“Sorry, we’re out of that bottle.”
How many times have you heard that one after spending time perusing a wine list? According to Yashar Shayan, you won’t be hearing it at Seattle’s Palisade restaurant, thanks to an investment by parent company Restaurants Unlimited in a fleet of iPads outfitted with a SmartCellar app.
The technology is meant to appeal to both hardcore wine geeks well-attuned to terroir and novice wine drinkers who may (initially) be uncomfortable with the ministrations of a certified sommelier like Shayan.
Palisade’s “paperless wine menu” is a pilot program for RUI, a company boasting 20 restaurant brands at 46 locations nationwide. The new touchpad database now in customers’ hands is searchable by categories ranging from verticals to vineyard, pinot noir to price-point. It was in testing mode for several weeks before going live in late October.
As the restaurant’s wine director, Shayan’s duties include choosing new wines, researching them and educating the waitstaff, as well as overseeing the enological input on the iPads. And after hearing about the technology from his fellow “somms” who’ve been using it in one form or another in urban centers elsewhere, he’s excited to be part of the trend.
“I can enter tasting notes, and maps and explain `What’s the Tokay region of Hungary? What are the grapes?'” he says. “You can input as much or as little as you’d like, including `How many years did this cabernet age in oak? What kind of oak?'” With iPad in hand, guests have easy access to that info.
Using wireless technology (and saving reams of paper) “all the iPads are synchronized in real-time,” Shayan explains. “If I make one change, it’s instant. If we sell the last bottle of something, it goes off the list. If I add a new wine, it instantly goes in there as well.”
Get a kick from Champagne, but can’t recall the name of the bubbly providing that kick? You could play Twenty Questions with your waiter — or let your fingers do the walking. Aside from being “fun, cool and new, one of the obvious things it offers are images of recognizable wine labels, Shayan says of the digital menu displaying 600-plus wines (heretofore listed in a 35-page tome in need of frequent updating).
Another big plus for consumers? A lot of people want help choosing a wine, but shy away from asking its price, particularly if they’re on a date or enjoying a business meal, the sommelier says. Now, “you can sort from least expensive to most expensive, and it will help you find the price category you want to be in, whatever that category is.”
So, will the iPad and its wine-inventory app replace human discourse between wine lover and wine server? “I think it enhances the customer-service role,” insists Shayan. “It opens it up to conversation and acts as an icebreaker.” And perhaps more importantly, “It definitely gets people interested in looking at the wine list right off the bat.”
Techno-phobes fear not. The intuitive iPad and its growing number of restaurant applications is nothing to be afraid of. “I haven’t had anybody feel completely overwhelmed,” Shayan says. “Most of our guests have smart phones, and that’s paved the way for this technology.”
As for the Luddites, “I don’t expect 100 percent of the people to want to use an iPad, so it’ll behoove us to have a contingency.” To that end, he says, Palisade is still keeping paper wine lists handy, “and in theory, I’d like to keep those as up-to-date as possible.”