Restaurants are at the intersection of multiple digital innovations. Back in high school, our favorite after hours restaurant had a phone at the table. We could simply pick up the receiver and order a heaping plate of cheese fries while flirting with the server/operator on the other end of the line. Ordering at the table is long overdue for mobile innovation of the digital sort.
We have been watching PayPal go beyond splitting bills to allow both ordering/paying ahead and paying at table (disclosure: PayPal is client). A whole host of apps have surfaced to help streamline the dine and dash scenario including Settle, Flypay, MyCheck, Cover and Tabbedout. Square, no longer satisfied with their coffee shop dominance, has made inroads by overhauling their original mobile wallet app to focus on restaurants with Square Order. Their most recent acquisition of Caviar, suggests longer term intentions to bridge home delivery of food not typically available for take out.
OpenTable has begun defending their territory by adding on the ability to pay at the table, too. My bet is they are going beyond dining reservations with their acquisition by Priceline. Their next growth area will likely be with a ticketing service. ‘Dinner and a Show’ is now becoming one and the same as the nation’s top restaurants begin requiring prepaid tickets in advance. With limited seats, reservation no-shows have continued to take a bite out of their profits. Top dining establishments are even selling season passes to lock in repeat patronage and special perks. Founders of Uber and Foursquare have started Reserve, New York City’s Dash app, international players liek Quandoo, as well as the internet’s most brash wino, Gary Vanynerchuck, has Resy to address the need.
The return of Portland’s Taqueria Nueve recently used crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to help fund the reopening of their next establishment. After a private round of friends and family investment (to the tune of $10-15k each) which included perks like monthly food allowances… the final 15% of the restaurant’s funding ($25k) was sought online. Backers received exclusive rewards like the ability to make reservations.
Discovery technologies continue to get smarter. GrubHub and others work to surface menus digitally. I’ve had some short-lived efforts documenting food cart menus and geotagging them on Flickr. After a rebrand and Swarm app spin-off, Foursquare’s new focus is to suggest the places that we are most likely to love based upon feedback, algorithms and your social graph. Yelp continues to be my goto app when traveling and they have just integrated Bing translation engine to help international adventurers steer clear of tourist traps. This past week, while visiting Virginia, I was able to look past the TGI Fridays next to my hotel and drive 5 minutes to devour Vietnamese delicacies paired with one of the nations best rated craft beer selections. This was made possible by Yelp’s proximity and keyword search and a vivid layer of customer reviews that forewarned me of food so good that service was negligible.
Proprietors can keep an eye on their restaurant’s performance and their neighbor’s. Web analytics meets Zillow in emerging services like Copilot (recently acquired by Open Table) to measure down to the customer level analytics at Red Lobster. Food Genius tracks the trends of shifting menus–by ingredient adoption–and then sells the data back to restaurants.
Dining out is a mix of necessity (food) and luxury (prepared) that continues to consume our thoughts, desires and now, technology. And if all of this is a bit much, you can always just Push for Pizza.