Coaster app lets you buy a drink, tip your bartender from your phone

Last Thursday at Reed & Greenough, an upscale bar in San Francisco’s Marina district, I ordered a drink without talking to a bartender or server. Instead, I opened an app on my phone, selected my drink, ordered and paid, all without getting up from the comfy leather booth I was occupying.

The free app, called Coaster, is making its public debut Thursday for iOS (s aapl) and Android (s goog). But for the past few months, the two men behind the app, Inderpal Singh and Kevin Callaghan, have been quietly befriending bar owners, managers and some of San Francisco’s ample supply of drinking establishment patrons. The two entrepreneurs have been trying to convince them why they should let mobile devices make ordering drinks more painless for patrons — and how it can make keeping records and taking orders more efficient.

Your pickup receipt from Coaster.

I saw the easy, painless process of using Coaster first hand. Just five minutes after placing my order via Coaster, my phone told me that my drink was ready. I walked up to the designated area of the bar for Coaster orders, flashed the iPhone screen displaying a three-letter confirmation code in extra-large bold font, and a smiling waitress handed me the greyhound I’d ordered. It was as simple as that.

Singh is a longtime DJ from Chicago, who spent a lot of time in bars, clubs and lounges. While hanging around before and after sets, he easily identified an issue bargoers know well: the process of elbowing for space at the bar, desperately trying to make eye contact with the bartender, the annoyance of being passed over for a cuter girl down the bar even though you were totally there first, attempting to close a tab at the end of a busy night, and sometimes leaving the bar without your credit card.

Coaster attempts to cut right through all of that. Its design echoes the simplicity of the overall user experience. You select from a list of bars — the app is only at 15 San Francisco locations for now, with more to come — and a menu of what the bar offers appears, along with visual representations of all their bottles that you can swipe through to select your vodka or whiskey preference.

The rest of the process is similar to Uber: your credit card is already connected to the app, so after your drink is selected, when you check out, you simply add a tip and hit send. No physical transaction of money is necessary. Bartenders are bound to like it because Coaster suggests a $2 tip per drink (and most people leave that, Sing told me).

Coaster’s back-end ordering system — which includes software for receiving the drink orders on an iPad setup next to the register — means the bartender or server doesn’t have to keep track of receipts either; all of the data is kept in the software. 

Expanding their app to more bars in the city and beyond is going to take more funding to place teams in cities that can recruit bars that want the service. Their next stops, if all goes according to plan, are Chicago and New York.