RFID tags spy on bartenders

Capton, a provider of liquor-monitoring technology, has developed the Beverage Tracker system currently tested at a Las Vegas Hotel-Casino which uses tags to keep tabs on liquor. The system consists of RFID-enabled liquor spouts, an RFID reader and proprietary software. Is this the end of free drinks?

Do you know how much money is lost in annual sales of liquors in the US? Capton, a provider of liquor-monitoring technology, estimates that $7 billion is lost from bartenders. The RFID Journal reports that the company has developed the Beverage Tracker system currently tested at a Las Vegas Hotel-Casino which uses tags to keep tabs on liquor. The system, which consists of RFID-enabled liquor spouts, an RFID reader and proprietary software, costs between $10,000 and $20,000, but can save $90,000 per year for an average bar. This might be true, but how many bartenders will lose their jobs because of this system by offering free drinks? Read more...

Here is the opening paragraph of the RFID Journal article.

Treasure Island, a Las Vegas hotel and casino, has installed a system utilizing RFID to track the amount and type of liquor its bartenders pour. The system has been in operation at two of the hotel's bars for the past month and will soon be added to two more.

This Beverage Tracker software has been developed by Capton, a company based in San Francisco. And here is how the system works.

The Beverage Tracker consists of RFID-enabled liquor spouts, an RFID interrogator (reader) and software. The spouts contain a battery-powered 418 MHz RFID tag and a measuring device. Whenever a bartender pours a drink, the tipping of the bottle turns on both the tag and the measuring device, allowing the spout to measure the volume of liquor poured (in ounces) before the employee tips the bottle back up. The tag then transmits that information to the interrogator's antenna, attached to the ceiling above the bar.

Below is a picture of a bartender pouring a drink. Is she overpouring or not? Probably yes, according to Capton. But as she agreed to be filmed, she will probably keep her bar and her job (Credit: Capton).

A bartender pouring a drink

And how much is she overpouring? Here is a report from the Beverage Tracker system which shows that your average bartender pours much more than he should (Credit: Capton).

Liquor overpouring report

As you can see from the report above, the system can track pretty much all the drinks poured by a bartender. Here are more details.

[The RFID tag] transmits not only the unique identification number of its microchip, but also the brand and size of liquor bottle to which it is attached, as well as the amount of liquor poured. All of this data is transmitted in real time to the receiver linked to the bar's existing computer network via a wireless Internet connection. The time of the pour is recorded by the time the data reaches the computer network, about one second after the liquor was poured.

For more information, here is a link to a 2 minute video about Capton's Beverage Tracker system (in both Windows Media Player and QuickTime formats) from which the above pictures have been extracted.

Finally, here is a big question. If this system, which is currently used at about 100 locations worldwide, becomes commonplace, is this is the end of free drinks?

Sources: Claire Swedberg, RFID Journal, June 22, 2006; and Capton web site

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