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Operating wine kiosk drives you to drink

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Sunday, July 11, 2010

You say you're not sure how to use one of those newfangled wine contraptions the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board is rolling out?

Take a deep breath, slowly exhale and think of tranquil waters unpolluted by a catastrophic oil spill. I'm here to help.

The LCB finally is following the lead of other states and allowing vino to be sold in grocery stores. But unlike any other state, the wine will be stored not on the shelves but in the nation's first retail wine kiosks.

If an ongoing test run of the devices in two Harrisburg-area groceries is successful, the LCB will install them in 100 other stores across the state.

It's natural to be intimidated by new technology, but there is no reason to fear these machines. Once I answer your questions on how the kiosks operate, you'll realize it's much less cumbersome to use them than visit a state liquor store every time you want a bottle of wine.

Shall we uncork your queries?

• This first question might sound silly, but is there any danger of confusing a kiosk with a Redbox?

Relax. Unless your vision is extremely poor, there is virtually no chance of accidentally renting "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" when what you're really interested in is a nice merlot.

• Is buying wine from a kiosk as easy as selecting my preferred brand, paying the cashier and going on my way?

It might be that easy if Pennsylvania belonged to the Association of States that Operate in the 21st Century, but it has yet to apply for admission into that esteemed organization. However, you do begin the process by selecting your purchase preference on the kiosk touch screen.

• Then what?

Then you swipe a photo ID for identification purposes.

• But how can a kiosk verify my ID?

The LCB cleverly conquered that potential stumbling block by having an employee monitoring the kiosk in Harrisburg compare your ID to your appearance on a kiosk remote camera.

• Wouldn't it be easier to have a store cashier do that?

Now that you mention it ...

• What if the camera malfunctions, the lens fogs up or the monitor happens to be on a bathroom break?

Better luck completing your purchase next time.

• What if I shaved off that silly looking beard and no longer look like my driver's license photo?

Ditch the Gillette for a few weeks and try your purchase again.

• Once my ID is approved, then do I pay for my wine?

Not so fast. First you have to blow into the kiosk alcohol sensor. The LCB isn't selling wine to any drunks.

• If the LCB deems me sufficiently sober, can I finally buy the bottle?

Sure. As long as you have a credit or debit card.

• The kiosks don't take cash?

These are state-of-the-art machines. You can't expect them to process transactions involving such an archaic and soon-to-be obsolete medium as currency.

• Will prices at the kiosks be the same as in the state stores?

Yes -- with the exception of a $1 convenience fee charged at the kiosks.

• Many state stores aren't open seven days a week. Will the kiosks be?

Except for Sundays, yes.

• Sigh. This is convenience?

This is what passes for it in Pennsylvania.




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