Are Digital Wine Programs Worth the Cost?

Restaurants nationwide have recently begun revolutionizing their wine programs by going digital, replacing their paper wine lists in favor of iPads and Android tablets. These digital wine programs operate much like other restaurant digital POS systems, offering diners the ability to peruse an electronic wine list, serviced by a number of specially designed apps. No longer just a novelty item, more and more restaurants are incorporating these digital wine lists into their restaurants, replacing often encyclopedia-sized wine lists for a sleek, portable tablet.   

The growth of these digital wine programs is undeniable, but are they worth the cost? Restaurant owners say a categorical yes. But before implementing one of these systems in your own restaurant, learn how they operate and what benefits they can provide. 

How These Programs Work

Tablets and iPads have already been making their way into restaurants in the form of menus, reservation services and payment processors. Now, however, these digital programs are becoming more specialized, developing programs tailored specifically to wine sales. 

Android and iPad apps, such as eSommelier, Vinipad, Vinu, Uncorkd, SmartCellar and Tastevin, offer their services for a monthly subscription fee that enables use on a multitude of devices. These digital wine apps serve a multitude of functions, allowing diners to quickly and efficiently browse a restaurant’s wine list, searching by variety, region or price. 

Entirely customizable, restaurants are able to provide additional information on each wine, such as tasting notes, wine ratings background stories, regional maps and photographs. These additional details that are not presented on traditional paper wine lists often help to create a more personal connection for the diner with a wine that can result in a boost in sales. These programs also offer opportunities to upsell wine by featuring top recommendation categories.

In addition to encouraging customer interaction, the apps are also integrated with every major POS system, enabling staff to provide live inventory management. When a wine is out of stock, these programs offer real-time inventory updates so that a restaurant’s wait staff is best equipped to communicate which wines are available to guests. 

Another beneficial aspect of digital wine programs is their ability to act as a data-mining tool that provides restaurant owners statistics as to which wines are trending. The apps can also collect guests’ emails and send updates when new vintages of wines they have enjoyed arrive. 

Will Digital Programs Destroy Sommeliers?

Pizzeria Il Fico's Digital Wine List  | Foodable WebTV Network

Pizzeria Il Fico's Digital Wine List | Foodable WebTV Network

While there is always a risk of damage or theft, most of these programs come insured, offering protection for restaurants. If the apps suffer from any software glitches, there is technical support offered that can service the program the very next day. Yet perhaps the largest concern surrounding the various restaurant digital programs is the loss of the human element. 

It is feared by some that with the spread of these digital wine programs, sommeliers will no longer be necessary in restaurants. Yet these digital wine programs are meant not as a replacement, but as a complement to sommeliers. In fact, these programs often require more involvement from sommeliers as they are needed to update the narrative content and photos the app features for each wine. 

While the digital wine lists are meant to serve as interactive guides that consumers can utilize, it is still a restaurant’s sommelier and waitstaff that are best equipped to offer recommendations and to suggest what would pair well with each dish.    

Benefits of Going Digital

While transitioning over to a digital wine program can be a costly investment, especially with the large upfront investment of purchasing multiple iPads or tablets, for many restaurants, the benefits can outweigh the costs. Appealing to the more tech-savvy millennial generation, these iPad and tablet wine lists offer a modern, entirely unique dining experience. 

Sommelier and restaurant owner John Tierney utilizes the Tastevin app for his digital wine program at Los Angeles' Pizzeria Il Fico, offering diners iPads to make their wine selections. “I was looking for an easier way to manage inventory and was interested in not having to reprint the wine list every time something was out of inventory or a vintage changed,” Tierney explained. 

With a digital program, the wine list can be updated in real time during service, allowing his staff to keep track of inventory. “When we run out of a particular wine,” Tierney states, “the staff knows how to stock it and [the app] digitally syncs with the rest of the iPads to remove the item from the list.”

Tierney described Pizzeria Il Fico’s transition from paper wine lists to iPad ones relatively easy, with the reception amongst customers being generally favorable. “Some older clients want a traditional list, but then they try it out and like it,” Tierney explains. “Customers can delve a little deeper and read what the wineries send us digitally about the wines.”

An additional benefit Tierney discovered after installing the iPads was the backlight illuminating the list, allowing for many diners to read the wine list without hovering over candlelight or fumbling for reading glasses.

Yet the best benefit the Tastevin offers Tierney is benefit of time: “It has freed up a lot of time and that’s the number one thing I have little of running a small business.”