refuse to wait very long, expecting superquick—yet accurate—service. In today’s economy, they definitely want the best value for their money. And they also want something unique; at a restaurant, they often expect an experience rather than just a meal. “There are multiple benefits of embracing new technology, including additional variety, higher-quality beverages and operational efficiencies,” explains Phil Beeson, senior commercialization marketing manager for Coca-Cola North America in Atlanta. “And the big trends from the consumer perspective are variety, healthy options and quality.” Through unique beverage serving solutions, you can answer all of these demands and differentiate your pizzeria from others in your area.

The Best Beer

Draft beer is a major profit center for pizzerias; Anheuser-Busch estimates that beer on tap has an average 80% profit margin. However, much of that profit can be lost through incorrect pouring or theft. Some manufacturers are preventing this problem through the addition of locks (which require a key to open) on beer taps so that beers can’t be poured afterhours. Meanwhile, improper pours and speed of service are addressed with new technology that can pour a beer in as little as three seconds. “The ideal system offers three elements to operators: speed, control (whether the beer has a bigger or smaller head, for example), and data to track every pour,” says Greg Clarke, Pittsburgh-based North American salesperson for Niagara Dispensing Technologies in Amherst, New York, which makes the Exactap dispenser. Because the National Restaurant Association estimates that 23% of each keg in a restaurant is lost to waste and theft, a system that improves keg yield can significantly enhance a pizzeria’s bottom line. “When you can track pours, you know when and where the product is going,” says Clarke. “And with quick dispensing, you can alleviate crowding at a busy bar and move more product.” 

However, beer serving can also be enhanced with a focus on the customer’s experience, as is the case with operators who offer Beer Tubes to patrons. Several pizzerias have found that these 100-ounce tubes, with self-serve taps, are ideal for large groups, parties and football weekends. At Scoreboard Pizza Co. (scoreboardpizzaco.com), with two locations in Corona and Riverside, California, owner Casey Thornbury has found that this serving method differentiates his company while upping check averages. “They make us unique, and customers actually pay a little more for the beer in the tubes,” he notes. “We sell out of them when we’re busy, and a customer who orders them is likely to tell his friends and bring them back to try it out.” Thornbury adds that customers seem to spend more when they order a Beer Tube, while servers are less busy with refilling beers constantly. On football Sundays, the pizzeria offers a special—domestic beer tubes for $12—and a chill stick placed in the center of the tubes keeps the beverages ice cold for 10 hours. 

Alex Terife, owner of Pizza Rustica’s (pizza-rustica.com) Hollywood, Florida, location, has also experienced success with Beer Tubes, which he introduced last July. “We wanted to offer customers an alternative to the traditional pitcher, since it can get so hot here in the summertime,” he says. “Plus, the tubes fit well with our high-energy, young and fun vibe—it’s all about sharing moments and enjoying others’ company.” He calls the tubes one of the pizzerias best-selling items, and also uses them to hold soda for larger groups who request them. 

Finally, some pizzeria owners have found that beer serving technology is all about the quality of the finished product. John Arena, owner of Metro Pizza (metropizza.com) in the Las Vegas area, has a custom-made system in three of his six locations that ensures a cold beverage is delivered every time. “The system has glycol-wrapped lines that travel 80’ from the cooler to the tap, and the distance actually helps the beer get colder as it moves underground,” Arena explains. This allows the beer, stored at 37°, to come out of the tap at a frosty 32°. The system was created for his operation by a local beer tap expert, and Arena suggests that operators check with their beer distributors to find a local specialist. Once the system is installed, he also recommends sampling the results often. “We temperature check the beer that is poured, twice per day, and keep a log,” he says. He also makes sure that his beer is served at its best taste by using detergent specified for beer glasses (he notes that animal fat-based soaps can affect the beer’s head when served).

Soda Solutions

Most soda machines haven’t changed much over the last few decades, though some fountain dispensers now offer the option of adding flavored syrups to customize sodas. However, for a look at the future of soda dispensing, the Coca-Cola Freestyle machine allows operators to offer 106 beverage options, improved pouring quality and an engaging experience for customers. Pizzerias, both independents and chains, have found that soda serving technology helps their business in a variety of ways. “I have a family-based restaurant; all the kids love the machine because it’s like a video game, while the adults enjoy the flavor variety,” says Sandy Kordick, owner of Stadium Pizza Wildomar (stadiumpizza.com) in Wildomar, California. “We’re still getting people in just to see the machine—or, if people order food to go, they see the machine and want to dine in just for the experience.” Kordick also explains that the Freestyle machine allows her to offer flavors that aren’t available in any store, as well as flavored water or sparkling water for health-conscious customers. Stadium Pizza is currently the only non-chain restaurant in the area to offer the machine, so Kordick’s business is able to truly stand out from the pack. 

