As hospitality-focused breweries are having to change their businesses to survive COVID-19, Matt Shea looks at some of the apps such as Bopple that are making that process much easier – and more profitable.
Pressure makes diamonds.
That’s how Revel co-owner Jay Neven shorthands the ways in which the coronavirus pandemic is transforming Revel Brewing Co, his small craft brewery in the inner-Brisbane suburb of Bulimba.
“If you don’t innovate now, everything will fall apart,” he says. “It’s really critical.”
In an environment where every Australian food and beverage outlet is pivoting like crazy, Revel is transforming itself faster and harder than most. The brewery has changed from a five- to a seven-days-a-week operation and opened Nonna’s Kitchen, a house-made online pasta restaurant that complements the venue’s existing pizza menu and its well-regarded range of beers.
“I feel like we’re doing alright,” Neven says. “We haven’t closed doors, we haven’t cut any pay … We’ve recruited a new full-time chef. We’re trying to patch the hole with innovative ideas.”
Part of that pivot is Bopple, a Queensland-based online ordering platform that has become an important tool for brewpubs and bars looking to survive Australia’s coronavirus-driven shutdown. Neven signed on to the web-based app when he realised his Shopify online beer storefront wasn’t well-suited for selling food.
“So I got online and looked for the closest developer and I saw Bopple,” he says. “It’s local, the developers are local. It integrates with our other systems.”
Revel now runs its Shopify and Bopple operations side-by-side (it also has an ongoing presence for food delivery on both Uber Eats and Deliveroo), with Shopify addressing beer sales Brisbane-wide, and Bopple looking after food and beer sales for Bulimba and its surrounds.
“I think it’s good to keep them separate at this point,” Neven says.
Bopple acts as payment gateway
But Bopple is just one of a new batch of online ordering platforms such as Hungry Hungry, and South Australian apps Your Local and Restaurant Runner that have risen to prominence during the coronavirus pandemic with the promise of streamlining delivery and takeaway operations for restaurants, brewpubs, bars and cafes. Often thought of as plucky Uber Eats or Deliveroo competitors, these services operate more as remote payment gateways rather than all-encompassing third-party ordering and delivery operations.
“We take the money, we take the order, we process it, we create it, and we deliver and close out the ticket,” Neven says. “We set it all up ourselves and [in Revel’s case] we do the delivery.”
This new ecosystem of payment gateway services is designed with small businesses in mind, but Bopple has proven particularly potent with brewpubs due to its integration with the popular Kounta point-of-sale software, a relationship that Bopple CEO Angus McLachlan describes as the “secret sauce” in his company’s recent explosive growth.
“We’ve been running Kounta for years,” says Andrew Fineran, co-owner of Sydney’s Batch Brewing Co. “That made it even easier: ‘Here’s an add-on function to your app and, boom, away you go.’”
Quick pivots with digital apps
Batch Brewing Co has been using Bopple to shift its wide range of beers and merchandise for takeaway and delivery, with last-mile courier and logistics company Drive Yello handling delivery.
“We reached out to [Bopple] on a Wednesday morning,” Fineran says. “By Wednesday afternoon we had it up and running. It might’ve gone live the next day, it was very fast. And it started working immediately … on some days, it’s maybe 20 to 25 per cent of our total sales.”
And because it acts as an add-on to Kounta, changes Batch wants to make in its store – maybe adding a limited-range beer or a new item of merchandise – can be done almost immediately.
“It’s super easy,” he says. “As soon as a new beer goes up on the shelf it’s up there already. You load a couple of pictures, tick a couple of boxes. It’s pretty simple, even for a tech idiot like me.”
McLachlan says that simplicity of setting up and maintaining online platforms such as Bopple and Hungry Hungry is what makes them so appealing to brewpubs, and their flexibility helps innovation.
“We’re seeing creative operators coming up with new offerings and new merchandise,” he says. “[Brisbane brewer and coffee roaster] Fonzie Abbott is bottling up hand sanitiser. That sense of creativity [is appealing to us] … You can use it as a petrie dish. People are throwing things up there to see what sells. You can see what sells when, to who and where.”
Liquor licensing advantages…and issues
The other strength of ordering gateways, McLachlan says, is that they allow venues to keep control of their brand from dispatch to destination while taking care of delivery themselves if they choose, which helps keep staff on the books who might otherwise have been let go. He notes, though, that third-party delivery of alcohol can still be a murky area depending on each state’s liquor licensing laws.
“If venues deliver themselves, that’s what Bopple is really designed for … because once it goes outside the walls of the business, that’s when you can be in a precarious position with liquor licensing.”
So, easy interfaces that allow for innovation, better control of your brand, the capacity to retain staff who might otherwise have been let go. What else is there to like about these platforms?
There are the low commission fees, with Bopple and Hungry Hungry, for example, taking just a 5.9 per cent and five per cent fee per-order respectively (it’s less again for Bopple if venues sign up for a yearlong subscription package; Hungry Hungry doesn’t operate on a subscription model).
That compares favourably to big delivery market apps such as Uber Eats and Deliveroo, which take up to seven times that amount.
Still, these platforms are dealing with rapidly expanding user bases and with that comes growing pains. Neven, for example, wishes Bopple had an ability to throttle orders.
“At the moment, you could get 200 orders at 6pm,” he says.
McLachlan says many of these kinds of features are in the code for the app but have been turned off during Bopple’s rapid expansion to help new users get to grips with the platform.
“There are probably five to 10 features like that, which we’ll reintroduce when we can make the info around them a bit more concise,” McLachlan says.
Regardless, it’s perhaps wrong to think of apps such as Bopple, Hungry Hungry and Your Local as a magic bullet for a brewery or brewpub looking to expand its delivery and takeaway options. Instead, Scott Robertson says, think of them as part of an online toolkit that can help you navigate the ongoing coronavirus shutdown.
Robertson is co-owner of Soapbox Beer in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley. Like Revel, he runs an online shop that focuses on beer sales while using Bopple for beer-and-food orders (Robertson and business partner Luke Nixon deliver the beer themselves while outsourcing the beer-and-food orders to Drive Yello).
“It’s definitely not your only tool, no,” he says. “What we’re seeing with our Bopple orders is that it’s not so much someone ordering a carton of beer but someone who’s hungry, seeing a post on our Facebook and following the link to our Bopple page and thinking, ‘I’ll order some burgers but I’ll grab a mixed four-pack while I’m there.’
“It’s not about bulk beer sales for us. It’s about making it easier for them to get the drinks and the food that they want to service that dinner that evening. Hopefully next week they’re feeling peckish and they’ll do it again.”