You might not notice right away what's different about a new bar and restaurant, Oz. Tap House, now open in the River Place neighborhood off RM 2222 in Northwest Austin. But in the back corner is a tap wall set beneath iPad screens where the customers, not bartenders, can pour beer sold by the ounce.
With Oz. (pronounced "ounce"), married couple Sean and Krista Kanter have founded the first bar in Texas, though not the country, to offer self-pour technology. Their fairly novel concept opened its doors for the first time in February on the same day the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission approved a new interpretation of the code that allows for self-pour machines on a case-by-case basis, the Kanters said.
The couple has streamlined the process to order food and beer. Customers walk up to the host stand to connect their credit card with a radio-frequency identification card that is used to purchase beer or wine. They grab a glass — small tasters, snifter-size options and pint glasses, among others — and pour as much or as little of the beverage as they want. They also can order food at the host stand or at one of three self-order kiosks.
Being able to pour the beer yourself means you don't have to wait for a bartender, especially during high-volume times, Sean Kanter said. The self-order kiosks along with the host stand also provide multiple places where you can order food, which at Oz. is mainly burgers and salads.
"You can order food and beer when you want," Kanter said. "You don't have to hail a bartender. So at any given time on a busy Friday night, you'll have 10 people pouring their own beers at their leisure. This concept creates solutions for your standard restaurant."
Beers range in cost from 37 cents an ounce to 98 cents an ounce, the latter for barrel-aged offerings such as Circle Brewing's Whiskey Pig Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Porter. (No need to do the math: A 37-cent beer poured all the way to the top of a 16 oz. pint glass would be $5.92.) Each brew is from local beer producers, and on the tap wall they are divided by style, such as IPAs, wheat ales and lagers.
RELATED: New Hill Country Galleria shop doubles as home decor store, cocktail bar
Popular taps of the 35 devoted to beer and cider include Zilker Brewing's Parks & Recreation Pale Ale and Adelbert's pink-hued Hibiscus Saison. Beers rotate regularly, and you can keep up to date via the Oz. Tap House website.
"The reason we (only offer Austin beer) is for the professional with 2.5 children who loves beer, loves to go to breweries but has a life, events with the children, and can't really brewhouse hop," Kanter said. "We're bringing everyone to a nice gathering space to where they can actually try the niche local beers."
Creating "a nice gathering space" for people in the Northwest Austin neighborhoods surrounding 2222 and RM 620 was important for the Kanters, who have a combined 35 years in the restaurant industry. The eatery is intended to be as family-friendly as the Salsas Mexican Cuisine & Cantina that came before it, with an enclosed playground in the beer garden where string lights, umbrella-covered tables and lawn games beckon.
And inside, near the tap wall, is a shuffleboard table and a foosball table. Three TVs can play whatever sports game you want to watch. The Kanters live about three minutes away from Oz. and knew exactly the kind of bar concept the area needed.
"We used to come when it was Salsas before," Krista Kanter said. "We sat out on the patio to enjoy a drink and a meal, and we loved the idea that there was a Jolly Jump for our kids to play in, so that they were distracted and we could have some us time. Then, when it went out of business, we were kind of like, wow, this is a pretty good location, and there's not a lot in this area that is family-friendly — "
"— But beer-centric," Sean Kanter finished.
Last summer, the Kanters organized a NextSeed crowdfunding campaign to raise more money to open the restaurant. Then, a business partner, ophthalmologist Dr. John Odette, came forward to provide the needed funding. He has also helped the Kanters persuade the TABC that self-pour technology is a good and safe idea, Sean Kanter said.
Oz. Tap House relies on Table Tap's "WallTender" technology for the self-pour station. People who have never poured a beer in their lives can get the hang of it thanks to simple guidelines hanging on a board above the tap wall (tilt the glass sideways and pull the handle as far as it will go toward you). Need extra help? Just ask one of the servers.
Self-pour service offers multiple benefits for the restaurant providing it, according to Table Tap founder Jeff Libby.
"More than 20 percent of beer poured behind the bar never is charged to a customer due to over-pouring," he said. "Operators can virtually eliminate all waste since every ounce is charged to the customer. Not only does self-pour beer make draft systems more profitable, but (it) also has proven to increase draft sales more than 40 percent on average."
Already, the Kanters are looking to open additional locations of Oz. Tap House in Austin — places that could use a family-focused beer concept with a full food menu.
The restaurant is at in the River Place shopping center at 10601 RM 2222. It's open daily: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For more information, visit oztaphouse.com.