Shooting the breeze one Thursday night in August before going out, a group of University students came up with something to make their favorite Ann Arbor bar even more appealing.
It was on this night that Kinesiology senior Will O’Leary, LSA senior Scott Robbins, Engineering senior Greg Anderson, Brian LaFrence, University alum and a current visiting research investigator at the College of Engineering, and Eli Orlofsky, University alum and Business School graduate student, thought of the idea that would become Ricksline.com — a website that allows users to view the line outside Rick’s American Café.
And while the group of students said the website is a helpful tool for people to plan their nights out, Chris Hesse, manager of Rick’s American Café located at 611 Church St., said he thinks Ricksline.com will actually be “detrimental” to the bar.
Excluding Anderson, the group of friends lives on Church Street diagonally across the street from Rick’s. Orlofsky said their proximity to the bar is ideal since they can monitor the line from about 60 feet away without having to venture outside. This thinking became the basis for the concept of Ricksline.com.
“There was always that sort of mindset,” Orlofsky said. “Once we moved in there we were going to able to observe the line ourselves. I guess once we were actually there somehow the camera idea popped up, the website idea came up and the name Ricksline.com had a good buzz to it so we rolled with it.”
Ricksline.com was fully functional and complete with advertisements on Sept. 14. The camera linked to the website is located inside the students’ house facing Rick’s and streams 24-hour live footage. Since the website went live, it has received over 14,000 hits according to Google metrics, O’Leary said.
But before launching the site, the five friends didn’t consult Rick’s, according to Hesse. He said he wasn’t aware of the website until one of the bar’s employees pointed it out about two-and-a-half weeks ago.
Hesse said he’s “not a big fan” of the website because he thinks the creators are taking advantage of the popularity of Rick’s in order to make a few bucks.
“I believe that in this situation somebody else is profiting off our hard work and success that we’ve had over the last 31 years, which is fine,” Hesse said. “You know it’s the American way.”
The five University students created the website with the goal of making the going-out experience more convenient, O’Leary said.
“The point was really to create a method for people to have this view of the line and get in faster without the hassle of waiting in the cold,” he said.
But Hesse said he thinks Ricksline.com can be “misleading,” because the camera doesn’t show how many people are actually inside the bar. So if there’s no line outside the bar, people who arrive still may not be able to get in if the bar is at capacity. Hesse said this happened last weekend.
“The line moves until we hit capacity and once we hit capacity, the line basically stops and we can’t let people in until people leave,” Hesse said.
The website has about 1,000 viewers per day, with almost 400 Facebook members “liking” the website, according to Anderson. The website’s peak traffic days are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, Robbins said, though they have also found that a large number of people check out the website Monday afternoons as well.
“If you are trying to beat the line, (the website) allows you to get there quicker and make sure you are there before a big line forms,” Orlofsky said. “But also some nights if you are not sure if you should go you can tell if there’s a line, which means there’s a lot of people there and that really excites people when they go to bars.”
Hesse said Rick’s patrons said they like the website. But he said this technology isn’t ideal for the bar since people will be deterred from coming if they see a line forming. Hesse said some Rick’s regulars told him they decided to come to the café later than usual after checking out Ricksline.com.
“I feel that if it’s 11 o’clock, instead of rushing to Rick’s to make sure you get in line, you can get online and find out there’s not a line and either stay home (or) stay home longer than you would normally,” he said.
Everyone who already knows about Ricksline.com found out through either word of mouth or online advertising, Anderson said, but very few people know who’s behind the website’s creation.
“It’s kind of cool that, at the moment, we’re very mysterious,” Anderson said.
Orlofsky said one night he went to Rick’s and his friend announced that Orlofsky was one of the creators of the website and a girl said, “‘No, Pizza House runs that.’”
But Hesse said many bar-goers think the bar is responsible for the site, which is problematic because there have been “really inappropriate comments” on the website under the user comment section. Hesse said he doesn’t want Rick’s to be associated with these “vulgar” comments.
“I don’t like that type of image being portrayed on a website projecting my name,” Hesse said. “ … You know anytime that anybody reads anything on there, they’re assuming that it’s coming from us and we’re filtering it and that’s not the case.”
Hesse said he’s also concerned that having a camera on the establishment 24/7 could taint the bar’s image if people see some sort of problem like a fight happening outside the café while viewing Ricksline.com.
“They kind of see a negative picture of Rick’s, and even though those problems may not necessarily come from Rick’s, it’s hard to tell what’s going on if all of a sudden you log on, you see something going on outside,” Hesse said.
The creators of Ricksline.com and Hesse met on Wednesday, Hesse said, during which time he expressed some of his opinions of the website.
“They were very open to my comments,” Hesse said. “I think the last thing that they want to do is upset us. They are loyal Rick’s-goers. However, I don’t know if they’re going to be able to satisfy Rick’s by the issues that I raised about the website.”
Though they didn’t want to comment on the details of the website’s further development, Orlofsky said they’re working on expanding the website including getting more advertisers. O’Leary also said they plan to encourage user interactivity by having more than just a comment board on the website.
“One thing that we are working on that we are really excited about is a photo contest,” O’Leary said. “That’s all I’ll say about it for now but that’s a project we hope to unveil soon.”
The website’s developers and Hesse have plans to meet again “in the near future,” Hesse said.
Though Hesse has mixed views on the sight, students have been raving about it.
LSA senior Kyle Tenenbaum called it the “best website ever.”
“I think it’s great. It saves me so much time. I can sit here and know the line and walk over when I’m ready,” he said.
Engineering senior Connor Moelmann said he’s used it every time he’s gone to Rick’s since finding out about the site from a friend.
“It’s definitely helpful especially because I have one of those phones where I can check the Internet so I can check it at another bar,” he said.
LSA senior Jamie Keith said he found out about the site through Facebook, adding that he thinks it will be more helpful during the winter months.
“Right now you can assume Rick’s will be busy Thursday, Friday and Saturday, but if there’s a way to get it at multiple bars that’d be even better to compare lines and such,” he said.