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Volume 21 No. 39
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Movement to let fans pour their own beers goes flat

It’s getting close to last call for one self-serve beer system in place at sports facilities.

Two years ago, DraftServ, a portable self-serve beer kiosk allowing fans to pour their own beers measured by the ounce, was the hot gadget in sports. Multiple concessionaires tested the system to help reduce beer lines, which typically produce the longest waits at arenas and stadiums.

But in most cases, low adoption, driven in part by weather conditions, put a damper on the system and it’s disappearing from sports venues, according to teams and vendors.

Delaware North Sportservice has DraftServ units pouring craft beers in a bar at Progressive Field. Overall, though, the trend has never caught on, in part because fans like personal interaction with bartenders, concessionaires say.
Photos by: DELAWARE NORTH SPORTSERVICE

In 2015, Delaware North Sportservice installed 20 DraftServ kiosks in 10 locations at Great American Ball Park after testing the system at the 2014 MLB All-Star Game at Target Field. Two seasons later, every machine has been pulled from the Cincinnati Reds’ stadium, Sportservice officials confirmed.

The systems are not inexpensive. DraftServ kiosks cost $7,000 to $15,000 apiece depending on the size of the machines. The high-end price is for the large, mobile refrigerated unit that can hold 80 kegs and has 28 taps.

“We loved the idea but the equipment did not function well in our hot summer environment,” Reds Chief Operating Officer Phil Castellini said. “It was a challenge maintaining the beer product and keeping it refrigerated. We may revisit it in the future.”

Aramark tested DraftServ at a few locations over the past few years but never saw it gain traction at its accounts, said Danielle Lazor, Aramark’s vice president of design and development.

“I think it’s fun in environments that are more private and enclosed … but fans are still looking for that element of personal service,” Lazor said. “We haven’t seen anyone get excited about it. There’s a ‘messy factor’ too that’s different than soda and I think that’s part of the low adoption.”

For Spectra Food Services & Hospitality, the 3.5 percent fees it would have to pay credit card companies for all DraftServ transactions were one reason why it shied away from using the system at its venues, including Oakland Coliseum and Avaya Stadium, company vice president Jay Satenspiel said.

“You might be saving labor [costs] on the top, but you’re paying it back in the fees and you’re really not picking up the speed of service that you want,” said Satenspiel, whose research of DraftServ included discussions with competitors using the system.

In addition, Satenspiel agreed with Lazor about the personal interaction component. Self-service in general removes the experience of communicating with food service workers, he said.

“That’s part of the event,” Satenspiel said. “When you’re at a ballpark, half the fun is [shooting the bull] with the bartender. Now, you walk up to a machine, put a card in, make the selection, push a button and walk away. It’s like filling your car with gas. There’s got to be the right balance.”

Concessionaires haven’t given up on the concept. Sportservice still has DraftServ pouring local craft beers at The Corner, an indoor bar in right field at Progressive Field, where the Cleveland Indians play. Levy Restaurants, which tested DraftServ at United Center in 2015 for the NBA and NHL playoffs before removing it from the Chicago arena, continues to use the mobile unit for major events such as the Kentucky Derby and Ryder Cup.

Levy Restaurants continues to use DraftServ mobile units at big events like the Kentucky Derby, where the system works more naturally among the large crowds in a social setting.
Photo by: LEVY RESTAURANTS

At those two events, where large crowds gather in more of a social setting, it’s a way to control service and the system falls more in line with how people interact in big groups at horse tracks and golf courses, said Jaime Faulkner, CEO of E15, Levy Restaurants’ analytics group.

“In an arena or stadium, fans want to go to the bathroom, get their beer and food and get back to their seat,” she said. “But having said that, any time you put the order and pay into the hands of the fan, you’re way better off … because that’s what they’re used to in everyday life.”

On the flip side, the growing trend of self-serve soft drink machines in sports is where Aramark sees things heading in the future, Lazor said.

“We’re really looking at how we evolve this model and look into customization,” he said. “What we’re finding is fans are mixing and matching different combinations of soda. There’s some pleasure that people get out of that [and] something we hadn’t contemplated.”