A Drink-Ordering App? They'll Drink to That

The Flowtab app, which lets bar-goers order and tip from their smartphones, gets a test run at Copa d'Oro. It was developed in Santa Monica, but it's not clear whether it'll catch on here.

Sometimes you need a cocktail just to get to ordering a cocktail.

But at Copa d'Oro this week, some customers didn't have to push or shove to fight their way to the bar.

They used Flowtab, a new mobile app developed in Santa Monica, to order their German beer and champagne and tip the bartender.

It was the launch party for the drink ordering system, founded by Kyle Hill, Mike Townsend and Alex Kouznetsov, who met at the shared workspace Coloft, a startup honored with the Innovation Award at this year's State of the City gathering.

“We don’t want to take out the human element,” Hill said. “We’re trying to cut out time at the point of sale, counting cash, running credit cards and putting receipts in booklets.”

But even in Silicon Beach, the app hasn't quite caught on.

Copa d’ Oro hasn’t decided whether it will continue to use the product just yet.  

“They’ve agreed to be guinea pigs,” Hill said. “I can’t say enough about those guys. They have a great bar over there, and they have agreed to adopt for a night, and if all goes well we can explore long-term relationships.”

How It Works

The Flowtab app allows smartphone owners to browse a restaurant or bar’s menu, which is uploaded by the restaurant and can be modified at any time to reflect seasonal or daily specials. Select a drink, add a gratuity and the app sends the credit transaction to an iPad behind the bar that serves as the drink queue for the bartender.

Once the drink is mixed, the bartender taps the order on the screen and sends a text message to the phone to alert the owner that the order is ready.

While ordering a drink with a phone does offer some novelty, it’s only intended to be a supplementary system for bar patrons, Hill said.

The app's launch party Wednesday night at Copa d’Oro kept lead bartender Vincenzo Marianella busy while general manager Hector Bury worked to ensure the orders placed by Flowtab users were prepared and delivered properly in a section cordoned off for app order pickups.

The bar raked in about $2,400 more than its weekday average on Wednesday, thanks to Flowtab, according to Hill.

The Flowtab team has talked to bar and restaurant owners across Los Angeles, but they've encountered what Hill called a “chicken and the egg problem."

The owners are excited about the technology and understand that mobile ordering systems are on the horizon, but they want to see it in action first. 

“We’ve talked to bars all over, but it just seemed that the bars here are more in touch with the tech scene, at least right now.” Hill said.

Mayor Richard Bloom—who, arguably, more than any other city leader has touted the city as the new, blossoming tech start-up capital—taped his iPhone to order a Coke at Copa d'Oro.

“One of the things we are seeing tonight in this social scene is that there are a bunch of tech folks hanging out together sharing ideas; that’s what they do,” he said.

At Coloft, Hill and Townsend bounced ideas for startups off of one another until Flowtab eventually took shape—out of their own frustration trying to order drinks at crowded bars.

After the launch party, the Flowtab founders said they'll improve the app to increase its speed and make it compatible with many of the most common point-of-sale systems already in place in most bars and restaurants.

Hill said the company also plans to raise a seed round of an undisclosed amount, which the company will use to further develop the app and eventually develop true native apps for Android and iOS.


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