STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald
Servers in crisp white shirts bustled through Seasons Rotisserie & Grill on Wednesday night, expertly juggling delicately plated dinners, wine glasses, menus and now, iPads.
Starting earlier this summer, Seasons’ transferred its 16-page wine list to an application viewable on seven iPads that servers circulate throughout the restaurant.
Diners easily can scroll through the restaurant’s list of almost 700 wines, sorting by price, varietal, region and vintage. Wines are accompanied by tasting notes and a picture of the bottle.
Another of the app’s features allows diners to view Seasons’ menu and see a list of suggested wine pairings for every item. Cocktails also are included in menu’s offerings.
Seasons owner Karen Barger said she first saw iPads used in a Las Vegas restaurant about 18 months ago and immediately started brainstorming about how to bring a similar experience to Durango.
The technology is meant to supplement, rather than replace her staff’s knowledge of the restaurant’s wine offerings, Barger said.
“It’s another way to be functional with what we have,” she said. “It really enhances the whole dining experience.”
Though Seasons is breaking ground among Durango’s restaurants, a growing number of dining establishments across the country have adopted iPads as a platform for their menus. Restaurateurs say the technology gives diners a more engaging, interactive and informative experience, according to news reports in USA Today, Wired and the Huffington Post.
Barger agreed, adding that the iPad makes wine more accessible to many diners.
“A lot of people are intimidated and don’t want to have to ask sommelier questions,” she said. “(The iPad app) is really interactive and a great way for customers to learn about wines and pick them without fearing that they can’t pronounce a wine.”
The customer response has been noticeably positive.
Since the restaurant introduced the iPads, wine sales have increased 17 percent and cocktail sales have grown 25 percent, Barger said.
Digitizing the wine and drinks list allows the restaurant to easily update its selection, said Erin Gregory, assistant general manager. Before, staff had to reprint pages of the list every one to two months as inventory changed, Gregory said.
The application also has become a learning tool for staff, who use it to brush up on their wine knowledge when they have a few free minutes, she said.
Instead of creating a custom application as many other restaurants have done, Seasons opted to use an application designed by Chicago-based Uncorkd. The company’ software provides a platform that restaurants can customize, company CEO Josh Saunders said.
Seasons loads its wine list into the Uncorkd software and can import many wine descriptions, photos and food pairing suggestions from the company’s database.
While Seasons’ wine list is a first, the iPad menu concept is on the radar of other local restaurants.
“It’s definitely something we’re very keen on and curious about,” said James Allred, Cosmopolitan’s dining room manager. Applications like Seasons’ adds “some true expert insight” that is accessible at diners’ fingertips, he said.
Sergio Verduzco, owner of East by Southwest and Golden Triangle, at one point considered installing touch screens at his bar. The screens would allow customers to swipe through drink and menu items and even pay with their credit cards. But cost and the newness of the technology caused him to hold back, at least for now. Verduzco said he also worries about replacing servers with screens.
“I felt it was kind of impersonal, as well,” he said. “Then the waiter is just somebody running your food to your table.”
Other restaurants are using iPads to handle sales and orders. Chimayo Stone Fired Kitchen uses an application on iPads and iTouches for its point-of-sale system.
“We think it’s the future,” restaurant owner Birgitte Lutfy said.