WillCall‘s plot to reimagine nightlife goes way beyond its concert ticketing app. So it’s tackling the annoyance of buying drinks, from long bar lines to fumbling for cash to forgetting your credit card. Today it launches BarTab, a feature within its app that lets you buy drinks at participating venues by saying your name. But how does the bartender know who you are? Through WillCall’s secret weapon: Bluetooth Low Energy.
Here’s how BarTab works. You install WillCall’s concert ticket app and go to a venue running BarTab. It doesn’t matter if you bought your tickets through WillCall or not. As you approach the bar, its BarTab-equipped iPad pings your WillCall app over Bluetooth Low Energy, and you confirm the prompt that you want to open a tab. In case Bluetooth LE fails or you don’t have it running on your phone, you can show the bartender your ID and they can find you in their BarTab app to start your tab.
Then you order drinks from the bartender as normal but when it’s time to pay, you just say your name. They pull you up from the list of nearby BarTab users, and charge your WillCall-connected credit card. You receive a push notification that you’ve been charged that also lets you tip, and you get back to partying. Your tab is automatically closed when the show ends and you get emailed an itemized receipt.
I got to try out a demo of BarTab at a recent warehouse concert at San Francisco’s The Sub, and it was breezy.
Since bartenders don’t have to run back and forth to the cash register, get you change, swipe your credit card, or find your card you already opened a tab with, WillCall’s BarTab could shorten bar lines. You don’t have to worry about having cash on hand or forgetting to close your credit card tab when you leave the bar. It may even be more secure because someone else can’t buy drinks on your tab without you being notified via push.
WillCall founder Donnie Dinch tells me “the goal is to make live entertainment a bigger part of people’s lives and we’re doing that by any means necessary.”
Unlike competing bar payment apps like Coaster, FlowTab, and BarEye, you pretty much order as you always did and don’t have to fiddle with an in-app drink menu where it can be tough to make special orders. Dinch notes that bartenders are resistant to too much change, and tells me “We can remove friction from the process but still maintain the user-bartender interaction.”
Unlike some competitors, you can’t order your drink from the comfort of the crowd or your conversation and just stroll to the bar to pick it up. That sounds nice, but is a little clumsy in practice. Instead, BarTab feels pretty natural. It’s a sacrifice WillCall thinks will make BarTab easy for users and venues to adopt. Venues interested can sign up for the BarTab pilot program here.
Eventually, WillCall may let users opt in to having venues receive their email address to hit them up about future events. If that sounds annoying, know that Ticketmaster and Ticketfly always give your contact info to venues where you buy tickets.
WillCall is still experimenting with how to earn money from BarTab, but it’s leaning away from taking a percentage of sales and more towards a software-as-a-service model where it charges venues a flat fee per person that uses the WillCall app at the bar. That should keep WillCall’s investors like 500 Startups, SV Angel, and Sean Parker happy they’ve poured $2.1 million into the startup.
Nightlife, Meet Data
Ok, so BarTab could help venues sell more drinks and delight customers so they keep coming back. But WillCall has a whole other value proposition — a unified nightlife data layer.
Dinch explains, “We realized that venues know very little about the people that are in there. How do we get better engagement for ourselves? We use Google Analytics and Mixpanel. That really doesn’t exist for the live entertainment industry because there’s not enough data recorded. The big play is to start to build out the data layer for venues so they can implement better loyalty programs and market to specific people.”
WillCall could let venues see that you’ve visited four times this month and bought several drinks each night. Eventually, WillCall could build a way for venues to give you a free drink for your patronage. Or venues could see you buy three extra tickets to each show that you go to and bring friends, so it might be smart to give you a free ticket to keep you coming.
“[BarTab] is the first of many touchpoints we can mange to get better data for the venues,” Dinch tells me. “We’ll definitely at some point do merchandise.” And instead of sales data on tickets, the bar, and merchandise all being siloed, WillCall will lace it all together so venues can find out who are their most valuable customers.
Right now, the biggest reason people don’t go to more concerts is they don’t know about ones they’d want to see. By bringing venues into the data age, WillCall could make sure promoters know who tell about shows, and help you have a nicer time rocking out once you’re there.
[Image: The Irish Goodbye]