Order me a mojito with your table's touch screen, please

High-tech bar at London's University of Westminster lets students skip the usual hassles of grabbing a drink. Photos: Skipping the bar line
Written by Jo Best, Contributor
Sharp elbows. Long lines. Being ignored by the bartender when you eventually get there.

All good reasons to put off fighting your way into the bar if you're a University of Westminster student on a night out. But now the students' union of the London school thinks that it has found a way for drinkers to escape a busy bar and still get a round of drinks in: RFID tables that deliver orders remotely.

With a new academic term just about to start, the university has given its Intermission bar an overhaul. Students who want to grab a postlecture pint of beer will be treated to six new tables, where pop-up screens let thirsty academics place an order directly from their seats.

High-tech bar

Using the screens, students can scroll through the list of beverages and choose what they want. Orders are transmitted to the bar using Ethernet over power line, with the drinks brought directly to their tables. The system has prompted the Intermission bar to employ two sets of staff--one lot to deliver the drinks ordered from the high-tech tables and another set to work behind the bar.

The screens enable students to chat with students at other tables using a system that incorporates technology similar to instant messaging. For the romantically challenged, it even comes preprogrammed with a list of cheesy pick-up lines such as, "That's a nice shirt, it would go well on my floor" and "I'm not actually this tall, I'm sitting on my wallet."

For Romeos who need to step it up a level, there's also the option of sending credit to fellow tables--the virtual equivalent of buying someone a drink.

And there's SMS and games for those who don't find being in a bar stimulating enough, while a taxi-ordering service is also scheduled to go live shortly.

Even paying for a round has gone upmarket at Westminster. Those using the system can buy their snakebite-and-black using radio frequency identification (RFID) cards, with both a prepay and billing option. And, with student debt not getting any smaller, if the cards are lost or stolen, credit can be frozen and retrieved by the out-of-pocket drinker.

The tables are all completely waterproof so while they can't guard against "who spilled my pint?" scuffles, they can at least keep the electronics safe.

Not only will the new system cut waiting times for drinkers, it will apparently boost profits, too--40 percent more orders are placed by drinkers at the tables than others in the bar; those using the screens to order become more experimental in their choices and speed up their ordering when not confronted by the prospect of a long wait to be served.

More expensive drinks, such as spirits and cocktails, are ordered more frequently. The system doesn't track who's had a bit too much, though--that's left to the lucky bar staff.

"For us, it's about providing an extra service," Rayhan Rafiq Omar, vice president of communications at the students' union, told Silicon.com. "Some students are used to bars that are nine people deep, but we cater (to) mature students, and they expect a lot more."

Omar said the student body is also working on tying in some new functionality for the tables, including a request system for the student radio station, streaming football matches and a video jukebox.

The system was developed by Compuware and Escapism Media, which built the touch screens (called escape pods) using Compuware's Optimal J development tool to create the application on which the pods run.

The touch screen tabletops, which can rotate 360 degrees and tilt up to 45 degrees, can also be found in the Ministry of Sound clubs in Harrogate and London.

Jo Best of Silicon.com reported from London.

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