Of all relationships that customers have with folks at their favorite restaurants, the closest is often their favorite bartender. While chefs keep busy in the kitchen and servers juggle many tables all night, the bartender is right in front of you–shaking drinks, chatting, and generally being the host of the party. Many customers know their favorite bartenders’ regular nights; but many bartenders hop between venues or have frequently changing schedules, and lack a way to inform their followers. That’s the purpose of onthebar, which allows bar folks to amass an online following through a simple app interface. We chatted with co-founder Ian Stanczyk about onthebar and its success so far.
Explain the basic workings of onthebar. What does the app allow you to do? onthebar tells you what bartenders are working at which bars in real time and what they’re up to. For bartenders, it’s a great way to let your regulars know when you’re working, to promote new drinks you’re developing, and to take your regulars with you when you change bars. For patrons, it helps you keep track of your favorite bartenders and, as a result, have a really great experience every time you go to the bar. It connects with Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and all that jazz to make it super easy to keep in touch with your people.
How did you get the idea for the app? Is there anything else similar on the market? I wanted to know when my old college roommate, Ted Kilpatrick, was working so I could go visit him! When we graduated, it was hard for us to hang out. I worked a 9 to 5, and Thursday through Saturday night, he was working in bars. So, the only time we’d see one another was when I’d visit him. But there was just no good way for me to know. Schedules change all the time, of course, and when bartenders are working they’re pretty much impossible to get in touch with. Twitter doesn’t really work for this, it’s too noisy. I figured, I just need to get an alert on my phone whenever he shows up for a shift, then we can continue being friends. Piece of cake. We quickly realized, every bartender has regulars and every bar-goer has “their bartender” (or three). So, we decided to open it up to the rest of the Boston bar community and we’ve been working on it ever since. Now it’s available to any bartender anywhere in the US, for free. What we’ve found is, I wasn’t crazy! Relationships really do matter and onthebar does a heck of a job filling barstools and making patrons and bartenders happy.
There have been a few copycats emerge since we got started but none have really done a good job getting people engaged. We seem to be the only ones taking a real run at this as a business. We’re literally working on it every day and, as a result, the app has come a long, long way. In fact, we just released onthebar 3 for the iPhone which is a complete redesign that we did in tandem with a handful of bartenders up here in Boston. We’re very proud of it and we’re going to keep pushing the envelope because we think we’re really onto something here and it’s a market that needs and deserves to have really great technology.
What’s your reach so far, and what are your next plans for expansion? We’re strongest in Boston, for sure. We have thousands of bartenders here and they cover most of the bars and restaurants in town. It’s really an amazing thing. It changes the way you explore the bar scene and make decisions about where to go. This was a pipe-dream 2 years ago but now at the end of 2013 you can just open onthebar and see who’s working all over the city. I can’t wait to get more cities to this point of engagement so the rest of the drinking world can see what I’m talking about. It really does feel like we’re living in the future here.
2014 is definitely about expansion for us. We’d like to start actively building communities in places like Seattle, Portland, SF, NYC of course, Miami, Chicago, Austin, etc. We’ll be looking for help; if any of your readers are interested in what we’re doing they should reach out @onthebar. Bottom line, there are so many great cocktail towns but, really, it’s not just a “mixology” thing, every bartender in the country has their regulars and they can all benefit from this.
[TJ Connelly, Anthony Roldan, Ian Stanczyk]
– Imagine a world where Onthebar is used by bartenders and bar-goers everywhere. Why would that be awesome? Have you ever gone and sat at a bar with a bartender who you know and who knows you? It’s a totally different experience. This is the stuff that doesn’t show up in Yelp ratings and crap like that – when human relationships bleed into hospitality. onthebar does a lot of stuff. It knows your tastes. Your history. It will recommend bartenders to you. It will guide you through your night. It’ll show you off-menu cocktail lists. But, really, it’s about celebrating that staff-patron relationship and it’s demonstrating that bartenders have real influence–for example, we have bartenders in Boston who can fill any bar in the city just with their onthebar followers–when every bartender in the country is on this thing, well, it’s going to change the industry. Hiring, promotion, bar and drink discovery, everything. You’ll be able to land in any city and immediately find the experts in whatever you have a taste for and, when you go visit, they’ll be expecting you. So, ultimately, it’s going to make for a lot of very happy customers and I’ll get to visit Ted!