Unknown Caller, a cocktail bar in downtown Chattanooga, TN, has always been cool. With a retro speakeasy theme, patrons typed a hidden code in a phone booth to get in.
After the pandemic hit, however, the phone booth had to go. “We were really worried about germs,” explains owner James Heeley. They had to rethink everything. How many guests could be inside safely? Was there a risk of surface transmission from menus?
To help the bar stay clean and safe, Heeley brought into the mix several technological innovations, like online booking, contactless payments and QR code menus.
Drinking responsibly starts with online booking
After being closed for months, Unknown Caller reopened cautiously, admitting just 30% of its normal customer capacity to drink at physically distanced tables.
To make that happen successfully, Heeley turned to OpenTable, the online reservation service, which allowed them to monitor the nightly crowd and keep it small and safe.
Tables weren’t all Heeley had to consider when making preparations to reopen. There were also menus and credit cards, both high-touch surfaces that could put staff and customers at risk.
For menus, Heeley turned to Happy Menu, which hosts attractive, easy-to-read online menus for small businesses. Customers can access them via QR code, making for contactless ordering.
Happy Menu has also made it easy to add pictures to the menu, an unexpected bonus. “We’re huge fans of being able to get as much information into guests’ hands as possible,” explains Heeley. “Cocktails are very different, and everyone’s palate is different. So it’s nice for people to see what kind of a glass a cocktail comes in and read the ingredients.”
Heeley has also found benefits to adding tableside contactless payment. “Instead of having to touch a traditional POS, take paper tickets out, go back and forth with a credit card, run the credit card, then go back out, we can take payment at the table,” he says.
Now, in the new world order, technology handles the logistics, while staff can do what they do best: engage with guests.
Bringing social media into the mix
Heeley has kept Unknown Caller connected to customers with an active social media presence.
“Through the pandemic, it was really important to keep people up to date,” says Heeley. “This is what we’re doing, this is our security approach, these are our safety protocols.” But he was also able to tell a story and keep the bar experience alive.
On Instagram, bartenders hosted live cocktail-making sessions. “This is genius,” read a comment from a local fan.
This social presence made a material difference for the bar while it was shut down. Heeley asked would-be patrons to purchase electronic gift cards through Square.
Heeley explains the messaging: “Hey, you can’t come see us right now. That’s fine. But if you can afford it, give us $20 or $50 for a gift card and come and redeem it later.”
Being on Instagram also expanded the reach of a GoFundMe campaign for staff, which earned over $4,000.
Using technology for a better future
“Covid has been the start of our technology journey,” says Heeley. “With the limited amount of revenue that we’re bringing in because we are limited capacity, we think about how to streamline operations. Technology has been such a huge part of that for us,” says Heeley.
But Heeley knows technology will continue growing into the bar’s future. He wants to enable customers to order from their phones, further streamlining the ordering process.
Heeley also purchased a canning machine. For now, it makes it easy to serve to-go and outdoor customers with pre-made house cocktails. In the future, however, it could help Unknown Caller distribute its unique drinks to local liquor stores or even sell them online.
Whatever the future brings, customers are enjoying the bar now. Says Heeley of the new technology, “I truly believe we’re in a better place.”