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
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.
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
IPad choice is meant to smooth the wine choosing experience and
eliminate the sometimes intimidating sommelier, Serfass said.
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.
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
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
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
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
Naples Tomato is at 14700 Tamiami Trail N., Naples. Call 239-598-9800, or visit naplestomato.com.