Jamie Manning and Adriano Varassin both loved their motorcycles. Each had multiple bikes, and Varassin was actually a big Harley guy. But when they needed money to fund their new startup, SnagaStool, both agreed to sell one bike each. It was their own safeguard against quitting, because if they quit, then it would be the same as giving away a Harley. And no one would just give away a Harley.
SnagaStool, a startup Manning and Varassin launched earlier this year, can be likened to the popular app OpenTable, but instead of reserving tables at a restaurant, users can reserve a barstool at participating bars. During both premium and non-premium times at the bar, customers will be treated with VIP-style service: the bartender will know their name ahead of time, have their preferred game on the TV, know their preferences, and make an effort to get to know them.
“When you snag a stool, this bar knows you’re coming, and what they could do is say, ‘Hey, we know you’re coming in tomorrow, let us know if you have any questions,’” Manning said. “That sort of point of contact in the hospitality industry is where all of the value lies.”
Manning and Varassin came up with the idea for their app when they were trying to watch a Bruins playoff game last year. They bounced from bar to bar around the city, but everywhere they went, the bars were packed—even the grungiest dive bar they tried was full. On the cab ride home, Manning remarked that he would have happily paid someone $20 for their seat at the bar, and it was then that the idea for SnagaStool came to be.
“Eighty percent of people we surveyed said they would actually be willing to pay the bar in order to get a barstool,” Manning said. “Seventy percent of people who have walked into a bar when there were no stool available have actually left the bar. That’s opportunity cost, because you’re losing people that have walked into the bar and left because you couldn’t take care of them.”
While SnagaStool is primarily seen as a way to reserve a seat at the bar, Manning said, it’s also about the enhanced customer experience that comes along with the reservation. During some of the initial meetings with bars, some managers were apprehensive about the idea of allowing people to reserve stools when the bar was already full. After hiring someone in the hospitality industry with connections to the bar and restaurant scene, Manning realized that the duo would have to go beyond the idea of just reserving a stool to sell the idea to bars.
“What we found was that it is so important to focus on the hospitality aspect of this, so we went from ‘Oh, you can reserve a barstool,’ to ‘Oh, this is a new service that enriches hospitality for both busy and non-busy times by being better able to connect to you,’” Manning said.
While Manning admits he has a very romantic idea of what a bar should be, he still feels that it is important for bartenders to create a comfortable environment for the patrons. If bartenders do not engage in conversations with their customers, they are far less likely to stay engaged in the scene, and might not even come back.
“Bars are pubs, and pub is short for public house,” Manning explained. “A public house is a place where strangers can come in and feel comfortable, and engage with the local people who are around them.”
Bars reserve a few select stools during both their non-premium and premium times. At 5 p.m. on a Tuesday, bars are largely empty. To attract more customers, bars partnering with SnagaStool offer a free appetizer to customers who reserve a seat. Since the bar is already paying for the overhead costs of operating the bar, they are willing to spend a few dollars and provide exemplary service to get a customer in the door.
During premium hours—Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, along with big sports games—bars might not think they would need to offer reserved seats since the bar will be packed anyway. Manning said, however, that if someone is walking past a full bar, he or she probably will not even walk in and he or she will move on to his or her next choice.
“Even if the bar doesn’t think they need it when they’re busy now, the more and more people that walk by and look in and know it’s busy and keep walking by, that’s more people they’re losing and losing, and it’s a slow bleed and before you know it, they’re empty and it’s too late,” he said.
SnagaStool is currently partnered with four bars—three in Boston and one in Florida—but Manning said that their slow start has been conditional on perfecting what he calls a “seamless customer experience and incredible customer experience.” Within the next six months, Manning wants to be in at least 50 bars.
“The first few bars are hard, but you prove a good model and you get a few more because they tell their friends,” Manning said. “And then you start to get that critical mass where people are like ‘Oh my God, if I’m not on SnagaStool, people won’t come to my bar.’”
Featured Image by Breck Wills / Heights Graphic