Will Wine Kiosks Open Pandora's Bottle?

A woman walks into the Brix liquor store in Omaha, Neb., goes directly to the Enomatic (an Italian vendor) kiosk and inserts a store-issued card. She selects a favorite wine, and the kiosk pours her a glass. She wants a second glass, and the kiosk complies. As she walks out of the store—perhaps a bit more tipsy than when she entered—she swipes the card at a POS station and then pays for her drinks.

This kiosk is in place at quite a few wine stores across the country. It is part of a trend by fermented grape sellers who are leaning more heavily on kiosks in a wide range of ways, such as determining who is too drunk to buy more alcohol. But these Enomatic machines go much farther, with a device that actually prepares and serves food or drink.

Envision a convenience store with a refrigerated kiosk that could assemble—and slice—40 different types of sandwiches. As some chains have already learned, the additional privacy afforded by such machines—with customers not having to announce to employees and fellow customers that they want extra cheese and double meat—could have a sharp impact on profit.

The implications for such service machines go beyond profits. What about Health Department requirements for sanitary conditions? A self-sterilizing kiosk tcould pay for itself in reduced inspection hassles.

On the negative side, that wine-serving kiosk suddenly opens the neighborhood liquor shop in which it is installed to all of the liability and related requirements of a full-service bar. Brix Owner Dan Matuszek said his kiosk can be programmed to limit the number of drinks served, but he has chosen to not—at this time—set any such limit. What if a customer buys 20 drinks from the kiosk and then gets into an accident? The kiosk can't make a judgment about whether the customer has had too much, unless it somehow gets integrated with the breathalyzer kiosk being tested in Pennsylvania.

Store employees are supposed to keep their eye on the kiosk. But what if a 21-year-old gets a card for use and then returns with five 20-year-old friends? If those 20 year-olds use their friend's card and get drinks from the kiosk, is the store criminally liable for selling to minors?