9 Facts About Pittsburgh’s New SRVD App
We’ve all been there: You are at a crowded bar, catching up with an old friend, and you realize it’s time for another round. So you apologize and leave your friend at the table, knowing you could be gone for a very long time while you fight your way up to the bar, get the bartender’s attention, wait for your drink to be made and then close out your tab.
SRVD is the new app in town designed specifically to eliminate this situation. Co-founded by Mt. Lebanon graduates Sachal Lakhavani (Class of ’95) and Lee Selkowitz (Class of ’94) and their friend Nick Mele, SRVD allows the user to access a bar’s menu, place an order, pay through the app, and then get a notification when the drink is ready to be picked up at a designated location at the bar.
After sitting down to chat with Lakhavani and Selkowitz, I thought it was time I try SRVD for myself. So I made my way down to Rivertowne on the North Shore, about two hours before the Steelers vs. Chiefs playoff game in Kansas City and I watched as the bar began gradually filling up. Here is what I learned by using the app, talking to Rivertowne staff and interviewing SRVD’s Lebo co-founders:
- It took 88 seconds for me to place my order using the app, and that includes the time I spent entering my credit card information (the first time you do this, you can save it to your account for later use). Then, I watched my order pop up on the bartender’s SRVD tablet, which is located by the register, and I had my Church Brew Works Coffee Stout in my hand within one minute. Granted, the bar was not as busy as it would be during a home Steelers game, but the tables and bar seating were almost completely full.
- The app only recently became available as a free download on iOS and Android, and the SRVD team began promoting it in December 2016. Yet SRVD is growing rapidly. It has already been adopted at four local bars: Belvedere’s Ultra-Dive (where Selkowitz is the bar manager) and Mixtape in Lawrenceville, Rivertowne on the North Shore and Rowdy Buck in the Southside. Bierport in Lawrenceville will be the next bar to adopt the app.
- Because it is relatively new, the SRVD user-base is still small, but expanding. According to Megan Trainor, the bartender at Rivertowne (who is presumably “all about that bass,”) at first there weren’t many users. But thanks to ample signage, special offers and pure necessity when the bar is busy on game days, more people are downloading and using the app. It has become popular with the bar’s regulars, and staff have observed that people are more likely to download the app if someone at their table is using it.
- Lakhavani and Selkowitz knew each other at Mt. Lebanon Senior High School, but SRVD is what truly brought this dynamic duo together. After graduating from Carnegie Mellon University and working various management consulting and tech jobs all over the world, Lakhavani found himself back in Pittsburgh with a “very nebulous” idea for the SRVD app. In early 2015, Belvedere’s bar had a kitchen fire, and Selkowitz was having a rough time dealing with the aftermath. They ran into each other at The Commoner in Hotel Monaco shortly thereafter, they got to talking about the idea for SRVD, and the rest is history!
- Just like Uber, you pay for your drinks right from the app with a card. You can order any beverage from the menu including non-alcoholic drinks, and you can even create your own drink and save it for later. The app has an algorithm that automatically calculates your tip depending on the intricacy of your order, but you can change it on the checkout screen if you wish. The only thing you can’t do with the app is order food. “We’re focusing on beverage, because we think that is an area where we can add a lot of value” says Lakhavani, “We are exploring whether it makes sense to expand into coffee, actually. Right now, about 20 percent of Starbucks’ orders are coming in through mobile payment with rewards … We have rewards capacity built in as well, and there is no equivalent for your local coffee shop.”
- Caitlin Smith, manager at Rivertowne, says that the app has become popular among boaters. “They can order a round while they are out on the water and then the drinks are ready for them when they come in. We also offer six-packs to go, so they can order them through the app … then they just drop in and pick them up.” This concept works for anyone who is on their way to a SRVD bar, whether it be by boat, Uber, light rail transit or on foot—if you order your drink while in commute (five to 10 minutes away), it will be waiting for you when you arrive.
- SRVD is simply about freeing people up to do what they came to the bar to do; not about getting patrons drunk or putting some customers ahead of others. The bartender’s SRVD tablet is located directly next to the cash register so that they can fit the SRVD orders into the flow of regular drink orders. The SRVD orders appear on the tablet with a timer so that the bartender knows how to prioritize the drink, and the order screen also displays the number of drinks that the user has bought since they arrived. If the bartender thinks the customer has had one too many, they can pull up the account and send the user a “see bartender” message before serving them again. “Responsible service is paramount,” says Selkowitz, “This was one of my first concerns … and it’s always the first concern of the bars that are looking at partnering with us. But we have actually enhanced personal interaction, giving the bartender more time to socialize with customers, and we’ve made it even easier to identify how many drinks someone has had.”
- Lakhavani moved back to Pittsburgh with two intentions: To create something (SRVD) and to become involved in the community. Nearly two years ago, he became chairman of the board of 412 Food Rescue, an organization that uses an app to redistribute food that would otherwise be wasted and deliver it to the hungry. Last year, it matched 1 million pounds of food to beneficiaries. This year, the goal is 2 million, and Lakhavani’s primary job is to help scale the organization. He finds himself using a lot of the same approaches that he is currently using for SRVD during this period of growth.
- Selkowitz worked at the South Hills JCC as a program director throughout high school and college. After college, he continued working for JCCs and eventually found work as the regional director at Young Judea in Pittsburgh, which ended in 2007 when he became the full time manager at Belvedere’s. He also worked as a bartender since college, so he has 20 years of bartending experience. “Working with children and adolescents and running a bar are surprisingly similar skill sets, so I got to use a lot of what I did in my previous life … I never imagined I was going to immediately love the idea [of SRVD] and become a part of this team. It was a really serendipitous fit. I was able to make something great out of an awful situation. It all aligned perfectly.” Side note: Belvedere’s reopened in 2016, and all of the staff returned. It is now a non-smoking bar.