At this year’s RibFest, you’ll be able to get a little VIP treatment with your ribs and tunes.

RibFest, the annual pig-out where ribbers cook up tasty meats and national music acts entertain the masses, heads into its 22nd year this week (runs today-Sunday). And when it does, it’ll come with a new bit of technology to help alleviate beverage lines.

Four Mankato West High School grads (Andy Pfeiffer, Alex Klehr, Ryan Schwickert, Curtis Gruidl) have teamed up on a mobile app called Line Mogul that will, for a fee, give beverage consumers the option of bypassing long lines.

“We all love concerts and we love music festivals,” Pfeiffer said. “And we’ve always talked about the need for a ‘fast pass’ kind of thing.”

The “fast pass” concept popularized by Disney allows users to bypass loooooooong lines for attractions such as Pirates of the Caribbean or Space Mountain. Line Mogul is similar, except there is a fee involved. So a Coors Light that costs $5 at the regular line might cost $6 in the Line Mogul line. Or, if lines grow longer and demand is higher, the so-called line-skip fee increases. If lines get long enough, you might be paying several dollars more for your Coors Light than folks who waited in traditional lines.

The app is tied in with mobile payment features such as Apple Pay or Venmo. Once a user downloads the app and connects a payment source to it, the user can start using Line Mogul. (Pro tip: If Line Mogul sounds like something you’d use, download the app and connect your payment source before you leave for RibFest. Doing it at the site defeats the purpose of saving time.)

Within the app, all the beverage options available at the venue are listed. Users choose how many of each item they’d like (up to two) then confirm their order. Once at the register, the bartender scans the barcode generated by the app and hands over the drinks. The bartender’s time isn’t wasted by an indecisive customer. No cards are passed back and forth or inserted into chip readers because the drinks were already paid for.

Brian Sather, co-director of the Mankato Civic Center and the man in charge of food and beverage operations at events such as RibFest, says the city was willing to work with Line Mogul for several reasons. First, they like the idea of something that can alleviate beverage line congestion. They believe this app has the potential to do that. Second, it was pitched by a group of gentleman who all have ties to this community. And third, it’s a time saver.

Line Mogul was available at last week’s Kip Moore concert. That initial run through, Sather says, was very informative.

“The average transaction time was about a third of what it normally is,” Sather said.

That means, from the time a customer walked up to the bartender until the time she walked away, the time she spent was a third of what she would have spent in a traditional line.

“That’s very interesting to us,” Sather said. “That’s where we can help alleviate lines. … That’s where we see the value and the power of the app.”

The Line Mogul team has also built into their app a means of collecting and analyzing data, which venues can use to learn, for example, what customers are buying and when they’re buying it. Many venues already collect such data. But many others don’t, especially ones without the ability to conduct point-of-sale transactions.

Line Mogul launched in March with a huge party at which people used the app. They followed that with an event at a golf course, Grand Old Days in St. Paul and then last week’s Kip Moore concert.

They’re currently strategizing future events and assessing what other kinds of services can benefit from this business model, such as food or restroom access.

At one event, one of the partners said, they could have stood a standard portable toilet outside the bathrooms and charged top dollar to women tired of standing in long restroom lines.

The subject of restroom access came up with Line Mogul’s presence at RibFest. But Sather said that, after discussing the issue with city officials, they opted to avoid the optics of having an elitist toilet.

The meat, the tunes

The main attraction of RibFest this year is, as it is every year, the MEAT.

If you’re a ribthusiast (no, not really a word, but it works) you’ll notice a few familiar ribbers at the event. You’ll also notice a few fresh faces. No need to waste your time here getting bogged down in the details of baby back ribs, right? It’s pig, it’s sauce, it’s barbecued. In other words, it’s heaven. You know the drill. Enjoy in moderation. (Or don’t; RibFest only happens once a year, right?)

Which brings us to the tunes.

Eric Jones, the Mankato Civic Center’s other co-director, handles booking acts for all of the city’s venues, including Riverfront Park’s Vetter Stone Amphitheater.

The event’s growth since it began 22 years ago has made it a tad easier to book nationally touring artists such as Dwight Yoakam. But Jones says the same challenges exist that always do: competing venues, booking fees, etc.

Still, the event’s evolution as a solid summer event that attracts thousands doesn’t hurt.

“It’s definitely gotten easier to get bands,” Jones says of now versus 15 years ago. “We still have our issues with competition, but we’ve kind of made a name for ourselves. We’re not trying to talk booking agents into taking a chance on us anymore. We’re not a risk.”

Moving to Riverfront Park was a move that has bolstered attendance. It’s also a move not everyone was on board with initially, including Jones.

“A lot of us here felt it was a downtown festival, we thought it won’t be the same,” Jones said. “And it wasn’t the same. But for whatever reason it just took off. It’s the park. Having the ribs on grass helps; it’s not quite as hot. The whole feel of the park — it’s a better fit for a festival.”

This will be the ninth year RibFest will be held at the Riverfront Park.

Robb Murray is the Features Editor for The Free Press. He can be reached at 344-6386 or rmurray@mankatofreepress.com. Follow Robb on Twitter @FreePressRobb

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Features Editor, Mankato Free Press Associate Editor, Mankato Magazine