Next Generation Bar Automation

29 July 2008 at 22:49 | Posted in bar automation, Bars and Pubs, Beer Tap Machines, Drink Mixer Machines, Innovations | Leave a comment
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[Category: Innovations. If you are new to my blog please read the “About itimes3” page first]

Friday or Saturday night at the pub: in too many pubs, limited staff, a small bar area or other issues cause the ordering process to be slow. On busy nights, more often than not, it can be more or less a fight to get to the bar and order drinks in quite a few pubs and bars.

I have walked away from pubs and went elsewhere due to this issue, as often I can’t be bothered to spend part of my evening waiting in a queue to buy a few drinks.

Much of the reason for this is slow processing of the drinks orders. The reason for the slow processing is often the mechanics of preparing the drinks, which are either labour intensive or restricted by maximum output speeds of equipment used and people working.

Take beer for example: the speed at which a glass of beer is filled is relatively slow. Usually, bar staff place one or two glasses under the tap and wait until they are filled. This is technically a waste of time, but they have to do this as the taps are slow.

Another cause for slowness is the mixed drinks: all mixed drinks are manually mixed, however the majority of mixed drinks are standard mixes (rum & coke, vodka & soda, etc.) and there is no technical need to manually prepare them.

The third cause for slowness is payment: the process of paying for drinks using a variety of cards or the cash change procedure often adds significantly to the order processing time.

For the above reasons I would like to propose that relevant industries develop automated solutions, so that the pub of the future may feature the following systems at the bar:

Automated beer tap machine. One of the reasons beer tapping using traditional taps is slow is the narrow diameter of the pipe. This is presumably done to make sure not much beer is spilled should the tap not be shut off in time. The beer tap machine will have a much wider pipe diameter, to allow for much faster filling of the glass.

The way I see this work is as follows: glasses are fed into the machine automatically (after someone feeds them into a glass guide which can hold at least 10 glasses on a small machine, or entire trays of glasses for bigger models, and through which the glasses are fed into the machine). When a customer orders a beer, the bartender presses one of a set of big buttons on the machine which each represent a different type of beer. The machine rotates the correct nozzle for the selected type of beer over the glass, and fills it within about one second at high speed.

This can be done because the filling is automatic, and the level until which the beer is filled into the glass is automatically scanned by a laser or similar, so the machine stops filling at exactly the right time, preventing spillage. This will need to be calibrated for each type of beer and special foam-shaping devices may need to be designed and fitted to ensure the beer does not foam excessively as a result of the high-speed filling process.

A “robotic hand” moves the filled glass onto a rotating tray which space for a number of glasses, from which the bartender then removes the glass and presents it to the customer.

Larger machines could be equipped with a labeler that attaches a small disposable thin paper label to the glass with the beer logo (using either just water or a glue that quickly dissolves in water). This will enable staff and users to see which beer is in the glass, which is handy if the machine can dispense 10 different types of beer or so and glasses come out at a rate of 20 per minute.

The machine should also indicate beer levels in the connected vats, and sound alarms at appropriate times so bar staff will know well in advance when a vat is near empty and a new one will need to be connected up. However of each type of beer two vats should be connected, so when one is empty it can be swapped out whilst the other vat is fully operational, and it is not necessary to interrupt the dispensing of beer.

These machines should be able to deal with different types and sizes of glasses, and also be adaptable to use plastic glasses, to be used at events.

The second machine required is the drink mixer machine. This could be operated alongside the beer machine, in some cases, depending on how busy the environment is, by the same operator. This machine would be used to prepare the most commonly ordered standard cocktails, such as rum and coke, whiskey and soda, etc. as these drinks take a relatively long time to prepare: taking a glass, filling with ice, finding the bottle, filling up with the soft-drink and finding a straw.

The drink mixer machine could be made in a simple or a complex design, depending on volumes required (size of the pub or bar, etc.). The machine would have large, easy to hit buttons: one button for ice, one button for each liquor, and one button for each soft drink. The operator would in quick succession hit the required buttons and the glass would be filled and ready within three seconds, including a straw that would be shot into the glass by a dispenser in the machine.

The simple version of the machine would simply have liquor bottles and vats of soft drink connected and sound an alarm when anything is near empty. The more complex design would use larger quantities of liquor with a rotation system so there would also be bottles of any drink hooked up, whilst empty bottles can be swapped out whilst the machine is still fully operational.

Other drinks, such as complex cocktails, wine, and special drinks would still be done manually, at a third “step” in the drink ordering process. People ordering drinks would first walk past the beer machine, then the drink mixer machine, and then the manual drink ordering bar.

At this point, there would also be the pay stations. Because paying is one of the most time-consuming elements of a drinks order, this will need to be automated by means of a row of pay stations (as orders can be processed quicker than people can pay, there would need to be at least five or more pay stations). These would be like the pay stations at self-service checkouts at the supermarket, where there is a card swipe, a bank-note inlet, and a coin inlet, as well as a proximity-card reader to enable manual override by bar managers, if required.

When a customer orders his or her drinks, he or she is assigned a pay station number which subsequently flashes above the assigned pay station. Once the order is placed the customer goes to the pay station and pays, and a display or colour code indicates to the bar staff that the order has been paid for, and the drinks are subsequently released (note: it could be that it would be easier to pre-pay the drinks, so that once paid the machines and if necessary the manual drink ordering bar would have the drinks ready near immediately for collection).

Equipping a bar with the above setup would, I believe, increase bar output three- or fourfold and lead to happier customers.

This scenario, however, is only useful in places where the bars and pubs tend to be big (such as in Sydney), or at events such as pop concerts and sports venues where large crowds need to be served quickly. In some countries, many bars are small and intimate and this type of setup will probably not apply there.

If you like this idea and you work in a type of industry where this is relevant, I would be happy to discuss in more detail, answer questions or assist in other ways. For details and contact information please see the “About itimes3” page.

George Spark

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