Customers can use a prepaid card to pour their own beer at DraftServ stations. Every ounce is metered, allowing customers to tailor their consumption. (staff photo: Kristi Reed)
All it took was years of hard work and a mention on a major television network for a Suwanee company to find itself the subject of a “viral” story.
Last month, DraftServ’s point-of-sale beverage dispensing system debuted at Major League Baseball’s All-Star game in Minneapolis. ESPN took notice of the innovative way for fans to buy and pour their own beer as did Jimmy Fallon, David Letterman, Fox and Friends and scores of others.
“We worked for years to become an overnight success,” DraftServ founder and CEO Jose Hevia joked.
Hevia’s innovative beverage dispensing system was actually in development for several years before he created the company. The idea began to form in 2006 when Hevia attended a family funeral in Spain. While in Madrid, he sat at a self-service beer table in a local bar. Hevia, who had plans to open his own restaurant — Cheeky Taqueria — in Suwanee, decided to bring a similar concept to the United States.
“When I opened Cheeky in 2007, I opened it with the beer tables,” Hevia said. “What I didn’t know was that I was the first person in North America to do that.”
From that point forward, the product kept evolving. When the second Cheeky Taqueria opened in 2010, Hevia not only had beer tables, but also a beer wall which utilized radio-frequency identification (RFID) to allow a greater product selection and more customer control.
“That beer wall was the first RFID beer wall in the world,” Hevia said. “At that point, other restaurants heard about us and wanted our technology.”
That interest led to the creation of DraftServ Technologies. The company’s current product, a combination of hardware and software, allows customers to buy and dispense their own beer. Though often referred to as “self-serve,” Hevia prefers to call it a “pour your own” system as the stations must be fully manned by employees who take payments, check customer identification and monitor the sobriety of users.
“It’s not really self-serve, it’s pour your own beer in a full-service environment,” he explained.
Customers purchase a card which is good for a specified dollar amount of beer. The beer is then metered out according to parameters set by the vendor.
“We can pace you,” Hevia said. “What we’re able to do in a lot of ways is create more checks and balances and security around alcohol. We’re able to control it better, really, than a full-service environment.”
DraftServ systems are now in use on four continents and demand is growing. Less than 100 systems are currently in place, but Hevia expects to build 200 more by the end of the year. The system will be used at Music Midtown in Atlanta and at upcoming music festivals in Las Vegas. Additionally, the company is in the process of building systems for each of Carnival Cruise Lines’ 24 ships. Hevia said the company is also working with Carnival UK, Norwegian Cruise Lines and others.
Though the product has been around for years, its use at the All-Star game — an event Hevia describes as a “catalyst” for the company — was a first in the concession industry. Soon DraftServ systems will be installed at Miller Park in Milwaukee and, according to Hevia, five other stadium operators have expressed interest.
Later this year, the company will expand its product offerings with systems that dispense soda, water or wine. Based on client feedback, Hevia expects demand for soda systems by the concession and cruise industries to exceed those for beer.
“I think that, by and large, that’s because they can put them anywhere,” he said.
The completely customizable units start at $5,000 and go up depending upon the options selected. While providing a unique user experience is a major draw for clients, the system’s biggest selling point, Hevia said, is its efficiency.
“According to the National Restaurant Association, about 25 percent of every keg of beer disappears to spillage, waste and theft,” he said. “I’m a career restauranteur and I’ve seen it for years. That is a real number.”
With the DraftServ system, every ounce is metered, virtually eliminating product loss.
Due to increased demand for the system, Hevia plans to move DraftServ’s Suwanee facility to a nearby location, doubling the space available for manufacturing, assembly and storage from 2,500 to 5,000 square feet.
Along with the facility growth will come a staffing increase. Currently DraftServ has eight full-time employees. Over the next 12-24 months, Hevia expects to add 20-25 people to the staff.
While more clients and increased revenue are welcome, the company’s goal, Hevia said, remains customer-focused.
“If we have a goal really, it’s that not only do we expand this,” he explained, “but that we properly activate and support it so that it really enhances people’s experience as opposed to being just another machine in our lives.”
Additional information about the company is available online at www.draftserv.com.
DraftServ Self-Serve Beer
A member of the DraftServ team gives a demonstration on how one of their new self-serve beer dispensers work. These units were first put into play at the 2014 Major League Baseball All-Star weekend at Target Field in Minneapolis, Mn. DraftServ is based out of Suwannee and has orders from across the nation for their self-serve units.