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Dead batteries and hangovers are the afflictions of the modern drinker. Now restaurants and bars are trying to fix at least one of those problems.
At Left Hand Path in Brooklyn, New York, the beer taps are built into a piece of 113-year-old spruce. Here, men with beards fill up their iPhones alongside their whiskey glasses, with cables running down to the electrical outlets and USB ports tucked underneath the bar.
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One the owner’s goals when opening the bar last week was to make life easier for his bartenders.
“If you’re in the middle of service, and someone asks you to charge their phone instead of giving you a drink order, it can mess you up,” Travis Boettcher told NBC News.
The former programmer from San Francisco had installed USB ports in his own home, and decided to they would make a good addition to his bar.
“I saw a problem and I solved it,” he said.
It’s a problem many people continue to have. With bigger screens and more features, smartphones are only becoming more power-hungry. A battery lasting all day at work can seem like an accomplishment; lasting until last call can seem like a miracle.
Maxwell Foxman, 29, uses a Wi-Fi-equipped iPod as a phone during the day to save the battery on his actual phone. At night he pulls out his Motorola Droid Razr Maxx, which, ironically, he bought for its supposedly long battery life. Even then, he often finds himself low on juice.
“I don’t go to every bartender and ask, ‘Hey can you charge my phone?’ I try to solve the problem on my own,” Foxman, a Ph.D. student at Columbia University, told NBC News. “But every time I have asked and there has been easy access, they have said yes.”
It’s a request that many bartenders and waiters have heard. Like Boettcher, Federico Castellucci decided it was just easier to build electrical outlets into the bars and booths of his three Atlanta restaurants. He came up with the idea when opening his first spot, The Iberian Pig, and he found himself hunting for outlets while working there during the day.
“It’s good for the customers and it was good for us,” he told NBC News. “It is such a minimal design cost for such an added benefit.
TAO Downtown is a different beast. It’s a 350-seat behemoth in New York City’s Meatpacking District known as much for its thriving nightlife scene as for its Asian-inspired cuisine.
Before, the restaurant was using old wooden cabinets that had been converted into charging stations. A swipe of a credit card let people pop in their smartphone, take a key, have dinner, and come back.
The problem? It’s easy to forget your phone or break a machine after a few mango chili martinis.
“Diners were drinking and having a good time,” Patrick Duxbury, general manager of TAO Downtown, told NBC News, “but people were not able to get their phone out of the machine as easily as they were able to put it in.”
Now, diners can leave their credit card and ID with the host and get a TAO-branded Mophie charger in return. It’s about the size of an iPhone, but four times as thick. Once dinner is over, they simply return the charger, and walk away with power to Snapchat all night.
“Oh my god, we have created a monster."
Customers love it, Duxbury said, perhaps a little too much. At any given moment during dinner service, each of the approximately 20 chargers have been loaned out. (People often bring their own chargers, but the staff refuses to plug them in, since it results in so many forgotten phones).
“Oh my god, we have created a monster,” he said. “If there are none available, people get upset and impatient until we get them one.”
Bar and restaurant owners can also buy or rent ready-to-go charging stations from companies like ChargeItSpot, Brightbox or goCharge.
While not as subtle as a USB port built into the bar, they can be branded with logos and provide an extra revenue stream if the business owner decides to charge for some extra electricity.
It’s not just in major cities either. GoCharge’s stations have been installed in every U.S. state, Bradley M. Saveth, the company’s director of business development, told NBC News, and company expects to announce a partnership with a major restaurant chain soon.
Until charging stations become as common as coat hooks, people will still have to rely on the kindness of strangers for a refill.
Foxman, the Ph.D. student, and his wife have are not leaving their charger at home anytime soon.
“We often share the same charger,” he said. “Sometimes, we will switch. I’ll charge at one place and she will charge at another. It’s a modern day necessity for a couple.”