Carrabba’s Uncorked: Served Up Two Ways

carrabba's uncorked - consumer wine wheelIt’s rare to see food and beverage innovations originate in chain restaurants. Smaller and more nimble independents often beat their larger competitors to market. It’s not for a lack of creative talent in a chain restaurant’s marketing department, but for a string of challenges that often slow down or compromise the original intent. This is because innovation is built on a risk-reward platform.

Chain restaurant operators hire creative professionals to come up with brilliant ideas and then pair them against legal and operational professionals to tear them down. It’s a vicious cycle to yield the most risk adverse ideas. Once in a while, a unique idea is given a fair chance. That’s the story of Carrabba’s Uncorked – a simple concept that Shelly Hurley, the corporate beverage director, believed had potential.

Carrabba’s Uncorked (CU) was born out of an idea to demystify wine for the guest. When wine is stripped of its most traditional austerity, complexity and fancy fluff (official CU term) we are left with the basic primary and secondary flavors that people can identify. The wine wheel we all remember was reimagined, but more importantly, it was simplified. The guest is presented with a wheel along with the menu when they are seated in the dining room. An interesting phenomenon happens when you arm a guest with the right mix of education and entertainment, the conversation of wine becomes more approachable.

While the wine wheel represents the low-tech innovation of Carrabba’s Uncorked, there is a technology side for the guest to explore as well. The idea was to provide a consistent outlet for wine information that’s not available on the menu or from the wait staff. It needed to be easy to navigate and flexible enough to keep current. An app was born.

Carrabba’s Uncorked app is currently available in the iTunes Store free of charge. It is intended for everyday use in the restaurant, with features such as Explore the List, Taste and Rate and Wine Quizzes. However, the premiere feature, and what differentiates it from other wine apps in market, is Tasting Tuesdays. This recreates the winery tasting experience of Tuscany or Napa

Valley within the four walls of the dining room.

Tasting Tuesdays was engineered to introduce new wines to guests by offering two-ounce pours of three carefully selected wines. The app is intended to complement this tasting by explaining the flavor profile, telling a compelling story and offering three additional factoids for each wine. All of the instructions and downloads are available through a QR code printed on the mat, so the guest can get started immediately. From there, it is a self-guided tour, and the guest is able to set their own pace. This makes the experience manageable for the servers, bartenders and management so that they can focus on what they do best, which is providing excellent food and beverage service.

The app is certainly feature rich, but for real staying power, it needs to be “sticky”. This is an industry term used to describe the ability of an app to hold the users’ attention and bring them back multiple times. Carrabba’s Uncorked has several “sticky” features, such as a wine diary, comments and ratings, social integration and reward badges. For every intended action, such as completing a wine tasting, passing a quiz or just adding a wine to the diary, the user is presented with a badge of honor and a humorous anecdote. In some cases, the guest is also presented with a free appetizer or other similar offer.

In the short few weeks this app has been in market, it has seen incredible success. As of press time, this app has had a top grossing week of 1,873 downloads. The app has also been praised by several industry professionals and bloggers alike, one of whom referred to the app as, “one of the most innovative uses of technology I’ve seen for tasting of food and drink…” The response from Carrabba’s guests has been just as passionate. Currently the app is only available on the iPhone, but development of the Android version has begun and will be available in early 2013.

Technology at the table can be a risky proposition. When poorly designed, it can distract from the food and beverage experience. However, the reward for getting it right has an equally significant positive effect. Guests who interact with their smartphones at the table are looking for an enhanced dining experience. This was Shelly’s vision when she served up Carrabba’s Uncorked, two ways.