Self-service taps put to the test

There’s a Golden Rule in stand-up comedy that warns, quite clearly; ‘never hand control of the microphone over to a heckler’. In this way, the one who more accurately defined as ‘the professional’ maintains control of the whole gig – whether he or she is ‘killing them’ or ‘dying up there’.

So what happens when a bar hands at least some of its controlling interest in the prime source of revenue over to the bloke who would normally wait and watch patiently as his pint is poured for him? Well, as it happens, it might just be a game-changer for hospitality and for good beer in general.

A venue, unique in Australia, and opened just eighteen months ago on Queensland’s beautiful Sunshine Coast, is discovering that there may just be some value in welcoming your punters with the option of a ‘Pour-Your-Own’ service. Taps Mooloolaba has taken over a venue onBrisbane Street with a recent history as a dodgy nightclub, breathing new life into a space with plenty of potential.

The team behind Mooloolaba Taps

The team behind Mooloolaba Taps

Taps’ central feature is its eight-tap bar and patrons can find both a quiet nook, a centre-seat action spot and a table outside as the mood suits. But it is the fixture next to the bar which is the talking point. Called ‘The Beer Wall’ it is a right-angled bar tucked into the corner which replicates the eight-tap offering available at the bar. Each tap has a corresponding touch screen providing instructions. Using a Beer Button purchased from the bar (via a $5 refundable deposit) patrons lock the magnetic disc onto the spot, producing a ‘GO!’ screen which, once touched, will allow the beer to flow.

Using a chilled glass provided by the bar staff, punters can now pour any size beer, from a sample to a schooner. As the beer flows, the buttons dollar value decreases so punters always know what’s left in the kitty and the system is so simply designed that anyone with a basic working knowledge of touch screen tech will be able to operate the tap. In addition to the Beer Wall, the same tap offerings are replicated, in pairs, at certain bar tables around the venue. These ‘Tap Tables’ operate in exactly the same way as the Beer Wall.

Now, those with experience in hospitality and bar management will probably be asking themselves the same questions that I asked myself as I watched the average punter use the Taps taps. On a quiet day, as I observed, there is little pressure on the novice to ‘learn the ropes’. Likewise, there are ample opportunities for the attentive staff to spot a nervous first-timer and give them a bit of a hand. But what of a busy, thumping, eight-deep-at-the-bar-and-impatient night when things are in full swing? The management at Taps has this covered with staff rosters allowing for a ‘floater’ to work from the Beer Wall on busy nights giving assistance as required.

Perhaps the greatest advantage to the venue’s bottom line is that there is effectively a ‘zero wastage’ result when the ‘pour-your-own’ taps are used and the drinker, in turn, has the opportunity to ‘taste-test’ a couple of unfamiliar styles or brands before committing to a larger serve. And as for larger serves, what of the venues avowed commitment to Responsible Service of Alcohol protocols? The Taps self-serve system has an in-built ‘cut-off’ feature whereby the tap will cut out and message asking the patron to ‘see bar staff for further service’ will appear on screen when a total of four 425ml schooners is reached.

Presenting oneself to the bar to be ‘assessed’ and ‘approved’ (pretty much as would happen at any bar) is a simple procedure and, provided you are not staggeringly obviously munted, the button is reset and you’re on your way again. The only flaw in the current system is that the total volume is not reset at the end of each session or each day so, as I discovered on my second visit a few days later, one can suffer the embarrassment of being ‘86’d’ on the very first drink!

The set-up does, as you can imagine, have some drawbacks but overall gives the punter a new and very different experience of craft beer drinking. The beer selection might be considered ‘safe’ by some observers but then, you’re aiming at a fairly broad market in a tourist-rich environment and you don’t want to hit novices with a bewildering array of specialty brews with unpronounceable names in addition to the nervousness that comes with trying a new self-serve system. Plus, this ability to sample a few beers in small quantities outweighs any inadequacies in the variety.

The blokes behind Taps Mooloolaba are of a couple of mates who were inspired by similar bars they visited in the Czech Republic. With engineering and tech backgrounds they pulled together the Beer Wall and Table Taps and are also developing a mobile freestanding version with 360 access. It is hoped that these models will be popular at street fairs, music festivals or private events.

A trip to the Sunshine Coast would not be complete without a visit to Taps – even if it’s just to see what all the fuss is about. For those in Brisbane, your travel time has just been smashed with a second Taps opening last month in Fortitude Valley.

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