It’s a story that’s as old as craft beer itself: a couple of mates with different professional backgrounds get chatting over a few beers and decide to launch a new business.
For Clint Bourke and Liam Kelly, it wasn’t a brewery or bar they launched, however, but an app to help businesses navigate reopening in the time of coronavirus. VenueCaps provides live updates of venue numbers so customers can check how full a place is through a bar or pub’s social media – and, soon, through a dedicated app.
Clint says the idea stems from his own desire to get back to visiting his own local, and of knowing that if he wanted to head out for a night he could actually get a spot.
“Welder’s Dog in Armidale is my favourite bar in town and they can only have 25 seats with [current guidelines],” Clint says. “I thought that to get all dressed up and head down to a venue that doesn’t take bookings is a bit risky really and you potentially wouldn’t end up heading out.”
Clint works as an accountant who lives in Armidale while Liam lives on the Gold Coast and has a background in software development. Having met through their respective partners, the pair have regularly discussed business ideas over the years but, given their shared love for one bar in particular, it’s fitting that VenueCaps is the one that’s stuck.
“The first time we ever met was actually in Armidale at The Welder’s Dog,” Clint says.
Indeed, it was through The Welder's Dog team that The Crafty Pint first learned about VenueCaps, with bar and brewery co-founder Dan Emery getting in touch to say they were using it at both their Armidale and Tamworth venues and that it was already bringing people in who might otherwise assume the bar was full.
"The feedback we are getting is folks only ventured out because it said there were still seats available," he says.
From a practical standpoint, VenueCaps is an online service that allows staff to simply add and subtract patrons as they walk in. For would-be diners, it’s a live list of how much space is left, how long any queue to get in might take and whether there’s space in a front bar or at a dining table. VenueCaps also notifies people once space is available.
The app also offers a way to store patron details in line with government regulations, although that won’t necessarily remain post-COVID-19, even though the intention is that VenueCaps will.
“Wouldn’t it be good even post coronavirus to be able to see the live capacity in any venues," Clint says, "whether that’s your favourite café, pub or a gym?”
Since restrictions started to ease, many breweries, bars and pubs have decided to accept bookings only but it’s not the way everyone wants to operate and can present challenges if you're not set up for it. One pub without online bookings The Crafty Pint has spoken to had taken 2,000 email and phone enquiries for bookings in the first ten days after opening, for example.
Liam and Clint hope VenueCaps will work for places that want to operate with a mix of bookings while still allowing walk-ins as well as any space keen to give customers live data. They see it as a way to let people make more informed choices about the kind of experience they’re looking for: will they be able to get a seat to watch the footy or find room if they plan to head in as a group?
“You might be looking for somewhere busy on a Friday or Saturday night but you might be looking for something quiet on a Sunday afternoon,” Liam says. “So, if people have that information, they can make better decisions.”
They hope their system can improve peaks and troughs in trade too and give venue owners greater flexibility.
“In an ideal world," Clint says. "If you’re a bar manager in on a Sunday afternoon and the capacity has really dropped then we want to build in the ability to give marketing offers to your customer base in those down periods.”
As for the future, the pair says they’re keen to get the app into the hands of bouncers to help them tackle long lines outside clubs on weekends and they’ve even been chatting about using automatic sensors to remove the need for staff to manually input data.
For now, in the first week VenueCaps was in operation once The Welder's Dog reopened, it was viewed nearly a thousand times, suggesting Clint isn’t the only one keen to know in advance if he'll be able to get into his local.
“That’s probably the biggest confirmation that it’s what the customer wants,” he says.
“It’s consistent [across venues] and the numbers haven’t dwindled.”
For more on VenueCaps, head here.
As part of the #keepinglocalalive campaign we're running Postcards from the Edge stories, highlighting the ways in which people are adapting to survive. If you've got a story you think is suitable – or have something to add to the campaign resources online – get in touch.