When I last checked in with Somabar at our Food Tech Live event in 2019, the company was making an eponymous automated drink dispenser that served up low-proof cocktails. The idea was that it could be used by bars and restaurants to create alcoholic cocktails without the need to get a full liquor license (think: Soju-based mixed drinks).
A lot Everything has changed since January 2019, including Somabar. Since the start of 2020 the company has been expanding the capabilities of the machine and positioning it as a more contactless way for restaurants, cafes, hotels and other hospitality locations to serve a wider variety of drinks around the clock.
“What SomaBar does, is it’s a professional mixologist of all things,” Somabar Co-Founder and CEO Christopher Hameetman told me by phone this week. “We’re now living in a world where we want to broaden our use.”
To that end, Somabar will now mix up just about any kind of cold drink you want. Low-proof cocktails, high-proof cocktails, cold brew coffee drinks, iced tea drinks, juices and, well, the list could go on.
The Somabar has six 750 ml and one 150 ml cannisters. Fill each cannister with whatever liquid you want: coffee concentrate, tequila, oat milk, orange juice — whatever. You then let the accompanying app know what you’ve loaded in each cannister. The app then tells you all the kinds of drinks you can make. Tap the button and voila! The Somabar dispenses your desire drink.
Or, don’t tap anything at all. The company has also added Siri and Alexa integrations to provide voice controls. Hameetman provided me a Zoom-based demo where he asked Alexa to mix him a drink, and while there was the occasional slight hiccup (which seems to come with any Alexa demo I’ve ever seen), it did work.
The idea with all this new functionality is to make Somabar more attractive in our modern, pandemic-stricken world. The expansions of Somabar’s drinks menu means that a restaurant could serve non-alcoholic drinks during the day (and to kids), and then swap out the canisters and serve boozey concoctions at night.
The voice-control features make Somabar part of the contactless 2.0 wave of restaurant tech, though I’m trying to figure out exactly how well voice control would work in a drinks scenario. You wouldn’t just have it out for anyone to use, because nowadays you can’t have lots of people putting their paws all over the same device. Having it behind a bar or counter seems too noisy for voice control and you would theoretically have only one person handling the cup, so they could presumably be the only person operating the app on a tablet.
Regardless, I could actually see the Somabar finding a place in restaurants, cafes and even small grocery stores/bodegas. The ability to make a wide variety of customized drinks throughout the day without needing to bring on a mixologist of some sort could prove very useful.
However, that versatility doesn’t come cheap. The Somabar is ~$4,800 (you can get a refurbished one for $2,800). The nice thing is — that’s it. There is no subscription for the software, so you get the drink library as part of that hefty price tag. And the open nature of the device means you can use your own ingredients instead of the pods that come with other automated drink machines like Drinkworks and Bartesian (though both of those are geared more towards consumers).
Somabar’s open nature could also help it further adapt, because 2020 isn’t done yet and
a lot more everything could change.