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Wine List on an iPad

Instead of a wine list, a restaurant in Naples, Florida, is serving up an IPad to its guests, and in place of a live sommelier's recommendations, the computer will provide suggestions for a bottle with dinner based on a number of search choices.

"We're not trying to take away the personal touch of a live sommelier," says Jack Serfass, owner of Naples Tomato, "but enhance the guest's dining experience."

Diners will have a choice at the Italian fine-dining restaurant, where servers will still provide a classic printed wine list or offer the IPad programmed with the full list. The server also can help the diner navigate the computer's offerings or demonstrate the program briefly, then walk away to allow the guests to search it on their own.


A tech background


Serfass

has a background in software development and helped design the program

that allows users to choose a wine from the 550-plus bottles on the

restaurant's list based on how they want to choose one. The restaurant's

menu is programmed in along with the extensive wine list, and databases

include Robert Parker's and The Wine Spectator ratings.

"The

diner can match a wine by food, a varietal, a flavor profile, a price

point -- or they can say, 'I want to look for wines with a rating of 90

points or above,'" Serfass said. "It's up to them."

Computer cracks the code

The

IPad choice is meant to smooth the wine choosing experience and

eliminate the sometimes intimidating sommelier, Serfass said.

"For

the last several years, we've employed several sommeliers and tried to

do staff training to educate the servers about the wines on our lists --

and we'll still do that. But we never really felt we had cracked the

code as to how to give our wine its proper showcase and take our

diners to the next level in exploring the list.

"We have

a creative menu, and with 500-plus bottles available, it's more than

the average wine drinker can navigate. Even those very familiar with

wines can have trouble with a list like this, and so for the average

wine drinker who doesn't have that experience, it can be overwhelming.

The IPad will eliminate some of the anxiety of choosing a wine."

IPad idea started with birthday gift

Serfass

came up with the idea when he picked up his daughter's 16th birthday

gift of an IPad and tried it out. "I thought to myself, this would be

amazing to use for a wine list." From there, he contacted software

developers he had worked with in the past and came up with the

user-friendly searchable databases.

He hired some well-known

wine experts to help him with the recommendations that are programmed in

to match foods and wines and specify flavor profiles. "I can't say who

they are without first getting permission," he said, "but they're well-known in the industry and work for large companies." They also helped

him fill in holes in the wine list, recommending varietials and

eliminating duplicates.

The response among those who've tested it

has been positive, he said, even among older diners who haven't grown

up with technology. "I think that's changing -- grandparents are Skyping

now and texting -- they're adventurous, and most are embracing the

technology." 

Serfass is now franchising the 5-year-old

restaurant -- a new one is opening in Stamford, Connecticut, in 2011. He said

more than 230 people have expressed interest in opening others around

the country and in Florida, specifically on the East Coast, but plans

are still in talking stages.

As for the IPad program, he's

planning to offer it to other restaurants and take it national and

eventually release it as an "app."   

Other software releases

are possible, he said. "It's got a lot of potential. Customizing menus

or using it to specify dietary restrictions -- there are all kinds of ways

to use this. We'll be exploring more of these once we get this up and

running."

Naples Tomato is at 14700 Tamiami Trail N., Naples. Call 239-598-9800, or visit naplestomato.com.


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