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Will WiNEPAD Render The Giant Leather Wine Book Obsolete?

By Anthony Todd in Food on May 29, 2013 9:20PM


The giant leather wine book is one of the most intimidating things about going out to restaurants. You know the book we mean — it's usually brown or dark red, the size of a small phone book or a box of cereal, and it sits on the table, taunting you. "I really should learn more about wine," you think, before you order an anonymous glass of merlot in shame. Well, Flemings Prime Steakhouse has decided to ditch the book of shame and go digital.

It turns out we're not the only people who don't love that book. "Part of our core concept has always been to take the intimidation factor out of wine," explained Fleming's National Wine Director Maeve Pesquera. "Frankly, the big leather book is intimidating." Flemings wine list is particularly comprehensive (they stock 100 different wines by the glass) which may have contributed to their latest innovation: The WiNEPAD.

The WiNEPAD is an iPad-based wine list that has been rolled out to all of Fleming's locations nationwide. We got a chance to play with the pad, and it makes wine buying (dare we say) actually kind of fun. From the outside, it looks like a square version of a traditional, leather-bound wine line list. Pesquera told us that it was intentionally designed to match the old menu covers and the traditional wine book. But once the WiNEPAD is open, you realize that it's much more than just a list.

The WiNEPAD has all of the information contained within a traditional wine list and more. There are a lot of wine apps out there, but they weren't quite right for Pesquera. "Some other restaurants have digital wine lists, and there's some good software out there, but at the end of the day I realized that they were great, but they weren't Flemings," she explained. "They don't convey the message that we want to convey - which is that it's ok to experiment and explore. We realized we had to build our own app."

The app has a list of the available wines, but if you're a wine geek, it also allows you to drill down and get more information. You can see labels, learn about vineyards and get suggested food pairings. Each iPad also contains the local wine manager's selections specific to each restaurant, and the device is constantly updated to reflect availability - no more embarrassing moments when the table has finally agreed on a wine and it's out of stock.

There's also some fun stuff. For those who know what they like but might not know anything about varietals, the "What's you mood?" section helps you to pick something to fit how you are feeling. Pesquera has her own "Maeve's Raves" section, there's a 90+ section called "sure thing," the app suggests wines to pair with menu items, and there's even a "spin the bottle" game that gives you random wines you might not otherwise have noticed.

Unlike some of the electronic menu devices we've covered in the past, Pesquera insists the WiNEPAD isn't about cost cutting or labor saving - the server still need to be there to talk about the wines with the customer. "For me, 100 wines by the glass is an incredible differentiator from our competitors, and to bring the wine list to life in a beautiful way combined with our servers with great wine knowledge elevates the service even more. A digital menu can't elevate the experience by itself. We're not trying to replace the servers."

If you're a true wine geek, you'll love this feature: you can also email yourself any wine you like from the app. The email will contain pictures, information and your own personal notes - no more forgetting that great wine you drank the night before.

More features are (hopefully) coming soon, including social media integration, personal accounts to save your preferences and more. Beer and cocktail lists will eventually be on the device as well. We suspect this won't be the last big restaurant we see switch to a similar system, but this one is certainly comprehensive, bug-free and fun to use.