MealSteals to roll out merchant-side app for posting dining deals

MealSteals, a Milwaukee-based app that caters to the happy hour and late night bar crowds, is rolling out a merchant-side mobile app to complement its growing user base.

The idea to start the project came about one and a half years ago, when the co-founders saw the opportunity to consolidate the stream of restaurant and bar specials that create interest in the late-night Milwaukee community.

The app works as an “ecosystem for bars and restaurants that offer deals and the people who are constantly looking for them,” according to LeMarc Johnson, director of growth for MealSteals. He knew there was no one source for hungry and thirsty customers to easily find deals, and also saw the value in providing businesses a platform to advertise those deals.

“Just like the seasons change, specials will change, and we want to allow businesses to keep everything current in real time,” he told

Building up the service involved several iterations, with the most recent version launching in September. Now, the service has “thousands” of users in Milwaukee with over 200 bars and restaurants.

For big events like a Green Bay Packers or Milwaukee Bucks game, or even for holidays and special occasions, businesses can post FlashSteals, one-time specialty deals that are meant to draw crowds at peak times.

Those FlashSteals will be represented by colorful, eye-catching icons that pop up on the in-app map, and will usually feature the vendor’s logo.

“That deal gets an animated icon, which helps it stand out more,” Johnson said.

Only about 25 of the services bars and restaurants currently handle their own in-app content–the rest are done by the MealSteals team. This is because the previous system only let vendors change availability of deals through a desktop or laptop website.

The new business-end app will open that up, so that it’s much easier for owners, managers and even bartenders to log into the app from a tablet or mobile device and post specials on the fly.

“We’re really excited,” Johnson said. “This platform is really the first of its kind.”

The company is moving quickly as it pursues more ways to improve businesses’ ability to connect to customers.

While it doesn’t bring in any money yet, in two months MealSteals will introduce the ability to upgrade the business app for a cost, which will grant owners exclusive access to back-end analytics tracking responses, clicks and usage of particular deals. They will also have the option to boost deals to increase visibility.

This revenue model will allow the company to capitalize on the marketplace they have created, Johnson says.

“We give them the tools for them to create the deals, but they create the visually appealing specials,” Johnson said. “Those are the deals that help the business stay competitive.”

And tracking the efficiency and impact of those deals will let businesses pursue more effective strategies in this growing digital platform, Johnson says.

The four-person team that runs MealSteals has pulled it together with no outside investment yet, but are “actively pursuing” a seed funding round in the near future to “take the platform to the next model.”

Johnson added that while he and his team have had success in Milwaukee, it’s still a challenge just to be a startup in Wisconsin.

“I think it’s difficult,” he said. “Investors and other startup hubs don’t see the innovation, but people are constantly innovating in Milwaukee. We want to break down barriers and perceptions–the only way to disprove these assumptions is to produce results, scalability and growth.”

–By Alex Moe