You've been waiting at the bar for what feels like an hour. It's so crowded that you're squished against the counter between two suspiciously sticky barstools. People push their way to the front, arms extended, demanding another drink. You finally order, but the poor bartender is running around like a chicken with its head chopped off, trying to please an increasingly angry mob.
It's this unpleasant experience that California native Nate Tomforde wanted to avoid when he decided to open Pour Taproom, which he says was North Carolina's first 100% self-serve bar, in Asheville in 2014. Pour has since expanded to nine locations, including Wilmington, Charlotte and Durham, and offers customer-poured beer, wine and cider by the ounce.
"It feels more casual, almost like a house party," says Tomforde, who previously worked in medical-device sales. "It creates a relaxed atmosphere that people have really enjoyed, and the technology has supported that environment."
Self-pour taprooms cut out the middleman of the bartender. Patrons' IDs are checked when they come in the door, and they receive either a wristband or a QR code card that can be scanned at any of the smart tablets above the row of taps. The tablets display information about each beer, such as flavor notes and the brewery's background. The wristband and code cards activate a valve release that pours the beverage, and a smart-flow meter measures how many ounces are poured. The tablet then updates the customer's tab.
Customers can help themselves to as many different types of beer as they want--that is, until they reach 32 ounces. If they want more, they must check in with a staff member, who will up their beverage allowance if they do not appear too intoxicated. For higher alcohol content beverages such as wine, the limit is different.
"We call it a beer festival every day," Tomforde says. "There's no other way to give people that freedom and variety in selection. ... It gives people the opportunity to sample a lot of different craft beers from North Carolina, across the U.S., and even internationally."
Self-serve taprooms have sprung up across the nation due to their popularity among both business owners and patrons. iPourIt Inc., a Lake Forest, Calif.-based company that develops hardware and software technology behind self-pour taps for bars and restaurants, has 4,000 smart taps deployed across the country, with 1,100 more on order. The configurations sell for an average of $1,100 to $1,600...