Tapville self pour.
Tapville Social

Tapville Social offers about 48 selections along its self-pour wall. 

Tapville Social's Tech is Lifting Guest Experiences to New Levels

The bar and restaurant wants to more than double in size by early 2022. Nearly 80 locations are in development. 

Joe Tota could see six years ago just how much of a technological problem the restaurant industry was facing.

It was not only a lack thereof. There were also issues with technology serving as a replacement for hospitality, as opposed to a complementary piece. Tota’s solution came in the form of Tapville Social, a self-pour restaurant that puts the experience entirely in the hands of customers.

The typical location includes a wall with 48 self-pour taps, including craft beer, ciders, seltzers, cocktails, and wine. But the key is how customers access this amenity. Guests check in at the host station and are given a card—otherwise known as a Pour Pass—that’s synchronized to their credit card. The Pour Pass is used to turn on self-pour taps or to order food from a tabletop tablet. The menu includes burgers, sandwiches, wraps, tacos, salads, pasta, fish, brunch items, and more.

Customers can either get a 16-ounce glass or a 5-ounce taster glass for the self-pour tap wall. If a consumer prefers a handmade cocktail, that can be ordered from the tabletop device.

When guests are ready to leave, they drop their Pour Pass in an express checkout box, which are labeled according to how much of a tip customers want to leave.

“In a normal restaurant, you may be waiting for that server to come over and take your order, or if you want to order a second appetizer or second item, you would have to wait,” Tota says. “In our concept, you can just order yourself so it speeds up the experience for the guests. And at the same time, it alleviates the server to be able support more tables and provide more hospitality because they're not physically writing that order down. That's the slowest part of the transactional experience.”

The technology is equipped to handle safety concerns, as well. Tapville knows how much each patron consumes, down to 1/10 of an ounce. After a customer pours two pints, the card deactivates until an employee changes the status. Additionally, the concept has tap wall ambassadors to answer questions and prevent underage drinking.

Tapville’s prime costs, which Tota says are “probably the biggest driver of profitability for a restaurant,” are 10 points lower than the industry average. Beverages represent 50 percent of sales, helping the concept build margins quickly. Because servers don’t participate in order taking, they are able to handle more tables at a time, leading to higher tips and wages. Also, because food comes out faster, there are quicker table turns. That results in more guests throughout the night and more earnings for servers.

The technology also means Tapville doesn’t need as many heads in the front of house. The concept takes those savings and invests them into the back of house, which has traditionally been harder to staff.

“The attrition starts getting reduced a little bit, and then we become a destination place for people to work,” Tota says. “So we took a model where the technology savings is reallocated to the back of the house, servers make more, back of the house makes more. We save more than the industry. It's kind of a win, win, win, for all three.”

Tapville Social

A customer using the Pour Pass. 


Tapville Social's tabletop tablet. 

Tapville Social

A guest enjoying Tapville Social's self-pour wall. 

Tapville Social

Tapville Social's mobile self-pour wall. 

Tapville Social

The chain's chicken sandwich. 


The company's meatloaf. 

“I think there's this new evolution of a concept out there, and you have technology on top of it—I think it's going to be something that all restaurants need,” says Joe Tota, founder of Tapville Social. 

The concept began as Red Arrow Tap Room in 2016. Three years later the company filed its FDD under the Tapville Social brand. The chain is roughly 10 percent corporate, and that should increase to 20 percent in the next few years. The rest will be franchise partners. Tapville targets customers—primarily women aged 24–49—strictly through digital advertising.

Approximately one dozen locations are open, mixed between brick-and-mortar restaurants, nontraditional kiosk locations, and mobile taproom units. Tota expects the chain to more than double in size to 30 outlets by the first quarter. Nearly 80 stores are in the pipeline. Many of those franchise leads came from investors who saw the company’s crowdfunding campaign on Start Engine. The concept raised more than $1.5 million, from 2,400-plus participants. The unit growth for the rest of 2022 is aggressive, especially considering the macroeconomic environment, but Tato says Tapville has preordered equipment inventory to avoid delays.

The brand started in Chicago, and now has outposts in Texas, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. Markets in development include Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Florida, California, Colorado, Kentucky, Indiana, Nevada, and South Carolina.

“There are certain markets that we're targeting, but we do get leads that pop up in certain markets that we evaluate,” Tota says. “So our strategy is to be very market focused, but then there are great operators that pop up that we take those opportunistic leads. We have a cluster of stores that are opening in the L. A. market, and it wasn't like we were targeting that market. But they just popped up, so it made a lot of sense for the demographics of that market.”

The typical streetside restaurant is suburban and 5,000-5,500 square feet—intentionally sized to make it easier for customers to walk toward the tap wall. The kiosks are all based in shopping centers, outlets, and traditional malls. The three existing mobile taprooms drive around Chicagoland, Western Connecticut, and Central Texas.

“It creates a three-dimensional territory map. You think about a brand, they can only sell in a certain area because of territory restrictions in their franchise agreement,” Tota says. “We can go three concepts deep because we might sell a restaurant, but then somebody might buy a kiosk at the local mall that doesn't cannibalize off that restaurant and complements it. And it could be a different operator a few miles away. So now when we're selling franchises in the market, we have three different territory maps that were selling off of versus one. So it's a way to really dominate the brand in a particular market, but also find a lot of great operators that can operate and may have different interests.”

Tota’s bold statement on the industry is that self-pour concepts are either dead or heading toward it. And he believes it’s because the focus is on marketing the innovation instead of emphasizing the guest experience—that’s where Tapville will win.

“I think there's this new evolution of a concept out there, and you have technology on top of it—I think it's going to be something that all restaurants need,” Tota says.