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
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
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
Invariably, there is not enough white wine, or there is far too much
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
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
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
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:
menu with choices that include "Plan a Party." At the next
level, there is a choice of barbeque or picnic, wedding or
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.
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
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
For each category, I was asked to give a percentage. I put
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
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
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
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
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
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
and exactly what kind of liquor they would demand, I did find
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
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),
(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
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
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,
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 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
to fill up. Aware of monopolizing the kiosk, I reluctantly
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
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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