Buying Birthday Beers for Friends Abroad

Have you ever found yourself scratching your head, racking your brain thinking about what to buy someone for a birthday present?

It can be a tedious task, particularly when shopping for friends or family members who live abroad.

Many purchases today are made on the Internet because it's convenient, and online retail is now available worldwide.

But wouldn't it be better if you could use the information superhighway, or simply a cell phone, to buy someone a cocktail or a bottle of bubbly? It would make life so much easier when it comes to choosing gifts, right?

If you currently live in London, where this fun idea is now a reality, you may be in luck.

Steve Rothwell, co-founder and director at Eagle Eye Solutions, has come up with a business technology named Buy Me a Drink. Rothwell's new service allows anyone to buy a beer for a buddy at a local watering hole from anywhere in the world. And the technology, which another company has also tested in Australian cities like Sydney, may soon be available in the United States.

How does it work? It's really simple. All you need is Internet access to register your credit card, and that special someone's cell phone number. A text message is sent to the gift receiver's cell phone, with a number code at the end of your personal message.

It would look something like this:

From: Lama Hasan

Happy Birthday!

ID:12345678

Valid for 1 bottle of champagne@any Corney&Barrow bar

If you received a message like this, all you would have to do is show the barman the code, which corresponds to a particular drink -- a bottle of champagne, in this example -- and soon enough it would be yours to drink, with no cash changing hands, and perhaps accompanied by a toast to your absent friend.

Corney and Barrow (http://www.buymeabeer.com/cb), one of the largest bar operators in London's Financial District, controls the only venues in the United Kingdom that currently allow people to redeem their drinks from the Buy Me a Drink service.

Michael Mak of Bcodedrinks.com, an Australian company that is in the process of relocating to San Francisco, hopes that this idea and some others that employ SMS text messaging technology will soon take off inside the United States.

After all, the latest figures show that Americans are sending about 10 billion text messages a month, and cheap provider deals mean this number is still growing statewide.

The Genesis of an Idea

Eagle Eye's Rothwell says the idea for Buy Me a Drink came to him as he grew tired of finding birthday presents for friends living abroad.

"We came up with the concept because lots of friends live all over the world now, and typically being a bit of a bloke we like to buy each other beers for our birthdays," he said. "We're not very good at sending each other birthday or cards or presents."

He also says that you can use the Buy Me a Drink concept for any occasion -- to congratulate someone or even to apologize for being tardy.

"I thought, wouldn't it be great if you just send someone a text message with a beer to say 'Happy birthday,' or 'I'm late for my meeting, sorry,' or 'Well done on the deal you've just struck,' and they can then get the text message and I've bought them a drink without having to be in the same country or in the same bar as them a the same time,'' Rothwell said.

Although he admits that the origins of the concept were a little sexist, women have been using the service, too.

"We find a lot of women do it. Especially a lot of companies do it, to send bottles of wine for birthdays and things like that," Rothwell said. "I remember a funny story when this woman kept asking her husband to buy her drinks because she had run out of money while he was baby-sitting at home."

In New York, although the technology does not yet exist, Mak of Bcodedrinks.com acknowledges that there may be other potential uses in the dating sphere. Shy men could use the system to buy drinks for women they are too timid to approach.

Both Rothwell and Mak are hoping the idea will spread to bars worldwide and will eventually operate for many other kinds of gift services, from buying CDs to buying dinner.

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