Touch, Taste a| Profits

Think of the scene in “Minority Report” where Tom Cruise whips a virtual computer screen around with his fingertips, pulling up different “pages,” selecting different items and sliding others aside.

Nightclub patrons in Chicago are getting the chance to try their hand, literally, at this type of technology. At Chicago’s Spybar, marketing director Berry Stachurska says the club recently installed touchscreen tables that not only bring another element of surprise to club patrons, but also a leg up over competition. “We wanted to give our customers a one-of-a-kind experience when they enter Spybar,” says Stachurska. “There are not many nightclubs in Chicago that have these tables yet, so we think our customers are seeing something innovative and fun when they walk in. That gives us a competitive advantage.”

So what exactly are these touchscreen tables? One option is available from Touch Taste Technologies, which started in February and is working with various bars and clubs to install what it calls TouchLife screens at VIP and bottle service tables. The screens allow customers to select, order and pay for drinks, store their favorites and alert their servers for other immediate needs.

TouchLife screen

The mini-computer-meets-tabletop device, developed by tech-guru Rhon Daguro and hospitality veteran Vaughan Palelei, also provide a more fun, interactive club experience, they say, by letting customers even become their own bartenders – screens act like expanded cocktail and drink menus, with complete ingredient and garnish listings as well as recipes for bartenders. Gone are the days of the thick drink menus or guessing what’s behind the bar — the TouchLife system has an astounding capability of providing more than 32,000 combinations based on just a handful of liquors.

“We’ve found that most customers only have about seven drinks in their mental menu, so they don’t try new drinks necessarily until someone recommends a new one to them,” says Daguro. “There are so many drinks being released into the marketplace, but they’re not being offered to the consumer in a way that matches their preferences.”

Loyalty cards supplied by the club retain customers’ order history, and when the card is swiped at the tables, guests will receive other suggestions based on recorded liquor preferences. The TouchLife tables also can divulge what other bar patrons are drinking that night.

Additionally, the system features a unique social media application. Customers with iPhones or other smart phones can friend the club they’re at on Facebook to see instant Wall updates on the screens, and also download the club’s tweets for the night. Daguro and Palelei also are working on adding YouTube and Foursquare applications.

Touch Taste Technologies also packages these tabletoppers with the iWall, a 10-foot-by-10-foot, wall-size touch screen appropriately named in the vein of Apple’s signature iPod, iPhone or other i-labeled devices for its easy-to-use touch-screen technology and advanced imaging features. When not in use, the glass panes go into a completely transparent “sleep” mode that fires back up with the touch of a fingertip to reveal display images that appear as if they’re floating in mid-air. Touch Taste says clubs like to use these as conversation starters and presentation devices. They’re also the central interface for non-VIP “public” spaces, usually positioned alongside the central floor bar to serve as an expanded drink menu as well as alleviate service constraints on bartenders.

Spybar and Zentra were the first clubs in Chicago to introduce the new technology last year, followed by Vision, Victor Hotel, and this summer, Illuminati, formerly Vain Nightclub, which was bought out and slightly remodeled. At this three-floor mega-club, TouchLife tables were installed in the bamboo and white linen VIP Cabanas on the top floor. The tables feature a menu list of more than 66,000 drink recipes packed with descriptions and games for group play. It even has a built-in camera that can shoot and store pictures in less than 15 seconds.

Next up? Crimson Lounge and potentially LaSalle Power Company, District and other clubs and ultra-lounges in the Chicago area; with a successful debut at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles, more cities around the country could begin adopting the technology. There’s certainly been an interest, says Daguro, after their booth saw some good traffic during last year’s Nightclub & Bar Convention and Trade Show in Las Vegas, and following a debut at Chicago’s Bull & Bear, which landed them on Apple’s “What’s Hot and New” list for four weeks straight, and then on the software giant’s featured app list for another month.

The accolades came in part because of the expanded service capabilities the system offers — with the touch of a button, guests can order additional drinks or otherwise grab their servers without obnoxious hand gesturing or long waits. The alerts signal servers through an iPhone they carry around, or by sending messages to screens behind the bar and at service stations. In some cases, the touchtables themselves light up when service is needed.

This system has helped increase the frequency and delivery of orders during a time when clubs are looking more than ever to boost profitable alcohol sales, Daguro says. However, he admits, the increased orders, while money-making, must also be properly managed by the individual club. In some cases, where orders doubled or even tripled, the clubs have looked to add more servers to each station or allow servers to share responsibilities and tips. Even though critics of the system initially predicted a drop in server tips, Daguro found that, in fact, gratuities went up. Servers trained to use the system provide an added service element by interacting with guests and showing them how to use, select and order drinks from the tables. This only helps to grow server tips on top of built-in gratuities for larger groups.

“The National Restaurant Association released a statistic recently that said 78 percent of consumers between the ages 18 and 54 expect to see some form of digital tableside service by 2010,” Daguro says.

Who knew Tom Cruise could inspire a new level of nightlife interactivity?

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