Corrections or additions?

This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring

was prepared for the March 27, 2002 edition of

U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Tech Review: Liquor Kiosk

The last alcoholic drink I had was called Victoria

Falls. I ordered it at the poolside bar at Disney World’s Animal

Kingdom

Lodge. Made of many types of fruity liqueur, lime juice, and Sprite,

it was very sweet — and very green. A year or so before, I had

ordered a slow gin fizz — sweet and pink — at Freddie’s

restaurant

in West Trenton. That pretty much sums up my recent experience with

alcohol, and my degree of sophistication in regards to same.

Needless to say, stocking a bar for a party — or even choosing

alcoholic accompaniments for dinner — is not one of my strong

points. How much of what kinds of alcohol to put in my cart is a

mystery.

Invariably, there is not enough white wine, or there is far too much

beer.

Even those who know how to mix a martini, choose a Beaujolais, or

pick a winner from a selection of microbrews may freeze at the

prospect

of stocking the bar for the office picnic, client brunch, or annual

dinner. Now there is help. Beverage Marketing Technologies, a Katonah,

New York-based company, has teamed with NCR to deliver extensive party

planning assistance via interactive electronic kiosks. Called

ChoiceMaster,

the kiosks are just starting to arrive in grocery stores, and there

is one in Wegman’s new wine and liquor store attached to its Nassau

Park supermarket.

The kiosk, which sits next to the check-out counter at the front of

the store, is helpful in some ways and great fun to play with, but

how useful is it? I gave it a try:

Extremely easy to use, the kiosk offers users a touch screen

menu with choices that include "Plan a Party." At the next

level, there is a choice of barbeque or picnic, wedding or

celebration,

cocktail party, brunch, dinner, or after dinner. I picked celebration,

and was then asked how to type in the length of the celebration. I

chose six hours, and was then prompted to enter the number of guests.

Thinking big, I attempted to type in 2,000. The program balked.

Apparently

this kiosk thinks only in numbers that have no more than three digits.

That makes sense, actually. I imagine that anyone throwing a party

for more than 999 people would need a lot more help than even the

most advanced kiosk could offer. Still, going for a really big

imaginary

party, I typed in 650 in the spot for number of guests.

The next screen asked what kind of drinkers they were. The choices

are non-drinkers, light drinkers, moderate drinkers, and party

animals.

For each category, I was asked to give a percentage. I put

non-drinkers

at 20 percent of the 650 guests. The kiosk then filled in the other

blanks, intuiting that 15 percent would be light drinkers, 30 percent

moderate drinkers, and 35 percent party animals. When I entered zero

for non-drinkers, the kiosk suggested that 35 percent would be light

drinkers, 30 percent moderate drinkers, and 35 percent party animals.

It is not necessary to accept these numbers. I could have put in any

percentages in any category.

With percentages entered, the kiosk asks whether guests

will be drinking wine, beer, or liquor. And while the percentages

in each drinking category need to add up to 100, the type of alcohol

each will be drinking does not. So, for instance, during a day-long

company outing, it is possible that every single guest might imbibe

from all three categories at some point. If the party planner thinks

that will be the case, 100 percent could be entered in each category.

These two crucial steps — percentage of drinkers and percentage

drinking each type of alcohol — is where I could have used more

help than the kiosk provided. Are there statistics on what percentage

of adults are non-drinkers? On what percentage are likely to prefer

beer to wine?

For answers, I called Beverage Marketing Technologies and reached

Jay Roelof, vice president for editorial content and services. Roelof

says the software doesn’t offer guidance because "the assumption

is when a person throws a party, they have a pretty good idea of the

mix they have." The software does help out, he says, by restating

the choices party planners have made, and allowing them to go back

and make changes until they believe they have gotten it right.

"It’s hard," says Roelof, " when you’re dealing with a

lot of people."

Initially, his company, which conceived the idea for ChoiceMaster

nearly 10 years ago, marketed to liquor stores. An early customer

was the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. Independent liquor chains

followed, but Roelof says the company has now decided that the best

place for its kiosks is "a grocery store environment."

In a small liquor store, he points out, there is often a knowledgeable

owner or clerk who can give advice on how much beer to buy for the

post-softball-tournament celebration or what wine to serve with a

prime rib dinner. This help is often missing in a supermarket, which

is where ChoiceMaster steps in.

