Bartab, a smartphone application new to the Valley, is allowing users to buy drinks for their friends - even if they're not in the same bar.
Partiers at a Scottsdale club can order a cold beer for friends at a bar in Glendale, or even Manhattan.
It's all possible through a smartphone app developed in San Francisco called Bartab, now in use at more than 70 Valley bars.
The app allows users to buy vouchers for specific drinks and then redeem them at selected bars.
"I noticed how people could send fake drinks to their friends on Facebook, and thought, let's make this real," creator Steve Johnson said.
Users download the free app and connect to it via Facebook. Once they've chosen a participating bar in one of 15 U.S. cities, the app shows what drink deals are available, typically $1 for a beer, a shot or a well drink. Then the user selects recipients and pays through a secure transaction system.
At the bar, users show the bartender the voucher on their phones and pay an additional $1 to receive the drink.
For users such as Dennis Moran, 38, of Scottsdale, the app is a great way to save money. He has used it at the Lodge, Upper Deck Sports Grill, Chop and Wok and Loco Patron, all in Scottsdale.
"It's very convenient and makes going out affordable and simple," Moran said. "I saw that the Chop and Wok was on the list, and hadn't been there in 20 years, so I thought I would try it out since I live nearby. I've been there a few times now, and have been checking out other new places, too."
For bars, the app provides unique marketing. They get customers in the door, and when the drink is redeemed, a notification is posted on Facebook, visible to the customer's friends.
Athena Pauly, general manager for the Canyon in Scottsdale, formerly Fox Sports Grill, said for two months Bartab has been creating a buzz at her restaurant, bringing in about five app users a night.
"Social marketing is so crazy right now, so I decided to give the app a test run," Pauly said. "It showed up on Facebook that I bought a friend a drink, and a few of my friends were jealous. It's quickly caught on.
"And since we changed the name and concept of our restaurant, this is a good tool to utilize so we can spread the word."
David Wachs, founder of Chicago-based mobile marketing company Cellit, said the app is a smart idea, but it begs some questions.
"It leverages social networking and this whole viral aspect," Wachs said. "The bar has brought the person in once, and you get that Groupon effect. But what do you do now? How do you communicate to the user after they leave the bar? And how do you get them back?"
Wachs says many coupon programs get customers in once for their cheap drink, but the customers don't linger, or return, and the bar ends up losing money.
But Pauly said the app is paying off so far.
"We offer drinks like domestic beer and well drinks, something we won't lose on, and it brings people in the door," Pauly said. "Usually people stay here for some appetizers and additional drinks."
Another issue is fraud, but Johnson said his program is low risk.
Bartenders are supposed to ask customers to hit the "I got my drink" button after being served, so they can't use it again.
Users only need to be 17 years old to download the app, making them able to purchase vouchers and send drinks. But it's up to the bar to check IDs. Users are asked to confirm that they are over 17 when downloading the app, but there's little oversight.
The Bartab application is available in iPhone App Store and Android Market, and more information about the app can be found at bartab.webtab.com.
by Kellie Hwang The Arizona Republic May. 19, 2011 12:13 PM
Bartab smartphone app available at 70 metro Phoenix bars