I worked at a nightclub in college and one thing I remember from that experience was the sheer volume of drinks bartenders poured each night. Our job wasn’t about fancy bottle flipping a la Cocktail, just getting drinks to the consumers and their money in the till.
This high-volume approach is what’s driving the team at Rotender, which has built a robotic vending machine that serves drinks. Each Rotender holds 16 one-liter bottles and five different types of syrups (e.g., cranberry or orange juice), has an automated soda gun and makes it own ice. Once up and running, the Rotender can serve a drink in 15 seconds and make more than 350 drinks before needing to be refilled.
Rather than sitting behind the bar like SomaBar, the Rotender is actually meant to be installed where consumers can use it. A customer uses their mobile phone to scan a QR code on the Rotender, which brings up the drink menu in the Rotender app. Users select their drink, pay for it, place their glass in the machine and then scan a QR code again to ensure that they are by the machine to pick up their drink. Once that’s done, the Rotender mixes the drink and serves it.
Right now, Rotender relies on the venue to handle age verification, though the company is exploring existing software solutions to handle that. The machine also keeps track of how many drinks it serves each customer. Should a consumer order too many drinks in a single hour, Rotender can pause service to that individual so as not to over-serve them.
When we talk about robotics, there is typically a discussion around how robot-like any machine should look. Other robo-bartenders on the market serving drinks at Glacierfire in Iceland or The Tipsy Robot bar in Las Vegas use articulating arms to make the drinks. Rotender has instead forsaken this “robot” approach in favor of creating more of a straight up drink-making machine. As Rotender Co-Founder and CEO, Ben Winston explained to me by phone this week, the reason is speed.
Rotender is built to churn out drinks for high-volume locations. As such, the machine focuses on meat and potato drinks — rum and coke, gin and tonic, etc. More complicated drinks are left to the human staff at the bar.
By foresaking expensive articulating robotic arms, Winston also said that Rotender is a more economical option for bars. It costs $999 a month to lease a Rotender (a robotic arm on its own can cost tens of thousands of dollars). In addition to that lease, Rotender also adds a per drink charge that it determines with the venue.
Rotender is about to do a pilot with a bar in Los Angeles, and Winston said they can currently serve clients in California and Nevada. Sadly, though, the Rotender won’t be doing any Cocktail-style bottle flips.