RFID Beverage Controls: a New Paradigm?

Heads up: you may think this blog is about RFID technology (it is not). Or, you may think it’s about beverage controls (it is not). It is about using technology to unleash practices that change behavior and enhance the guest experience.

RFID – Radio Frequency IDentification – is among the latest and most sophisticated technologies to be applied to beverage cost control.

Are you familiar with the technology? Does an image of Mel Gibson with a tin foil skullcap pop into your head when you hear “information through radio frequency”? If this is news to you, take a quick peak at the sites of some of the companies that offer these systems (Capton, www.captoninc.com, Beverage Metrics, www.beveragemetrics.com, and Liquor Monitor, www.liquormonitor.com are three that come to mind).

"Signs" 2002

In short, a bottle’s pour spout (or collar) contains an RFID chip and battery, and by measuring the tilt of the bottle along with other information such as the bottle’s contents, size and initial volume, the system measures amounts poured with remarkable accuracy, and reports data via radio frequency to a pre-specified program which may be accessed later or even in real time by a computer. They provide best results when interfaced with the POS, which enables management to learn, for example, if a specific recipe was executed properly.

Cool. But how do you “control” beverage costs? Historically we control costs by restricting access to the raw materials, or restricting output. Locks & keys are a timeworn technology for restricting access.

Mechanical and electronic devices have been in place for decades: mechanical portion-pourers like Posi-Pour (http://www.posi-pour.com) and electronic pour restriction systems like Berg Company’s (http://www.berg-controls.com) have been industry standards for years and continue to have relevance today.

But this is an age-old paradigm: control through constraint. Now let’s look at the RFID model again: there is no restriction of pouring or access, there is only information. THIS is the “paradigm shift”: controlling through information rather than restriction. How do you “control through information”? The answer: by changing employee behavior.

That’s right. Results are achieved when these time-honored practices are employed:

  • Measurement & analysis
  • Training & teaching
  • Feedback (two-way!) & recognition
  • Re-training as needed, more teaching
  • Recognition & reward

Restrictions, though sometimes necessary (I’m not advocating open storerooms, for example) don’t “stick” without help. The locked liquor storeroom requires a second lock, perpetual inventory, broken-empty requisition procedure, marked bottles and cameras in the hallway. This might be OK – but all of it adds little value to the customer experience.

On the other hand, behaviors changed through training, teaching, measurement, recognition and reward will “stick”. And they will impact the customer experience in a positive way.

And THAT is why this blog is not about RFID or beverage control. It’s about combining the measurement systems you have (RFID, POS, Guest Survey System, P&L) with training, teaching, analysis, feedback, recognition and reward to achieve the results you are after.

Those are my thoughts, let me hear yours.

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