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Self-serve beer?

It’s a hectic Saturday night and your waitstaff is cranking hard, but then that big party in the back room starts calling for more beer. No problem. Just add a gallon of brew to the tab and let them serve themselves—from the tap at their table.

Fantasy? Here in the United States it is. But a handful of pubs in the UK and Europe have already installed computerized self-serve beer taps on their dining tables. At the Unique Bar in Plzen, Czech Republic, customers tap tankards of famous Pilsner Urquell right at the table. And once visitors to the Biergarten in Schlossgarten, Stuttgart, Germany, pay a two-Euro deposit on glasses, they can draw their own bock from self-service taps in the open air. In London, self-serve ale is featured at both the Porterhouse Party Bar and Yo! Below. Guests at the Tapped Bar in Otley, West Yorkshire, can access tableside satellite TV, the Web—and beer.

In Moscow, at Pyaty Okean (Fifth Ocean) sudseekers help themselves to the brewpub’s beers via self-serve table taps while a meter tracks the tab–26 rubles (about $1) for a 100 ml glass. A master unit at the cash register monitors and controls up to 16 slave dispensing units at each table, explains Joakim Nilsson, marketing manager of WWB Drink System, the Finnish company that installed Fifth Ocean’s setup in 2004. The slaves display the customers’ tallies and control the flow to two different taps.

Ready to sign up? Not so fast.

“First of all you have dram shop problems,” says Stan Hieronymus, editor of RealBeer.com. In the United States, real-live servers are responsible for checking that customers are of legal drinking age and not obviously intoxicated. Hieronymus also believes the logistics might be problematic, running beer lines to tables and keeping the lines clean.

“Technologically, there’s no problem running tap lines to tables,” says Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association. But, he adds, “The social climate here about drinking is different than in Europe.”

Tapped Bar has bouncers checking IDs and staffers who won’t switch on taps for inebriated customers. Hieronymus wouldn’t be surprised to see an operator try tabletop taps here. “But,” he predicts, “they’d have to
jump through a lot of hoops.”

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