Britain's Latest: The Cyber-Pub
Sharp elbows. Long queues. Being ignored by the barman when you eventually get there.
All good reasons to put off fighting your way to the bar if you're a University of Westminster student on a night out. But now the students' union thinks it's found a way for drinkers to escape a busy bar and still get a round in - thanks to RFID tables that deliver orders remotely.
With a new term just about to start, the University of Westminster has given its Intermission Bar an overhaul. Students who fancy getting a post-lecture pint in will be treated to six new tables, where pop-up screens let the thirsty academics place an order directly from their seats. You can see them in action here.
Using the screens, students can scroll through the list of beverages and choose what they fancy. Orders are transmitted to the bar using ethernet over powerline, with the drinks brought directly to their tables. The system has prompted the Intermission Bar to employ two sets of staff - one lot to deliver the drinks ordered from the high-tech tables and another set to work the bar as normal.
Even paying for a round has gone upmarket at Westminster. Those using the system can buy their snakebite-and-black using RFID chipped cards, with both a pre-pay and billing option. And, with student debt not getting any smaller, if the cards are lost or stolen, credit can be frozen and retrieved by the out-of-pocket drinker.
The tables are all completely waterproof so while they can't guard against 'who spilt my pint?' scuffles, they can at least keep the electrics safe.
Not only will the new system cut waiting times for drinkers, it will apparently boost profits too - 40 per cent more orders are placed by drinkers at the tables than others in the bar as those using the screens to order become more experimental in their choices and speed up their ordering when not confronted by the prospect of a long wait to be served.
More expensive drinks, such as spirits and cocktails, are ordered more frequently. The system doesn't track who's had a bit too much though - that's left to the lucky bar staff.
Rayhan Rafiq Omar, VP of comms at the students' union, told silicon.com: "For us it's about providing an extra service. Some students are used to bars that are nine people deep but we cater for mature students and they expect a lot more."
As well as sparing beleaguered drinkers from a crowded bar, the new system may even improve their love life. The tables enable students to chat with other tables using an IM-like system. This even comes pre-programmed with a list of cheesy chat-up lines - such as 'that's a nice shirt, it would go well on my floor' and 'I'm not actually this tall, I'm sitting on my wallet' - for the romantically challenged.
For Romeos who need to step it up a level, there's also the option of sending credit to fellow tables - the virtual equivalent of buying someone a drink.
And there's SMS and games for those who don't find being in a bar stimulating enough, while a taxi-booking service is also scheduled to go live shortly.
Omar told silicon.com the student body is also working on tying in some new functionality for the tables including a request system for the student radio station, streaming football matches directly to the tables and a video jukebox.
The system is a collaboration between Compuware and Escapism media, which built the touchscreens (which are called 'escape pods') using Compuware's Optimal J development tool to create the application the pods run on.
The touchscreen tabletops, which can rotate 360 degrees and tilt up to 45 degrees, can also be found in the Ministry of Sound clubs in both Harrogate and London.