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Gratafy, A Social Gifting App, Launches in Los Angeles

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By now, the ritual is expected. Millennials all over the U.S. wake up on their birthday every year to hundreds of congratulatory wall posts on their Facebook page. But if a Seattle-based app goes mainstream, expect a few of those "HBD!" messages to come with an alert stating that an actual glass of beer (or drink of your choice), is waiting for you at your favorite watering hole.

At least that's the hope of Brian Erke and Ryan Halper, founders of Gratafy. The mobile and web app makes it easy to send Facebook friends a drink or meal -- on you -- at partner restaurants in their city. Gratafy launched in beta in Seattle toward the end of 2012, and after nearly a year of ironing out the kinks, they've just launched in Los Angeles.

Erke, who grew up in Washington and has lived in Manhattan, Philadelphia and Los Angeles for school and work, said the idea for the app came out of a desire to show his long-distance friends that he was still there in spirit when it came to birthday parties, graduation ceremonies or bad break ups.

"We really wanted to be able to give something more to someone beyond a wall post or a text message," said Erke to The Huffington Post. But at the same time, added Halper, having so many close friends all over the country can get pricey -- especially if you want to keep showing your love with gifts.

"We have three dollar beers on Gratafy. That's something I can actually do for a lot of my friends," said Halper. "A $25 gift card -- which might be the [minimum] entry point for a gift card -- I can't do that for that many people a year."

In Los Angeles, participating venues so far include a bunch of 213 Nightlife's trendy bars: Tony's Saloon, Seven Grand, Las Perlas, Golden Gopher and the Cana Rum Bar. It also includes all three restaurants by foodie favorite Chef Ricardo Zarate (Mo-Chica, Picca Peru and Paiche), as well as Santa Monica Seafood and Sotto.

Gift choices seem to come from the edges of restaurant menus: drinks, appetizers and desserts. Safe choices, to be sure, but if a gifter thinks about it too hard, the level of presumption involved in buying something can seem awkward. For instance, what if you send a friend Santa Monica Seafood's cioppino but she's allergic to seafood?

"It's at the discretion of the restaurant to do swaps for different things," explained Erke. "So if I sent you a glass of wine that you didn't necessarily want, you could swap it out for something of equal value."

The app's integration with Facebook is almost seamless (a cool feature lists friends with upcoming birthdays and other events), it unhelpfully shows friends all over the world, instead of just those in Seattle and Los Angeles, where the app is live.

"We're working on showing a more curated friends list," said Erke, emphasizing that the app was still in development phases. They're also working on user profiles that could list gift preferences and gift card options for some restaurants. And of course, the app is getting ready to launch in more cities.

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