Skip The Virtual Shots: Give Real Lets You Send Your Friends Some Actual Booze

Virtual gifts are fun, but for the most part they’re a novelty – not something I’d ever actually give to a good friend in honor of a birthday or accomplishment. Give Real, a new startup launching today in public beta, is looking to help friends send each other something a little more enjoyable. The site allows friends to send each other what amounts to a drink tab up to $99 from any restaurant or bar, using credits that can be tied to their credit cards (it also offers a Facebook app with similar functionality). In honor of the site’s launch, Give Real is handing out $5 drink credits to the first 500 TechCrunch readers to sign up here.

The gift giving process for Give Real is a bit complicated, perhaps to a fault. If I want to give my friend a $20 bar tab for his birthday, I first enter my credit card information into Give Real’s payment system, which immediately charges my account. My friend receives a notification alerting him that I’ve given him the gift, but in order to collect it he has to tie his own credit card to Give Real’s system. He can then use that credit card normally at a bar or restaurant, and Give Real will automatically credit his account for the purchase using the funds I gave him (you can view the site’s tutorial here). Once your friends already have cards in the system the process is much easier, but I question if my friends would readily enter their credit card numbers to redeem their gifts in the first place (then again, people will go through a lot for a free drink).

Another issue that may confuse users is that these funds can only be applied to purchases made in eligible restaurants and bars. Give Real uses the same financial service provider as Mint, allowing it to pull in a credit card’s purchase history and get a rough sense of where each transaction was made. Those transactions that qualify will be paid using any Give Real credits that are tied to the user’s account. Founder Adam Ludwig says that the database is comprehensive and covers most restaurants and bars in the United States (though it doesn’t yet include any abroad), and that any transactions that aren’t correctly applied can be corrected by contacting customer service.

So why go to all this trouble? Ludwig says that the purpose of the site is to encourage social activity – if you just want to send a friend money, you might as well send a gift card or money transfer. With Give Real, you ensure that your friend gets out of the house and has some fun. He’s right, but it seems like there must be an easier way to do this (it would help if Facebook would release its long-rumored micropayment system).