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Happy-hour specials with the swipe of an app aren't just a deal for drinkers

A discount is supposed to save money, not waste time. Beverly native Brendan Hotchkiss was tired of searching for drink specials around town only to come up with results from 1992. So he brewed up the idea for a business to keep things up-to-date.

Bevdog is an app that lets restaurants and bars post specials on drinks, food and entertainment. Hotchkiss charges the establishments roughly $1 a day, and they can update the information as often as they like.

“It allows the establishment to communicate specials to local consumers in real time,” he says.

The free app, launched in January, has about 1,000 downloads and lists specials at 150 bars nationwide, including 50 in Chicago like Rockit Bar & Grill, Bull & Bear, and The Capital Grille.

But some experts aren’t sure how much bars will benefit from the service.

“I think real time is likely too fast to update, and the likely users will be those already planning to go to the restaurant,” says Darren Tristano, vice president at food research consultancy group Technomic.

Hotchkiss isn’t concerned. “We like to encourage [restaurant and bar owners] to be a little bit more spontaneous and trying to do these spur-of-the-moment, real-time special offerings,” he says. “But at the end of the day, we’re just giving them the platform to promote their specials. It’s really their call.”

If establishments don’t update regularly, Klaus Weber, a professor of management at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, thinks they’ll struggle to compete with Twitter and Facebook, where many bars and restaurants already promote deals.

Weber adds that the success of Bevdog relies on gaining a large following. He cautions that at $30 a month per restaurant, Bevdog will have to grow quickly to produce profits.

“It sounds a little bit like a Groupon model, where it works if a lot of restaurants participate and if a lot of customers participate,” Weber says. And like Groupon, it’s all about getting there first. “There’s only room for one of them in a competitive market,” Weber says.

Hotchkiss, who started the business with his own money, says he’s getting interest from investors whose funds would help Bevdog expand its sales team of 20 part-timers, many of whom are college students.

He estimates Bevdog will gain another 3,000 participating bars and restaurants in the next 12 to 18 months.

Focusing on college campuses could enable Bevdog to build clients beyond deal-seekers, who are typically just looking for a quick bang for their buck, says Kellogg marketing professor Kelly Goldsmith.

“If it’s more that they’re attracting these sort of young up-and-comers who are going to grow up into being loyal customers, it could be a very different thing,” she says. “It could be much more worth doing.”