Beer enthusiasts at Green Bench Brewing Co. who want something to eat will have an option to get food without leaving the brewery, starting today.
Green Bench and its across-the-street neighbor, Baum Avenue Market, plan a soft launch of WiFi Waiter, an app-less mobile ordering solution.
The patent-pending technology converts a WiFi login screen into an ordering portal, said Anup Balagopal, founder of TorchFi, the Tampa company that developed WiFi Waiter. Brands get the same personalized engagement with consumers who don’t want more apps on their phones or have privacy concerns.
“What we have built is a simple, mobile food-and-beverage ordering solution, which is integrated into the WiFi network, and enabled from the WiFi login screen and targeted for the patrons who are present in the property,” Balagopal said. “It works for food halls, stadiums, sports arenas, airports or any large real estate property where WiFi is laid out across the whole property.”
Green Bench Brewing, which doesn’t have a kitchen, and Baum Avenue Market, which hasn’t previously delivered food, are the first St. Petersburg venues to adopt the technology.
It’s already is in use at Sparkman Wharf in downtown Tampa, where there are 11 food and beverage vendors. Visitors can use WiFi Waiter to place an order from anywhere on the property, with any of the vendors. They get a text when their order is ready for pickup.
At Rock Brother Brewing in Ybor City, guests use WiFi Waiter to order pizza from New York New York Pizza.
For consumers, the technology eliminates the need to stand in line to order, pay and wait for food. There’s also an advantage for food vendors, who see a 32 percent higher average ticket size from WiFi Waiter users, Balagopal said.
The service is free for the venue and vendors. Consumers pay a per-transaction fee for the service, but most seem to value the convenience over the cost.
“Consumers are actually more than interested in paying for the service … The highest uses of the product have been from large groups or people or family crowds or people with kids or pets, typically people who require this convenience and are willing to pay for it,” he said.
Forty-two percent of orders are from repeat customers, he said.
Balagopal is a serial entrepreneur who co-founded companies in India and in Singapore before he came to the United States.
He initially came to Tampa for a personal visit, but quickly settled on the city as the headquarters for TorchFi.
“From all my previous experience, I knew when I entered the U.S. market I didn’t want to be in an oversaturated crowded ecosystem,” he said.
He got involved with Tampa Bay Wave, where he met Marc Matyas, CEO of Eastman Entertainment, the management company that runs Baum Avenue Market and other hospitality businesses. Matyas, who has a tech background, mentored Balagopal.
“I love this technology and I thought it was very appropriate for this day and age where labor costs are so expensive. Giving people the ability to leverage their free WiFi and order directly, bypassing a cashier, and having it print directly to the kitchen, was really appealing to me,” Matyas said.
Matyas didn’t have a chance to work directly with Balagopal, however, until Green Bench Brewing approached Baum Avenue Market about a collaboration.
“I think it will give us more exposure to customers who may or may not have ever set foot in our place,” Matyas said. “We’re very big on accelerating and helping promote our vendors, who are up-and-coming young entrepreneurs with new concept ideas. We’re trying to our best to try to promote that local entrepreneurship.”
Both Matyas and Nathan Stonecipher, owner of Green Bench Brewing, also want to leverage technology to help business grow throughout the area.
“It’s been important to us from Day One to both compliment and collaborate with other businesses in our area,” Stonecipher said. “WiFi Waiter affords us the opportunity to give our guests a better experience while they’re here, and highlight the fantastic food options around us at the same time. If successful, we want to grow this program in the future.”
TorchFi is the first company Balagopal founded on his own. The company has a team of four, including a co-founder in India who along with Balagopal bootstrapped TorchFi for the first two years.
The company graduated in June 2018 from San Francisco-based Alchemist Accelerator, which was the first outside investor.
That investment, combined with funding from angel investors, has raised about $200,000 for TorchFi, and the company currently is in fundraising mode, Balagopal said.