What happens when a Jewish youth director turned bar manager joins forces with a creative entrepreneur with a background in business analytics?
In this case, the answer is Srvd, an app that just may revolutionize the drink- service industry.
Lee Selkowitz, 40, who served Pittsburgh as the regional director of Young Judaea from 2001 to 2007 — and was a staff fixture at the South Hills Jewish Community Center Day Camp for years — had been working as the general manager of Belvedere’s Ultra-Dive in Lawrenceville when he ran into his old high school buddy, Sachal Lakhavani, 39, in February 2015.
The two Mt. Lebanon High School grads were catching up on life at a bar downtown when Lakhavani mentioned he was working with engineer Nick Mele on an idea to improve the drink-ordering experience for customers. Selkowitz, who had been tending or managing a bar for more than a decade, offered to help.
The very next day, Selkowitz joined the Srvd team, sharing his customer service expertise to refine the app which aims to allow bar patrons to order, pay for and pick up their drinks quickly and easily.
“I understood the problem well from the consumer side,” said Lakhavani, who earned his bachelor’s degree in information systems and his master’s in business administration from Carnegie Mellon University. “The wait time at a club or a bar is annoying. You spend a lot of time waiting for your drinks; it can be five or 10 minutes each time. And Lee understands this from a bartender perspective. We came up with a way to make life easier for bar owners and a better customer experience for their guests.”
The app, which is free and available for both iOS and Android, is designed so that customers can pull it up while on the dance floor, or engaged in conversation, order from an onscreen menu, pay and leave a tip for the bartender — all from their phones. The customer receives a text when the order is ready to be picked up at the bar.
“We find that a lot of time, people who come up to a busy bar feel rushed, they don’t want to take up the bartender’s time, and they make snap decisions when they order,” said Selkowitz. “Srvd allows people to make an informed decision, a relaxed decision.”
While customers still have to wait a certain amount of time to get their drinks, the waiting time is different when the drinks are ordered from the app, according to Selkowitz.
“There’s ‘wait time,’ and then there’s ‘annoyed wait time,’” he said. “If you’re going to spend five minutes waiting, you could spend that time doing what you came to do.”
The app is being used so far at just a few bars and clubs around Pittsburgh: Belvedere’s, River-towne North Shore, Dad’s Pub and Grub in Monroeville, and Mixtape in Garfield.
Mixtape has been using the app since last spring, with its staff promoting the app among customers verbally as well as with tent signs on the tables, according to Katie Molchan, co-owner of Mixtape.
“People are definitely starting to find out about it and ask about it,” Molchan said of the app. “The feedback from the patrons is really positive. It’s a useful way for people to spend more time at the bar doing the things they came to do,” including playing the vintage board games popular at Mixtape, dancing and mingling.
“People are able to use that time to socialize,” Molchan said. “It doesn’t make drink processing faster, but people don’t have to waste time waiting for their drinks.”
The app has also been helpful to Mixtape’s bartenders, she said.
“One of the amazing things about it is that people don’t realize how much time it takes to ring up a tab,” she said. “It takes at least 30 seconds with credit card authorization, and people are standing there waiting for their drinks.”
But when patrons pay for their drinks through the app, the payment processing time is removed. Cumulatively, “that extra time is huge,” Molchan said. “The app helps us provide a better customer experience and helps people have a good time.”
Selkowitz, who lives in Wilkins Township, and Lakhavani, who lives in Squirrel Hill, are planning to launch the app in bars outside of Pittsburgh as well. They also will be offering a coffee shop mobile order and pay/customer loyalty app to provide independent coffee shops a cost effective way to compete with the Starbucks’ popular mobile order and pay app.
The app also will send users notifications when drink specials or other events of interest are happening, based on their personal preferences.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.