New D.C. Club Shadow Room Aims to Speed Table Service With Touch Screens

By Fritz Hahn
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, November 21, 2008

T he Buzz: It's like clubbing with the Jetsons.

Want to order a drink, request tunes from the DJ, pay a bill or ask a valet to retrieve your car? If you're at the Shadow Room, all you have to do is touch a screen at your table.

Swaptak Das and his partners, who run Shadow Room in Foggy Bottom, knew high-end clubbers were tired of paying $1,000 or more for the prestige of having a table at hot lounges while watching the hoi polloi get their drinks quickly at the bar as they waited at the table for a waitress.

The answer was an innovative new system designed by Das's techie team, featuring people who've worked at such places as Accenture and Andersen Consulting. The expedited service comes at a price, of course: Each touch-screen-equipped booth requires a minimum tab of $750 to $1,000, which includes admission for as many as 10 people.

The screen is easy to figure out: Touch a picture of a bottle to get a menu of spirits. Press the type of liquor to get a menu of brands, then pick the quantity. (You can also order specific cocktails.) A server then brings the order from a back-room bar used just to fill orders for private tables.

You can split the bill onto multiple credit cards, punch in your valet ticket number to have a driver bring your car or have someone bring your jackets from coat check. You can message the DJ to ask him to give a friend a birthday shout-out or to request a song, though the DJ can send a message back saying he doesn't have the track or doesn't think it will fit into his set. In the event of party crashers or a spill, you can summon security or a cleaning crew.

Richard Strauss has been to Shadow Room 10 times, and he has had a table with a touch screen on more than half of those occasions.

"I think it's cool and impressive, but it also makes the experience better," says the 39-year-old president of Strauss Radio Strategies, a D.C.-based public relations firm. "When it's crowded, there's no need to wait for the server or to go through the crowd. If you're running low on ice, you just click on 'More Ice' and they have a runner bring it to you in a few minutes. Compared to some other clubs, it's much faster."

Other perks include a plasma TV outfitted with an Xbox and a Playstation 3, wireless controllers and games. (Though I still have a hard time imagining why, if you're at a club, you'd want to do the same thing you could be doing sitting on your couch for a lot less money.)

A house phone allows you to call other tables (a card with phone numbers is provided), or if friends are waiting in line outside, you can ring the concierge to have them brought inside.

Even the cheaper, touch-screen-free tables have a techie gimmick: Every hostess has an iTouch, so she can send your drink order to the bar without having to fight through the crowd to enter it into the system.

Table-less customers can also get in on the act by downloading an iPhone application that works like the table touch screen. Figure out what you want, place an order and, when it's ready, you'll get a text message telling you to pick it up at the end of the bar. It's a completely cashless transaction, as the tab, including gratuity, is placed on a credit card registered to your account. (Honestly, it's a cool trick, but it didn't seem to get drinks any faster than it did to hit the less-busy bar in the back room.)

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