Patrons will pour own beers at Huntsville restaurant/bar

hops n guac AL

Huntsville restaurant Hops N Guac will use iPourit technology whereby customers pour their own beers, which are tracked electronically.

*Original Source: AL

Go ahead, make “How could that go wrong?” jokes if you must.

Because customers will pour their own beers at a taproom-meets-Mexican-restaurant coming to Huntsville called Hops N Guac.

The venture is using technology designed to keep things from going sideways, though.

Measures involve customer-worn wristbands with digital pour-tracking and overserving-prevention that cuts-off each Hops N Guac customer after every 32 ounces, or two pints worth, of beer that person drinks.

Hops N Guac’s food service will also involve automation. Customers place their food orders via self-service kiosks.

Hops N Guac is expected to open in June, between Straight to Ale brewery and Lone Goose Saloon at the Campus No. 805 complex, address 2620 Clinton Ave. W.

The destination won’t be “Jetsons”-level autonomous. Customers will have the option to order food through a human cashier if they prefer. And “beer consultant” employees will perambulate around a 45-tap self-serve beer wall, ready to provide info on available brews, breweries involved or how to pour the perfect beer.

Hops N Guac will serve some local and Alabama beers. But the focus will be more on out-of-state and import beers, say Blake Harper, one of the venture’s three Birmingham-based owners. (As of publishing, Hops N Guac was still determining their initial beer list.) Beer will be sold by the ounce. Prices vary from around 30 cents per ounce to 60 cents per ounce, with higher alcohol content, aka “high gravity,” beers more expensive generally.

Huntsville, like many cities, is not short on Mexican restaurant options. But Harper feels most of those fall either into Americanized versions or traditional taquerias. “We’re bringing a little different flavor with more modern Mexican, with dishes people aren’t used to,” he says. Hops N Guac’s menu boasts items such as Mexican street corn, “ninja pig tacos” (crispy pork, hoisin-glaze, cucumber jicama slaw) and a chorizo quesadilla. And, of course, given the business’ name, tableside-made guacamole. Most meals will cost around $10 or $11, Harper says.

Given Huntsville’s separate enthusiasms for craft-beer, technology and Mexican food, a business here combining those three might just be a sweet spot.

Hops N Guac’s 4,500-square-foot interior features a sugar-skulls motif inspired by Mexican holiday Day of the Dead. In addition to that 45-tap beer wall in plain sight, customers can access five more taps of rare, special release brews in a hidden “ofrenda room.” Outside there will be 1,200-square-foot patio and lawn area. There, customers can play yard games like shuffleboard and supersized versions of ping pong, Connect Four and Scrabble. There’s also snookball, a billiards and soccer hybrid.

A Hoover High School graduate, Harper became interested in self-serve beer after time spent at Fort Lauderdale, Fla.’s Riverside Market, a craft-beer-centric café housed in a former gas station. There, customers retrieved bottles and cans themselves from display coolers. “It was cool and different,” Harper says.

Riverside Market operated on the honor system, according to Harper, with customers tallying up their own brews. He wondered if there was a way to do self-serve with better controls for theft-prevention and inventory control. Through research online Harper found companies offering self-pour tech. He contacted some of those vendors and eventually decided on Orange County, Calif-based company iPourit.

iPourit founder Brett Jones got the idea for his product after a night spent watching football at a crowded Irvine, Calif. bar. There, Jones, whose background is in IT, waited about 15 minutes to get served. When the beer he’d ordered arrived Jones didn’t how it tasted. It then took another 15 minutes or so to get another beer. “There was a frustration with getting product,” relays iPourit vice-president Darren Nicholson. “Brett’s thought was, ‘Here’s all these taps, right there. if I could just create a system that allowed me to check in with a credit card and pour my own beers wouldn’t that be great?'”

Launched in 2012, iPourit uses technology (including a digital tablet screen) and software to convert regular beer taps to self-pour. The first installation was at Pacific Beach spot Barrel Republic. iPourit tech is now used in around 170 U.S. locations, Nicholson says, out of 400 total locations for self-pour vendors. Most iPourit locations do beer and wine. But the technology has also been used for coffee, cider, kombucha and mixed-drinks. “We can pour anything that’s not heated that’s a liquid that doesn’t have any sediment, pulp or frozen bits in it,” Nicholson says. According to Nicholson, Hops N Guac will be the first Alabama business to use iPourit.

Harper says iPourit allows Hops N Guac to operate with a staff 30 to 40 percent smaller than such it would require otherwise. They are currently hiring for all positions. But he’s just as interested in the data iPourit tracks as the overhead it reduces. The system precisely records, to the ounce, sales info for all beers on tap there, “to tell you what your customers are trending towards,” Harper says. “I would never open up a bar or restaurant without technology like this just because the industry is so hard as it is.” Harper, who says he’s never worked in a restaurant or bar, believes iPourit analytics “eliminates some of the risk.”

Harper’s confidence in iPourit is such he’s opening a second business, McAdory Taps, based on that tech, in July in Birmingham at 2013 1st Ave. N. The 30-year-old’s previous ventures include Jeep customization and watersports.

Here’s how Hops N Guac will work. When customers enter, they’ll give a hostess their credit card and, if drinking alcohol, a valid ID. The hostess will check ID, swipe the credit card to open a tab and give ID and card back to the customer, along with a wristband digitally connected to that tab. Dining customers receive a pager to indicate when their food’s ready. Proceed to the right to order food from a kiosk – or, if machine-averse, a cashier. If you want an adult beverage, select a beer, cider or wine from the beer wall. (Hops N Guac did not respond to AL.com follow-up inquiries asking if they will serve margaritas too, but since margarita-machines are fairly commonplace that possibility seems likely.) After determining the desired beverage, tap your wristband to the screen above that corresponding tap. You can then pour a small sample, full pint or somewhere in between.

The by-the-ounce format is designed to encourage suds sampling and exploration, Harper says. “A lot of times people want to try new beers but the place is crowed, there’s only two bartenders, so you just go back to the same beer you always drink.”

The wristband and iPourit system tracks everything poured. Once each customer hits a total of 32 ounces for that visit, that customer can’t pour anymore alcohol until they check in with a beer consultant to verify they’re fit to consume further. If they’re cleared for additional consumption, the wristband is reset for another 32 ounces.

Conspiracy theorists take note: iPourit will also collect age, gender and zip code data from Hops N Guac customers, for demographics purposes. That data is anonymized though and Nicholson says, “nothing can be hacked.”

The impact of 21st century disruptive innovations is well-chronicled. What Uber did to taxis. Netflix to TV. Spotify to music sales. Airbnb to hotels. Could self-service tech like iPourit do the same thing to the service industry? Nicholson says, “I think it will in the market and the concept that it serves, but I don’t think it’s going to replace the typical service and bartender experience. There are 1.7 million beer lines in the market currently in the U.S. and about a little over 8,000 of them are self-serve right now. Do I think every location will utilize this technology? Absolutely not.”

According to Nicholson, tech like iPourit enhances customer experience beyond just shorter wait times for India Pale Ales. He says self-serve taprooms become “very social environments. People are moving around the space quite a bit, they’re at the beer wall. People talk to one another who never knew each another.”

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