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Tapping IoT to monitor the flow of free beer

Clint Boulton | July 4, 2017
Buffalo Wild Wings has implemented a keg monitoring system in conjunction with integration software and APIs to curb beer comps at 1,200 locations, boosting revenue and increasing operational efficiency.

Buffalo Wild Wings uses IoT to monitor the flow of free beer

Unaccountable product loss is a retailer’s nightmare. And for those in the restaurant industry, this loss can be summed up in two words: free beer.

Buffalo Wild Wings, the restaurant chain famous for its sauce varieties and microbrews, has deployed a sophisticated internet of things (IoT) solution to help staunch a pervasive restaurant industry challenge: The bartender who goes heavy on the pour and light on ringing in the sale. Thanks to this timeless grift, the average bar loses 24 pints from every keg.

Not at BWW, where a system called Beerboard, is reducing "beer shrinkage" associated with bartenders "comping" drinks to patrons or pocketing payments instead of putting cash in the register. That system, which taps an enterprise service bus (ESB), application programming interfaces (APIs) and gadgets call “flow sensors,” is leading to a direct revenue bump from beer sales that would otherwise have been lost from theft. The data doesn't lie; bartenders who slip drinks to their favorite customers on the sly can't fool Beerboard.

"Franchisees love it because being able to look at what was poured versus sold is huge," says BWW CIO Santiago Abraham, who joined the company last November from Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. "Whether it's an overpour or comps there's a lot of activities that you can get insights on to determine whether you've got a bar that is running an effective beer operation."


Connecting sales data to taps

Beerboard funnels beer flow data from its flow sensors to an ESB, where general managers can compare beer output to sales information pulled from multiple NCR Aloha point-of-sale systems. The ESB connects various applications via code snippets known as APIs, which have emerged as mainstays for fueling digital services.

Abraham says this API mediation, provided by MuleSoft, enables Beerboard to access sales data from Aloha without directly connecting the two applications, a practice he says could be potentially catastrophic for BWW’s business.

"I don't want Beerboard closely coupled and talking to Aloha," says Abraham, who implemented a similar ESB to connect on-premises apps at Royal Caribbean. "If there is an upgrade and the Aloha APIs change that's going to break Beerboard and 20 other things Aloha connects to and that's just bad. We want to abstract those connections so that we don't have vendor lock-in.” For example, MuleSoft will allow him to upgrade to a new Aloha system or acquire a franchisee running a different POS system without disrupting business processes.

It's a sound strategy as companies, seeking growth in a digital world, rush to federate communications between an increasing number of disparate applications without adding the complexity associated with creating new interdependencies, including apps living locally and in vendors' cloud services.


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