Your vacation has started and you’re ready for a glass of bubbly to celebrate. The days of waiting for a bartender to serve you a drink are over. Now, customers can simply walk over to a vending machine.

This vending machine doesn’t serve candy or bags of chips, but personal-sized bottles of champagne. Others disperse bottled beer or canned cocktails.

Customers are willing to pay up for the benefit of shorter lines and something interesting to Instagram. Some are willing to spend as much as $25 for a 200 mL champagne bottle that would be only $11 in a liquor store.

How the machines work

One of the obvious challenges is ensuring that the patron is of legal drinking age. Boozy vending machines are not yet standardized, but most require a coin that is first purchased through a hotel or bar worker. Having customers purchase the coin from a human allows the chance for that worker to check the patron’s ID.

In the future, the industry hopes the vending machines will be able to scan customer’s biometrics, such as fingerprints or retina scans, to determine if the person is of legal drinking age more quickly. Companies such as Clear already use biometric scanning to speed up lines at stadiums and airports.

As for what the machine serves: brands decide what goes inside, but most have at least two varieties of single-serving cans or bottles. Having fewer options reduces the decision-making time for customers, so that within seconds the drink is ready.

Besides reducing wait time for customers, the machines also provide the added benefit of serving the drinks chilled to the correct temperature. Think of the vending machine as a giant refrigerator.

However, the last challenge for customers is learning how to pop their own bottles of champagne.

Where to find the vending machines

In 2018, the cocktail bar Existing Conditions opened in New York City with two vintage-looking “soda” machines that actually disperse canned cocktails. Patrons can order martinis, highballs, or Manhattans.

“We want to be a seated service bar,” Existing Conditions co-owner Don Lee told Seven Fifty Daily.  “And while people are waiting [for a seat], we don’t want them to leave because they’re thirsty. This way you can go to the host, swipe your credit card, and immediately get a drink. You don’t have to wait for a server or for someone to talk to you—you can just go right to it.”

Machines are already installed at The Ritz-Carlton in Naples, FL. Inside the lobby bar, patrons can purchase either Moet or Chandon 200 mL bottles via a champagne vending machine. Patrons can choose between an Imperial Burt or Imperial Rose. The machine also dispenses a complimentary champagne flute. This hotel solves the ID-ing conundrum by requiring guests to go to the front desk to purchase a $25 gold coin, with the brand’s logo on it, where the desk attendant can ID the customer. Then, customers insert the coin into the machine to receive their drink.

You can also find champagne vending machines inside The Ritz-Carlton New Orleans, Sagamore Pendry Baltimore, and the Waldorf Astoria in Las Vegas. If you’re looking for a vending machine inside a bar, head to Arnaud’s French 75 in New Orleans, Mama Lion in Los Angles or All Bar One in London.

The wine industry is matching the concept with self-service wine bars. Napa Technology’s WineStation allows customers to choose what they want and the machine dispenses exact pours. This allows bars to have multiple expensive bottles open at once because the machine uses a fine needle to serve the wine. This reduces the risk of the wine spoiling if it is not ordered within a few days of being opened.

The future of vending machines

As the future of payment types evolve, so will the vending machines. While the current system of using coins provides social media fodder, over time customers will want to use Apple Pay or Bitcoin. This increases the demand for the machines to be able to ID customers.

In the future, the hope is the vending machines can ID customers themselves.

Critics may see the vending machines as eliminating the jobs of bartenders, but proponents see it as a compliment to bar staff, not a replacement, since they help by shortening lines. The vending machines are also doing a job a lot of bartenders don’t want to: working festivals and concerts. At events where there isn’t room for a full bar, the machines are a welcomed solution.

“From an efficiency standpoint, these venues don’t have enough real estate to have more physical bars, and [they also] have trouble hiring people to run these bars,” BeerBox founder Bobby Gaafar told Seven Fifty Daily.

What brands can do to take advantage of the vending machine trend

Customers are willing to pay more for drinks in a vending machine, and they love to Instagram it, which is essentially free marketing.

For brands that want to capitalize on this trend, look for social gatherings such as concerts or sporting events, where your brand can be in high demand. Then, partner with the venue or event host to try and find real estate to place the vending machine.

You can also reach out to bar and hotel owners who might be looking for a fun new attraction that can cut down on customer wait time.

Meredith Galante

Meredith Galante is a freelance writer based in New York City. She has been published in USA Today, amNewYork, Newsday, Square and more. She's interviewed then-Mayor Cory Booker, Ryan Seacrest, and other New Jersey folks who made their community better. She's covered breaking news, sports, features, and now frequently writes about small businesses.
Meredith Galante