Regulars of the popular Lawrenceville haunt Belvederes Ultra-Dive noticed a few changes when the business reopened last summer, a year and a half after a kitchen fire shut it down. There’s more seating in the front area and not a cigarette in sight thanks to a new non-smoking rule. There’s also a spot at the bar designated for users of Srvd, a new drink app created in part by Belvederes’ general manager Lee Selkowitz and tech entrepreneur Sachal Lakhavani.
The Pittsburgh natives co-founded the Uptown-based app company with lead engineer Nick Mele— formerly of the South Side mobile commerce provider Branding Brand—to eliminate the hassle of getting drinks at a crowded bar. Instead of waiting to get a bartender’s attention, Srvd users order and pay for drinks on their smartphones. They can then go back to dancing, playing pool or mingling until a notification tells them their order is ready for pickup.
The app also features detailed bar menus, the ability to create and save custom cocktails, and a search function. Users can even place orders when they’re en route to a bar so their drinks are ready when they walk through the door.
A pilot for the app launched last January and has since expanded to three other bars in the area: Rivertowne on the North Shore, Mixtape in Garfield and Dad’s in Monroeville. Future locations include Jimmy D’s in the Southside and the Bierport bottle shop in Lawrenceville.
Lakhavani says the idea for Srvd came when he and Selkowitz discussed how difficult it was for bartenders to provide the best service during times when they get slammed.
“They can do everything they can possibly do and there will still be customers who are frustrated because they’re not getting the service they would like,” says Lakhavani, a Carnegie Mellon University grad who moved back to Pittsburgh from New York two and half years ago. “It’s a tough position for them.”
Lakhavani also serves on the technology board for the local nonprofit 412 Food Rescue and recently helped launch their Food Rescue Hero app.
Selkowitz provided the industry expertise while Lakhavani tapped into his contacts at CMU to assemble a small team able to develop an app that would provide maximum benefits for both customers and bar staff. They also brought on advisers like Robb Myer, who accomplished something similar to Srvd with NoWait, the Pittsburgh-based restaurant app that allows diners to skip table wait times.
Lakhavani says Srvd works because “it’s designed for bartenders by bartenders.”
“We really thought deeply about all the things that could happen,” he says, citing features like the See Bartender button that pauses an order if a customer appears over-intoxicated.
By removing the need to process payments and close tabs, the app frees up time for bartenders to serve more drinks and focus more on engaging with customers, which directly leads to increased profits and tips.
“Basically they’ve turned a two-minute process into a one-minute process,” said Rivertowne manager Brittany Gollos in a press release. “Patrons are happier, tips are higher and the bar makes more money. It’s a win-win-win.”
The app presents another example of a move toward an on-demand economy, where customers expect near immediate delivery of goods and services. Lakhavani believes Srvd aligns more specifically with Starbucks, where he says 20 percent of orders are placed on the company’s mobile app and then picked up in the store.
Lakhavani says now that the technology is in a good place, the company can focus on growth. So far, around 1,800 people have downloaded the app. Those who sign on now can receive perks like free drink credits. There are also plans to add a rewards program.
The app could also extend beyond alcoholic beverages. “We considered expanding into other categories, like coffee drinks,” says Lakhavani, adding that Srvd could give independently owned coffee shops a way to compete with big coffee chains.
The company will launch Srvd in other cities across the country once it’s established in the Pittsburgh market.