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Kingston Station leverages social, location-based bartender app to drive traffic

The developers of the Onthebar mobile app are now expanding from their home market in Boston to New York City in September. The app seeks to foster connectivity among bar personnel and their patrons by allowing customers to communicate directly with bartenders, who can in turn offer drink specials, greetings or other communications to customers as they enter the location. 

?I think it?s pretty slick, in terms of exposure,? said Byron Lepine, a Kingston Station bartender who has been using the app for a couple of months. ?I have almost 300 followers, so at any given moment I can fill a bar.?

Onthebar, which is used by staffers at more than 1,000 bars in Boston, has rolled out iBeacon to 75 of those locations in the city, and is preparing for its Big Apple debut next month. Onthebar is also adding job and event listing capabilities to the app. 

Expanding to NYC 
Onthebar was one of 14 start-ups selected to participate in the 2014 version of PayPal?s Start Tank, which offers office space to select companies that show promise and demonstrate innovation. The company has use of the space free of charge for a year, which it is putting to use to help expand its iBeacon deployment and make the jump to New York. 

?New York just makes sense,? said Ian Stanczyk, co-founder of Onthebar. ?It?s geographically close to where we?re based [Boston], but more importantly, it?s the center of the food-and-beverage world in the U.S. 

?We think there?s huge opportunity in New York for us to make people?s bar-going experiences better, to empower bar staff, and to help brands reach consumers on-premise.? 

Onthebar seeks to generate revenues by working with spirits brands to connect with both consumers and bar personnel. Mr. Stanczyk declined to identify any of the brands it is working with. 

In addition to expanding to new markets and rolling out iBeacons to more locations in Boston, Onthebar is also in the process of adding more tools for bar managers to use the service.

Mr. Lepine, the Kingston station bartender, said he has not begun using the app to promote drink specials, but instead seeks to use it to let his customers and friends know where he is and when he?s working. He works at two different bars in Boston, and uses the Onthebar app for both locations. 

?If my friends or followers want to know where I am working, I can?t really respond to their text messages while I am tending bar,? Mr. Lepine said. ?With the Onthebar app, they can just go to the app and see where I am working. 

?It?s also linked to Twitter, so anything I put out on Twitter can be retweeted by Onthebar, and it just gives me that much more exposure.? 

In addition, he said being one of the most popular bartenders on the app makes his profile visible to users immediately when they open it. Mr Lepine also said he uses the app himself to plan his nights out, so he can see where his bartender friends are working and visit them at their establishments. 

Users of the app can not only search for specific bars and bartenders, but also browse recommended drinks and discover drinks not listed on a bar?s menu and see each bartender?s areas of expertise, such as wines, beers or mixed drinks made with certain ingredients. 

Mr. Stanczyk said he has learned a lot about mobile marketing since Onthebar debuted. 

?I think, relative to mobile marketing, our key learning is that you need to be genuine and organic in the things that you do,? he said. ?People don?t ?see? traditional-looking advertising on mobile. They just pass right over it. ?Marketing on mobile needs to be extremely ?in-context.? If you can deliver a unique experience that makes sense to the consumer you can really do something special.? 

Final Take

Mark Hamstra is content director at Mobile Marketer.