BarEye, a social nightlife app that helps you purchase drinks at partner bars, is expanding after its pilot in Tallahassee to five major U.S. cities: New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Atlanta and Austin.
Co-founder Andrew Bennett says the app has several angel investors backing the project, but declined to disclose how much he has raised. The app has seen over 10,000 downloads and sold over 6,000 drinks since it first launched last fall. BarEye is used in 17 bars in Tallahassee and largely focused on the college scene. But now, Bennett and co-founder NFL player Jonathan Vilma want to reach out to a larger market.
After downloading the BarEye app, you can buy drinks for friends through Facebook or to anyone checked in to a BarEye bar. You can also buy yourself a drink to avoid opening a tab or waiting for service. Just select the bar and drink, pay with credit card and redeem with the bartender. Drinks range from $0.99 to $8.99 depending on the bar. Of course, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a $0.99 drink once the app moves to New York or LA, but a Deals page lists discounts and specials throughout the week. Bars can also broadcast deals to BarEye users within a certain area or demographic, to try and drive business on slower days.
BarEye is also a way for people to send drinks and interact from far away. After you buy a drink, you can include a message to say congratulations, happy birthday, etc. or to start a conversation. The app is meant to make ordering and sending drinks simple and accessible to today’s bar patrons, who are all equipped with smartphones.
“Like any bar-owner, I’m a little skeptical because I’m used to the traditional way of generating revenue by bringing patrons in,” Vilma tells me. “[But] I took a look at my demographic and people coming into my bar and said, ‘You know, I think it makes total sense because I’m looking at the younger generation, the 21-25 year olds, they come in and all they do is play on their smartphones.'”
Bar-hopping college students are built around an existing community, so its easy to see how an app like BarEye might spread in Tallahassee. But moving into cities, Bennett and Vilma face the challenge of widespread adoption from both bars and customers. Bennett says since bars using BarEye paid $200 for the service, he is confident he can sign on a large amount of bars for free through franchisees, each of which will manage about 100 bars in a given location. He tells me using franchisees will also negate the need to scale sales and marketing teams.
“Relative to the market, less than one percent of bars have anything like this, so it’s wide open. So it’s really about finding a way to scale, and we really think that the franchise model is the way it can be done,” Bennett says.
There are several other apps trying to do the same thing, but all are still limited to one specific market. Both Gratafy and BuzzMe take the concept of BarEye one step further by allowing users to order appetizers and menu items for friends, as well as drinks. This is a useful complement or alternative to have, and it’s another source of revenue for bars and restaurants. According to its website, Gratafy has also built up a user base of 67 different restaurants in the Seattle area. But Gratafy has yet to expand past Washington, and BuzzMe is only available in Tampa Bay, Florida. Another unique feature from BarEye is a users leader board, which won several college students iPad minis for buying the most drinks using the app.
The BarEye team is working on a similar app for night clubs. If BarEye can achieve quick adoption in large cities, it will have a significant edge on any up-and-coming competition. But if you’re like me or Liz Lemon, you might just wait it out for an app that provides some mozzarella sticks to go with your drink.