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Choosing wine with the touch of a screen

Given the historic setting, it could not seem more incongruous.

At the Waterlot Inn, Bermuda’s most venerable steakhouse, a cosy cottage complete with cedar beams and white linen tablecloths, the servers now greet diners by handing them an iPad. It is loaded with the restaurant’s extensive wine list with the details of nearly 550 labels and an inventory of more than 2,250 bottles.

Once patrons make sense of the touchpad menu, which does not take long, they can search for wines by name, region, varietal and price.

The high-tech wine list is the brainchild of the Waterlot Inn’s Maitre’D, Thomas Houston.

“It’s taken basically a year to put together, but we’ve just released the first iPad wine list in Bermuda,” Mr Houston said.

The restaurant bought 12 iPads locally and rather than purchasing a pre-designed app, Mr Houston worked with a Bermudian designer on the concept.

“We worked together on what my vision was for it and he designed our entire wine list from scratch. He should be extremely proud of the product that was put out in the end,” Mr Houston said.” “We put it out on Friday last week, so we’re extremely excited about it. It’s been hugely well received in the first week of launching this.”

Restaurateurs around the world are experimenting with technology in the dining room with iPad wine lists popping up from Napa Valley to Central Park South to London to Sydney.

The Waterlot Inn, one of only a handful of AAA four-diamond award restaurants on the Island, says the new technology is not only more environmentally friendly, it’s also more efficient.

“It’s a huge from an environmental perspective,” Mr Houston said. “Between the paper and the ink and all the components of being able to print a wine list that has over 500 labels, anytime there’s even a small change or we run out of something or there’s a vintage change, or price changes, we have to go and reprint the entire list, so that’s the rationale behind it.

Now, if the restaurant should run out of something, they can easily draw a line through it to show customers that while they typically have a particular vintage, they happen to be out at that time. They can also highlight new items or indicate any specials they might have — all without having to reprint.

“It saves a lot of waste,” Mr Houston said.

Wines are separated by varietals to start with, and then country and then right down to the region.

“For us to do that in a paper list, we’re just completely wasting space, ink and paper whereas now, with the technology, we can separate all of those for the guest so if they’re Napa Valley wine drinkers, they can go straight to the Napa Valley section and see what we have for selections.”

“We’ve designed it this way because it increases the efficiency for the guests and makes it easier for the guest to find what they’re looking for,” Mr Houston said.

While some restaurants abroad have wine lists that provide detailed descriptions of the wines and can even hyperlink guests to the winery’s website and allow them to order straight from the device, Mr Houston said it was extremely important to him that the technology not take away from the unique experience that is dining at the Waterlot.

“The reason we’ve launched this in the way that we have is to make sure that we’re still maximising the guest experience and we’re not taking away anything from what the Waterlot experience is,” Mr Houston said. “So it’s a bit of blending the old which is a building built in 1670 and obviously the decor and ambience with the new which is the efficiency of guests being able to use this new and exciting technology.

“When you see it in the room and the way that the actual list itself is designed, it blends very nicely with the ambience of the room while still being the technology of an iPad,” he added.

“That was a big part of the design was that we wanted to keep it clean and very simple.”

“At this stage, we’re handing them out just like this because we wanted to get a nice, leather, personalised case with our logo on it, so that’s coming. It was important to us that we had the right case for the dining room’s ambience.”

Servers spend about 20 seconds explaining how to use the wine list and they each carry a cloth in their pocket to wipe the iPad down before it comes to the table.

When asked what some older, less experienced iPad users might think of the technology being introduced at their favourite restaurant, Mr Houston said the reaction so far has been great.

“That’s because we’ve kept it simple,” he said. “We get the ‘wow, this is cool, I use an iPad every day’ people, but there’s also the guest who’s never touched one, never will and doesn’t want to, so for that guest, the verbiage of the staff that’s critical. We don’t want to spend 20 minutes explaining to a guest how to use this and the 500 different features that they don’t need.”

“And the iPad is locked on the wine list, so for the guest — there’s no way you can manipulate it so that you’re going to get lost.”

“We had one guest who obviously had never used an iPad before and by about three minutes into it, we couldn’t get it back!”

Eventually, Mr Houston says they may consider building more features into their digital wine list, but for now, they’re keeping it simple and warming everyone up to the concept.

“The technology that comes along with it — the hyperlinks, being able to pull up a wine’s description, connecting with the POS system — those are all things we’re panning to do down the road, but it was important to us to get something out in the market,” he said. “We wouldn’t have put this out if it wasn’t a great product. I’m very proud of the fact that this is a very good product.”

The Waterlot Inn has also introduced a Napa Technology WineStation — a fully automated wine-by-the-glass machine that stores bottles in pressurised gas system, allowing the wine to retain its fresh taste and preservation while being served at the optimal temperature.

“There are a couple of benefits to that — one is if you just want to have a glass of wine with dinner, rather than having to pick from what is, in a lot of restaurants, a fairly limited selection, this allows you eight super high-end premium wines that are as fresh as if you just opened the bottle.

“The second component of it, is that if you have a $200 bottle of wine for dinner and you feel like having that extra glass, you’re not necessarily going to buy another $200 bottle of wine. But you’re also very unlikely to want to go from that bottle to a $12 glass of Cabernet. So what this allows us to do is to actually offer you that premium glass after you’ve had the premium bottle, which I think just adds to the wine experience,” Mr Houston explained.

The machine can be set to pour one ounce, three ounce, and five ounce pours — allowing guests to taste or have a full glass.

“One of the bottles we have in there is a $600 bottle of wine. The majority of us aren’t going to order a $600 bottle of wine in a restaurant, but I’d love to know what that would taste like, and so we actually can sell it just by the ounce just as a taste, 3 ounces or the full glass — it’s great.”

The restaurant says the changes to the wine menu compliment an updated and refreshed menu focused on seasonal ingredients and old favourites as well as the addition of The Dock at The Waterlot Inn. The restaurant’s relatively new outdoor space, which opened two months earlier this year, has been hugely popular, Mr Houston said.

Guests can enjoy cocktails and a tapas menu while enjoying the sunset over Jews Bay or relax and have dessert and an after-dinner drink by moonlight after dinner.

For more information, visit www.fairmont.com/southampton-bermuda/dining/waterlotinn/.

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Published May 08, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated May 07, 2013 at 7:30 pm)

Choosing wine with the touch of a screen

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