TendedBar: Building a machine to make dependable cocktails

Originally imagined for arenas and stadiums, the company also wants to set up in hotels, airports and resorts.

  • By Dan Macdonald
  • | 12:00 a.m. February 23, 2024
  • | 4 Free Articles Remaining!
TendedBar founders, brothers Justin Honeysuckle, left, and Jay Perkins, show the prototype that is now part of the company’s headquarters at 222 E. Forsyth St. in Downtown Jacksonville.
TendedBar founders, brothers Justin Honeysuckle, left, and Jay Perkins, show the prototype that is now part of the company’s headquarters at 222 E. Forsyth St. in Downtown Jacksonville.
Photo by Dan Macdonald
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Impatient types find standing in line a waste of time. That is especially true when in the queue at a sporting event or concert waiting for a drink.

TendedBar is a Jacksonville-based automated bartending service run by brothers Justin Honeysuckle and Jay Perkins.

The invention started when Perkins was studying engineering at Purdue University.

The prototype was a square wooden box about the size of a 12-bottle countertop wine cooler. 

It has grown to be a commercial product that looks like a 10-foot-long trailer with video screens and beer taps.

Fans at a Jacksonville Jaguars game at EverBank Stadium order drinks using the TendedBar kiosk. In addition to sports and concert venues, TendedBar is used at airports, train terminals, resorts and hotels.

The two incorporated in 2014 but Honeysuckle said the business didn’t take off until 2019.

Their marketing plan wasn’t elaborate. They showed off the unit at a few trade shows with little success. They cold-called about 100 arenas and owners of sports teams to see if anyone was interested. 

Mark Cuban, former majority owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks and a “Shark Tank” regular, took an interest in 2014.

Cuban invested seed money into the company for 25% ownership. Oddly, he did not install one to be used at his sporting events, Honeysuckle said. 

The brothers bought out Cuban and his shares of the company in 2018. Honeysuckle declined to release details about the Cuban partnership or other financial information.

A bartending machine has several parts. It needs a touch-screen for customers to choose one of 10 cocktails; beer taps to dispense self-serve drafts; and a way to pay and confirm a customer is of legal drinking age.

The mechanics were easy enough to build. 

A TendedBar kiosk is set up at a golf tournament. In an 11-minute test, TendedBar served 50 customers and poured 67 drinks vs. 20 by human bartenders.

There are 10 liquors in separate containers. Mixers are dispensed much like they are at a regular bar using soda-gun technology.

Checking for proper ID was the initial challenge.

At first, employees would staff the bar and check for proper identification.

While some customers opt for employees to check IDs, TendedBar has incorporated face recognition technology for the job.

It is up to the venue to decide whether it wants to have an employee check the identification manually or use face recognition.

Face recognition can be set up before an initial purchase or a customer can register at home through an app - tinyurl.com/3d8482a9

When registered, the screen recognizes your face, age and which credit card you use. 

TendedBar customers order drinks using a touchscreen.

TendedBar is a dispensing service. The company isn’t licensed to sell beer, wine or cocktails. 

The vendors who lease the TendedBar decide which brands of alcohol to dispense and they stock the TendedBar. Depending on clientele, the bar can be stocked with top-shelf brands or less expensive liquors.

Besides being found locally at EverBank Stadium, Daily’s Place and VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, TendedBar is being used at Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour venues, Brightline train stations, professional golf tournaments and about a dozen sports venues.

They are in use at airports and train terminals. Resorts and hotels have them at poolside or in the lobby.

TendedBar is always on duty. Many times a hotel bar will close early.

 With a TendedBar setup, guests wanting a nightcap can visit the lobby, self-serve and take it to their room.

Facial recognition is used to identify customers to prevent underage people from buying drinks – and to prevent overordering.

A select-service hotel like a Residence Inn has a beautiful lobby that serves free breakfast in the morning and then it just goes down for the rest of the day,” Honeysuckle said.

When traveling, instead of waiting for service and worrying about missing a connection, the drink is quickly dispensed at the airport.

TendedBar is selling speed. Its motto is “Cocktails in seconds so guests don’t miss a minute.” 

Its research has shown that on average in an arena setting, TendedBar can serve one drink every 10 seconds. 

In 11 minutes, TendedBar served 50 customers and poured 67 drinks compared with  17 customers and 20 drinks sold by bartenders during the same time at the same event.

There are several advantages of automated drink service. Every cocktail is made the same. There are no overpours by a heavy-handed bartender.

The machine dispenses a 1.5-ounce single shot or 3-ounce double.

It automatically pours the correct amount of mixers, depending whether the customer wants the cocktail up or on the rocks.

Prices are set by the venue, but Honeysuckle estimated that single-shot cocktails cost $12 to $14 and doubles from $20 to $24. Wine is about $11 and beer is $9.

The TendedBar can be set to dispense only two drinks per customer. The face recognition feature can limit the number of times a customer can be served and enforce timing between visits.

Customers appreciate there is no tipping involved.

If one is feeling generous, there is a tipping option with that money given to charity, Honeysuckle said.

There are a few drawbacks. Every state has its own alcohol rules. Some require that a person make and serve the drink. Sensors involved in pouring ingredients have trouble “seeing” clear cups.

Then of course there is customer error. Some complain that their beer is too foamy, not realizing that the beer glass has to be tilted and poured down the inside of the glass. 

“I never would have thought I would have had to tell somebody that tequila is in a margarita,” Honeysuckle said.

“People will say I want a margarita. I don’t want tequila, I just want a margarita.”

TendedBar is not for every cocktail situation, he said. The business is not out to make bartenders extinct.

“Where is that experience needed? It’s meant for times when I don’t need to go pour my heart out about my divorce to the bartender or tell someone about my bad day. We’ve really focused on high-volume environments,” Honeysuckle said.



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