Wine List on an iPad
"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.
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.