And while the company doesn’t plan to offer further guidance in

estimating

how many people in a large group are likely to drink how much alcohol,

Roelof says it will help out in another area where I could have used

more guidance.

For my six-hour-long, 650-person celebration, at which I was planning

to host 65 non-drinkers, 162 light drinkers, 196 moderate drinkers,

and (God help me) 227 party animals, 20 percent of whom would be

drinking

liquor, 80 percent wine, and 75 percent beer, ChoiceMaster suggested

that I purchase 68 bottles of liquor, 651 bottles of wine, 508 six

packs of beer, and 123 six packs of soda. I didn’t feel this

staggering

list was tremendously helpful. What kind of liquor? How much of the

wine should be red? How many of those six packs of soda should be

mixers? And what kind of mixers?

Roelof says the software is capable of making suggestions, and will

soon do so. The hold-up, he says, is that the guidance will provide

not only a break-down of how many of those liquor bottles should

contain

gin, rum, or vodka, but also suggestions as to which brand of each

to purchase. The company does not yet have advertisers, but is now

lining them up. "It’s a good selling tool," says Roelof, and

the feature will be added as soon as advertisers are on-board.

While I was disappointed not to receive more help on guesstimating

how many big drinkers would be attending my imaginary 650-person

confab,

and exactly what kind of liquor they would demand, I did find

ChoiceMaster

tremendously helpful in other ways. For one thing, the kiosk prints

out all of its suggestions. A touch on the screen and my party plan

scrolled out.

I found that the kiosk offers an impressive selection of recipes for

party food. Under salads alone there are at least four choices —

meat, fish, and poultry; fruit; vegetable and legume; and rice, grain,

and pasta. For each choice there are about 12 recipes. The recipes

print out, making it a snap for the last minute party organizer to

run around the store and throw ingredients into a cart.

And while there was no guidance on breaking down those 68 bottles

of liquor for my big party into gin, whiskey, and vodka, there is

extensive help in choosing the correct drink to match with a wide

variety of foods. Under a "Food Match" heading, ChoiceMaster

offers Quick and Easy, More Complex, and Soups and Stews. I went right

for Quick and Easy, where the menu of choices included meat, seafood,

pizza and pasta, vegetarian, spicy/ethnic take-out, and fowl. Picking

spicy/ethnic takeout, I was presented with more choices — Japanese

sushi/sashimi (with horseradish, soy, ginger, or garlic),

Japanese-style

(with soy and/or ginger), Cantonese style (with sweet and sour sauce),

Szechuan/Human/Thai (with garlic, soy, or fermented black bean), and

more — much more.

For those with a thirst for knowledge about spirits, there is

extensive

information on concocting drinks, and about composition and history

of all kinds of alcohol. Roelof, who writes a lot of the copy, says

the aim is to present enough information to inform, but not to

overwhelm.

There are tomes and cocktail books on wine and beer, he points out.

ChoiceMaster is not seeking to impart this encyclopedic education,

but rather to offer a concise page of information. Nicely illustrated

and well-written, the thumbnail descriptions of different types of

alcoholic beverages are fascinating.

I learned, for instance, that there are three large wine categories

— varietal, regional, and generic. I also could have found out

all about fermentation and aging, and about the difference between

using bottles and wood. Given more time I also could have delved into

beer by country, style, and/or name.

Skipping right to history I looked up the origin of cordials,

liqueurs,

and schnapps. I learned that these drinks date back to medieval times

when alchemists used them to create healing potions. "Many,"

according to ChoiceMaster, "were intended to stimulate the

heart."

Heart is "cor" or "cordis" in Latin, and that is how

cordials got their name.

I would have gone on, but it was lunchtime, and the store was

beginning

to fill up. Aware of monopolizing the kiosk, I reluctantly

relinquished

my position. No doubt it is fun to play with, and its recipe feature

is outstanding. As for its core function, I think it would be helpful

for estimating the amount of soda and beer to buy for an office

picnic,

but less helpful in stocking a bar for a big dinner. The addition

of specific suggestions on what types of hard liquor to purchase will

go a long way toward alleviating questions over stocking a bar.

That leaves only the issue of determining which among one’s workmates

are teetotalers, which are moderate imbibers, and which are the sorts

from whom the booze had better be hidden if it is to last the evening.

Technology — or at least ChoiceMaster — apparently is going

to offer no help with that one, leaving party planners reliant on

field research or rumor.

— Kathleen McGinn Spring


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