However, chains are also jumping on the technological bandwagon when it comes to soda serving, and buffet concepts such as CiCi’s Pizza (cicispizza.com) have implemented the Freestyle machine at several stores. Stevi B’s Pizza Buffet (stevibs.com), based in Marietta, Georgia, now offers the technology at nine locations. Scott Knight, vice president of operations for Stevi B’s, believes that providing new soda options perfectly complements his brand, though some customers were initially intimidated. “Some seniors didn’t know how to use the technology, so we simply coached our staff to train customers how to use the machine,” he says. “This actually offered a new opportunity to add that personal touch and remain in contact with the customer.” Thus, the servers are having fun with the system, and customers are coming back regularly to try new flavors. Though staff required a few weeks to learn the ins and outs of the equipment, Knight says that it has helped to know the customer better. “We can learn about the customers’ taste preferences to make better decisions about our menu and help develop limited-time offers for the following year,” he says. “For 2011, we’re even going to have a culinary expert develop a table tent program that suggests different beverage pairings for our different specialty pizzas.” 

However, no matter what soda dispensing equipment you use, one factor is a must: ice. After all, providing the best beverages in town won’t mean much with ice that tastes bad—or worse, an ice machine that’s broken. “A pizzeria may experience a higher incidence of ice machine failure, because ice machines are vulnerable to the yeast bacteria created during the dough making process,” relates Les Tatum, national field service manager for Scotsman Ice Systems in Vernon Hills, Illinois. “Additionally, operators must properly maintain their machines to ensure that they’re producing sanitary ice, which can impact the taste and clarity of beverages.” Thankfully, ice machines have also advanced in technology: Many now have an indicator light that will indicate a problem with the machine, while a code will provide more information about a failure, allowing the ice machine to be fixed as quickly as possible. Additional features Tatum mentions include water-quality monitoring, voltage monitoring, and restart capabilities in the case of water or power loss.

Wonderful Wines

Wine has long been thought of as the ideal companion to pizza and other Italian meals, and for good reason: Like pizza and family-style pasta servings, a bottle of wine is meant to be shared in a social setting. But often, today’s diner doesn’t want to commit to a full bottle of wine, whether because of unfamiliarity with the product, price or differing preferences among diners in a single party. Conversely, many owners who offer by-the-glass options don’t want their wines to spoil with age after a bottle is opened. Luckily, technology can help with that: Many manufacturers offer wine preservation and dispensing systems that can keep wines fresh for weeks on end and allow servers to control pours to eliminate waste and lost profits. In fact, ProWine Products, based in Holland, Michigan, estimates that approximately 80% of ROI from wine service equipment in restaurants/bars comes from preservation, presentation and organization—key features of a wine dispensing system. 

Wine serving options can be either behind the bar or in the restaurant for customers to enjoy self-service. For example, an owner might set up a dozen or more bottles behind the bar, allowing bartenders or servers to pour precisely a five or six-ounce serving. Meanwhile, some manufacturers offer a wine card and software that allow customers to help themselves. “Customers can buy a wine card for $25, and simply go to the machine and select what they want until the money on the card is used,” explains Roberto Rinaldini, president of Rinaldini Distribution in Laguna Hills, California, which distributes the Enomatic line of wine dispensing equipment. “The wines are prepriced according to amount—a taste or a full glass—so customers select the portion and the amount charges to the card; the machine then shows the balance left on the card.” The benefits of this method, says Rinaldini, are ease of use as well as targeted marketing: If a customer shows a preference for a particular type of wine—pinot noir, for example—and you’re planning a pinot noir wine tasting dinner, you know whom to invite! And, because customers may be intimidated by different wine types and varieties, trying smaller samples at their own pace allows them to learn more about wines while having fun. Rinaldini also mentions that the first-ever system to preserve and dispense champagne, called Flute Bubble by the Glass, was just released in late October. Lala’s Wine Bar + Pizzeria (lalaswinebar.com) in Denver has found that offering a variety of wines by the glass offers a point of differentiation among not only area pizzerias, but other restaurants as well. “We use a cruvinet system by N2Vin to dispense 65 wines by the glass—more than twice as many as our closest competitor,” says Brian Culligan, general manager at Lala’s. “The equipment, which can keep a bottle fresh for up to six weeks, allows us to offer that many wines, and keep the product as fresh as possible for customers.” Culligan adds that the technology is user-friendly and adds to the ambience of the pizzeria. 

The beverage serving technologies mentioned in this article are only a sampling of all that is available on the market to help you provide the best in beverage service to your customers. If you fi nd that you need a unique angle for your business, want to cut down on waste or server inaccuracy, or simply want to provide customers with the best service and product, you can find an option to suit your needs. Check out offerings at trade shows, search online for better beverage serving solutions, and observe what the nation’s chains and top restaurants are using to get more inspiration. Here’s to a sure pour every time!

Tracy Morin is PMQ’s managing editor.