Back To All News

Tota Taps Into a Better Dining Experience

March 31st, 2017

One of the most frustrating things about going to a popular restaurant is the hassle of a long wait for service. Alumnus Joseph Tota says he has created the first self-service, self-pour taproom in Illinois to eliminate this pain point.

After experiencing long wait lines at restaurants and bars, Tota thought that there had to be an easier and better way to create an exceptional customer experience. After 10 months of planning, he opened Red Arrow Tap Room in Elmhurst in January.

“We believe we are cutting edge of a new trend that will eventually replace antiquated business models for hospitality,” he said.

What makes Red Arrow different is that it offers 48 self-pour craft beer and wine taps that help educate customers about the selection, and an app is provided for speedy check-in and check-out. When patrons enter, they are asked for an ID and a credit or debit card and then they receive the Pour Pass, which is linked to their credit card to order food and fill up at the taps. Customers can sample the craft beer or try combinations and are charged by the ounce.

From left, Eric Albert (’00), Joseph Tota (’01) and Michael Osterbur (’01) at Red Arrow Tap Room in Elmhurst

Brick walls, red walls decorated with metal wainscoting, beer barrels and a long curved room of stainless steel taps provide an atmosphere similar to a brewery. The majority of beer from the taps is made in the Chicago area and regional options are offered as well, Tota said, but it is all craft beer from independents rather than national brands.

On the menu, Red Arrow specializes in barbecue (the top seller) and comfort foods, such as a beef brisket sandwich and sidewinder fries (flat, thick potato curls). There are lots of appetizers to choose from and several kinds of burgers, sandwiches and salads.

Customers order their food from tabletop tablets or from the mobile app. While waiting for food, customers can use the Wi-Fi on the table screen.

Red Arrow is also different from competitors because it does not require customers to tip. Instead of relying on tips, the staff members benefit from a revenue-sharing program in which they get a portion of the weekly revenue based on their hours and wages.

“We believe that the model of tipping isn’t fair to customers or staff members, particularly kitchen team members,” Tota said. “It’s an antiquated model that needed to be updated.”

By getting a share of the revenue, he said, employees are motivated to create an exceptional experience.

Musicians perform on certain nights and customers can bring in vinyl records for a DJ to play on other nights.

The 39-year-old Elmhurst resident is experienced in running a business. Before opening Red Arrow, Tota ran a consulting company that specialized in helping organizations improve employee performance through training, technology and process improvements.

Working at Molly’s Eatery and Drinkery in DeKalb during college gave Tota a taste of what it takes to run a restaurant, he said, and his classes were part of that foundation to become a business owner. He earned his bachelor’s degree in corporate communications from NIU and an MBA from Lake Forest Graduate School of Management.

Based on reviews of the restaurant, it is often packed and customers like the food and the option to taste small amounts of many kinds of beer.

By Colleen Leonard