If you pay attention to sports news, you may have heard about the self-serve DraftServ beer stations that will be in use at next week's All-Star game in Minnesota. The machines are the handiwork of a partnership between concessionaire Delaware North and, you guessed it, Anheuser-Busch.
The way it works is simple. Fans show their ID and then purchase a beer card in the amount they want...$10, $20, etc. There will reportedly be a $50 card are the All-Star game. To get a beer or beers, the fan goes to the DraftServ machine, scans the preloaded card and chooses one of several beers and the size of the pour.
There's a bit of a downside to this arrangement when you see the list of beers. Bud, Bud Light, Shock Top Lemon Shandy and Goose Island 312 Urban Pale Ale. These are obviously lowest common denominator beers, meant to sooth the pallets of novice beer fans.
Price is another thing. Fans will pay 38-40 cents an ounce for the available sludge. That translates to nearly $5 for a 12 oz glass of Shock Top or Goose Island, a little less for Bud and Bud Light. Those are horrible prices almost anywhere, but not in a Major League ballpark. The machines have a governor that limits fans to 48 ounces of beer every 15 minutes. That seems like a lot to me, but never mind.
The DraftServ machines reduce labor costs, for sure. Someone still has to check ID and collect funds for the cards. And someone has to monitor the area around the machines to make sure minors and drunks don't have access to the beer. But they will generally reduce the cost of serving beer, it seems.
I'm somewhat ambivalent about these machines. I suppose they're the wave of the future as ballparks outsource concessions to corporate efficiency experts. Reducing labor costs is one of the few ways they can boost profits while expanding food and drink options.
These machines have potential. They might offer a way for sports and other venues to sell a wide selection of good beer without a lot of fuss. Imagine two or three of these things lined up and filled with good craft beer. And no Bud Light. Sounds pretty good, huh?
Of course, that's probably a pipe dream, given who's involved in this project. Fans are likely to be saddled with standard issue Anheuser-Busch swill, which makes DraftServ a great idea with apparently nowhere to go. Too bad.