Cash-free partying

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags to store money and purchase drinks at the bar are no longer the stuff of fiction. Innovation in technology has allowed nightlife operators and festival organisers to make such futuristic-sounding concepts possible - for a fuss-free and more enjoyable party experience.

Last month, Singapore's biggest outdoor dusk-to-dawn ravefest, ZoukOut, also introduced cashless payment. Ravers could use ez-link cards and "tap and go" at the bar.

And a month before that, in November, the pop-up DJ and art festival Super 0 Season held at the Mill in Jalan Kilang made use of RFID tags for the purchase of drinks and to timestamp partygoers' arrivals.

The RFID tags had a microchip that stored value to purchase drinks, and users could top up the value at counters at the event with either cash or credit card. Top-up amounts could be from $1 to $999. At the bar, they just swiped their tags across a reader to pay for the drinks they ordered.

Ms Alyssa Kokilah, 32, co-founder and director of Super 0, says the tags, which were provided at a "favourable" cost by Singapore-based company GoGorilla, helped with "event management and logistics".

She says: "There is no digging around for cash or vouchers when purchasing drinks, and it also minimises loss of pre-paid vouchers and reduces printing wastage."

The concept is not new, notes Ms Kokilah, who adds that such technology has been used in international music festivals such as Sonar in Barcelona, Coachella in California, Lollapalooza in Chicago and in nightclubs such as Club Air in Amsterdam and D-Edge in Sao Paolo, Brazil.

"Seeing the different ways these events have creatively harnessed the potential of new technology inspired us to bring it to Singapore for Super 0 Season," she says.

Mr Timothy Chia, 32, Zouk's head of marketing and events, said the response to cashless payment using ez-link cards at ZoukOut was "not too bad", with an estimated take-up rate of 60 per cent among partygoers. Those who opted not to use the cards could still queue for drink coupons before queueing at the bar.

Selected SingTel users could also pay with their mobile phones - they were given Near Field Communication (a short-range wireless technology) stickers, containing a microchip which stored monetary value, to stick on the back of their phones. To purchase drinks, they tapped the sticker on a machine at the bar.

Zouk spent about $15,000 to implement cashless payment at the two-day event at Sentosa's Siloso Beach, which attracted 41,000 people.

A push factor that made the payment method popular was the fact that it could cut down waiting time for drinks by up to 50 per cent - especially if partygoers had turned up at the festival with ez-link cards topped up in advance. At ZoukOut in previous years, the wait to queue first for drink coupons and then for drinks at the packed bar took as long as 40 minutes. Mr Maurice Simon, 29, a corporate lawyer who attended the event last year and used his ez-link card to pay for his drinks, says the service "improved my festival experience because it meant less time spent queueing for drinks and more time dancing on the sand with drinks in hand".

He adds: "Compared with previous years, I'd say my overall waiting time to buy drinks was reduced by more than a third, and my frustration reduced by a whole lot more."

For this year's up and coming Laneway Festival Singapore at Gardens by the Bay on Jan 25, organiser Chugg Entertainment said it would also be introducing a new form of cashless payment at the bars and food stalls using "food and beverage tokens", although it did not give further details on the new mode of payment.

Previously, festivalgoers had to queue to purchase vouchers for beverages, then queue again to order drinks paid for with the vouchers. Cashless payment is not the only thing that clubs and nightlife operators are looking into to improve the party experience.

Zouk, for example, now uses a Quick Response (QR) code system for its public guest list. The club shares a link on its social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter. Partygoers go to the link, fill in their details and a QR code is generated on their phone, which is scanned at the club for entry.

Nightlife media network firm Motive Media is also looking to roll out specially outfitted digital devices in nightclubs this year to make the process of ordering and paying for drinks more efficient.

These devices include a digital table-top menu which allows you to order and make payments directly on its interface. The orders are sent to the bar counter or kitchen for the staff to process.

While such services are not yet available, Motive Media says several clubs, including Dom Lounge at Marina Bay Sands, Asian fusion disco Sonar at Orchard Hotel and DQ Martini Room at UE Square, are among those interested in implementing the technology. It declined to say how much it costs.

Mr Joel Goh, 28, managing director of Motive Media, says: "The clubbing experience will be streamlined allowing the clubber more convenience... There will be no more need to squeeze at the bar, no need to try to get the bartenders' attention and no need to wait for the bill."

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