LAS VEGAS -- UNLV film school graduate Chris Shepherd recalls meeting a young woman at a bar and promising to buy her a drink, an ordeal that required navigating his slight frame through a crowd three rows thick just to reach the counter.
"By the time I got the drinks she was gone," Shepherd said.
It wasn't an opportunity completely missed, though. The experience of fighting long lines prompted Shepherd and business partner Mike Manzano to form the Las Vegas tech startup Counterless. On June 25 the company unveiled a free smartphone app for iPhone and Android users designed to let customers order food from fast food restaurants and mobile food trucks without needing to wait in line.
Users simply select a restaurant, scroll through the menu, choose items and pay for them with a credit or debit card. Once the order reaches the restaurant's computer screen as a "virtual" ticket, the Counterless user is informed via a buzz or vibration, or both, that the food request has been received. When the order is ready for pickup, the user receives a second notification.
"We're focused on making sure you're having a good experience ordering and waiting for your food," Shepherd said. "I'm hoping to have this available across the United States and that it spreads quickly."
There's always that first business to test the product and iron out the bugs, a role Slidin' Thru restaurant and mobile food truck owner Ric Guerrero eagerly embraced.
The restaurant at 6410 N. Durango Drive already has taken orders from an estimated 50 Counterless users, with the virtual tickets appearing on an iPad in the kitchen in full view of the cooks. By the end of this week, Guerrero plans to expand the service to his truck.
"It's the coolest way to order," Guerrero said. "We're always excited to use the newest, coolest thing."
As a businessman, Guerrero said he appreciates the app because it eliminates the time his employees spend taking cash at the counter and issuing change. As more customers use the app, Guerrero expects that to free up more time for his workers to do other chores.
Users can place orders through the Counterless app
"There are some bugs to work out but we're giving preference to our Counterless orders," Guerrero said. "We want our take-out experience to be consistent. People love it."
Although Slidin' Thru is his only customer so far, Shepherd said the app has tremendous upside because of its potential use at stadiums and arenas as well as at bars.
Chris Shepherd, co-founder and CEO of Counterless, at the Slidin' Thru NW restaurant
Working out of office space he shares with other startups at the Ogden residential complex downtown, he conceded there are plenty of improvements in store for his app. He would like to provide photos of the menu items and also give users the option to modify their orders, such as requesting an item without bacon or with extra onions. He may also alter the range of the app. Right now, it can be used throughout the valley but if he is able to sign up more restaurants, he may shorten the range to five or 10 miles so that users have a concentration of choices in a given geographic area.
He is also considering an option that would allow users to pay additional money, say $1 or so, for the privilege of "jumping" ahead of others in line. This latter option may become a necessity if Counterless becomes wildly popular.
Shepherd was asked to imagine what would happen if 100 Counterless users all ordered from the same restaurant at approximately the same time.
"That would be a good problem to have because our cut comes from each transaction," he said.