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I Tried One of the First Booze Delivery Apps for iPhone. Here's How It Went.

·National Correspondent, Technology
booze
booze

It’s astonishing that in an era when restaurant food, groceries and full meal ingredients can be delivered straight to your door, an essential food group has been largely left out of the app-to-table boom: booze.

That jaw-dropping exclusion may change, however, with the arrival of a new app and service called Minibar. Minibar promises to let you order and pay for alcohol using a smartphone app and get that alcohol delivered to your home within an hour. Launched Wednesday, it is currently available only in New York City.

I tried Minibar this week, and it worked as promised. It landed me a bottle of Pinot on my doorstep with a few simple taps on my iPhone.

But despite the solid idea, and the gracefulness of the Minibar app, there are a few flaws in the mix, including the question of checking ID and providing more convenient delivery windows for patrons. 

Here’s my Minibar experience: I was at an old co-worker’s downtown apartment, post-dinner, when we became thirsty. He had beer, and (weirdly) champagne, but no wine. I wanted wine, because I need to drink at least one glass of wine a day to continue living.

The Minibar iOS app uses your location to determine what liquor stores are around you and then arranges delivery — removing the hassle of searching for a place, calling in and paying for your order. 

I went to download the app, which you can get here, and was promptly reminded that I needed to be at least 17 to do that. That’s way below the U.S. drinking age, but it’s usually the default message for any Apple Store app containing age-restricted material. Surely, I thought, there would be greater identification hoops to jump through.

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I opened the app and was immediately asked to enter my delivery ZIP code and, this time, confirm that I was of drinking age. I’m over 21, though I couldn’t help but think how easily an underaged drinker could manipulate this system. I concluded that there’d be something more solid than that. Drizly, a competing alcohol-delivery app, provides its couriers with ID-scanning technology. Would Minibar? We’ll return to that in a moment. 

Age verification worries aside, the app runs smoothly, and ordering is intuitive. After you enter your ZIP code, the app generates a list of alcohol, divided by type — rather than a list of nearby liquor stores. I like that approach, because unlike restaurant food, booze is booze, no matter where it comes from. 

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I went to Wines > Red and scrolled through my options. To simplify things, Minibar assigns just one liquor store to each area on a map. So far, it has about 14 providers in the city and services most of Brooklyn, too.

Our selection was pretty varied in both price and type. Obviously, your choices will depend on where you live and the quality of the liquor stores in your neighborhood. 

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Ordering from one store assigned to your geographic location reduces the amount you have to think, but it also affects the window of time you can receive deliveries. In my case, our store took orders between noon and 9 p.m., meaning that our 8:45 p.m. order was just in the nick of time. But I also imagine that might get tricky if, say, 10 more people had the same idea to order wine at the same time, or if the app becomes widely popular. 

We decided to select a nice $25 Spanish wine, because $25 is the minimum price ($5 more than Drizly’s).

I added the bottle to my order and then tapped the cart in the upper-right corner of the screen to check out. If you haven’t already entered your billing info, the app will prompt you to do that and then bring you to checkout.

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Delivery is supposedly “free,” but we all know that nothing in life comes without a price (meaning you also have to pay tax and tip). Minibar includes a default $3 tip in your subtotal, which you can tap to edit and adjust at checkout.

After I finished up with those details, I was given one last warning, that if I wasn’t able to present a valid ID that proved I was of age at the time of delivery, my order would be revoked. I was sent a confirmation email, and almost exactly an hour later, a guy came to the door and gave us — two 20-somethings — our expensive wine without hesitation.

So obviously that’s a problem. What if we were reckless high school students? Minbar co-founders Lara Crystal and Lindsey Andrews told me they understand this is a potential issue.

“Anyone can press a button,” Andrews says. “But we’ve built in monetary disincentives for underage people to order: a $20 restocking fee. Our service is merely a marketing platform for liquor stores around the city, and it’s always the responsibility of the company that makes a sale to confirm ID.”

I get that. I also get that most delivery guys in New York are not full-time employees but are working for tips, and that checking for ID is probably more of a pain than it’s worth for part-timers. It should be more of a concern for both the liquor stores and Minibar, though. 

Crystal and Andrews say they’re doing extensive research to tackle this issue. Meanwhile Minibar’s main competitor, Drizly, has equipped its delivery guys with the technology to scan IDs as a way of cutting down on the chances of underage liquor purchases. Minibar should consider the same measures.

So, yes, there are some problems with the app, most troublingly with the lack of age verification for potential teen drinkers. But on a snowy 15-degree Friday night, I probably wouldn’t think twice about using Minibar. Bottoms up.

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