6.3.2014: What’s Old Is New / Resy


Just Like Old Times… Except with Your Phone

Let’s talk about Cover, the new-ish app that I’ve been calling “my favorite new product in restaurant tech” for some weeks now. I came around to the idea a few months ago, and after using Cover at a few SF spots (they officially launched in San Francisco two weeks ago), I am a convert. I like it because it’s easy. It works. It’s friendly and simple and doesn’t try to do too many things at once. It simply detects at which restaurant you’re dining, prompts you to open a tab, and then to tell the server you’re “paying with Cover.” (Then confirms with a cheeky “You’re Covered!” which made me smile. </copywriter nerd-out>)

The Washington Post recently did a good job of …covering Cover, boldly proclaiming that it will “reinvent the restaurant experience.” But I think I like it because, instead of some sort of crazy innovation or new idea, Cover makes the whole process friendly and familiar. It evokes a time when you might have your own line of credit at a local spot (this was a thing) and could nod to the server to add your bill to a running tab, instead of awkwardly handing payment after every meal. Obviously that level of familiarity and trust isn’t appropriate at most restaurants today, but if a small piece of technology can replicate that happy feeling, I’m all for it. This might be an overly romanticized notion, but eliminating a tiny friction point that can really affect your dining experience seems all positive and pretty exciting. This is a game-changer, but hardly a reinvention.

illustration by April V. Walters
illustration by April V. Walters


More Business of Buying Reservations

Thing I didn’t think would become a big thing: buying a reservation at a restaurant. I was wrong, and the “fad” seems here to stay. In April, Table8 launched in San Francisco, offering people the opportunity to purchase a prime reservation at top restaurants in San Francisco. This week, Eater co-founder Ben Leventhal and entrepreneur/opportunist Gary Vaynerchuk announced more details about Resy, a similar service that allows users to pay for hot reservations with short notice. Similar to Table8, Resy partners with the restaurants, adding an additional revenue stream while giving paying diners the exact table they want.

Eater has the extensive (and it’s seriously long) interview in which the founders talk about the product, about its future, and about the idea of selling a reservation, generally. Worth a skim to understand the business model and thinking behind it — instead of worrying that the service is elitist, they say — again, similar to SF’s Table8 — that they are placing value on a convenience factor and honoring diners’ time.

So, here we are. Should it bother me that you can pay extra to get a sweet table at the last second? Probably not. Does it? Kinda? Since the restaurant takes a cut, I’m more apt to let it slide — moreso than, say, a certain site out of New York City or a hack of a restaurant’s online reservation system. Regardless, this space is interesting and fast changing. Fascinating.


They’re Watching You

You Google your dates, right? Or potential customers, industry peers and colleagues, your future in-laws, your sister’s new boyfriend… so unsurprising that a restaurant might do the same with its customers. When this means a free birthday dessert of special-occasion cocktail, it’s super positive. But, as GrubStreet reports, the flip side is… kind of dark.

An Australian reservations site allows restaurants to “code diners by every metric possible,” including leaving notes re: bad tippers, frequent no-shows, and general annoying diners. In its defense, the founder reminds us that “restaurants have been at the mercy of Yelpers and their ilk for years; this simply passes some of the power back to restaurants.”

I guess?


Hacking Restaurants with Food+Tech

Later this month, Food+Tech Connect will host Hack // Dining in New York City, a three-day event to “re-engineer the future of food.” (Tickets still available, btw.) If you can’t make it, please do keep an eye on Food+Tech Connect’s “Future of Dining Online Conversation” series, featuring a host of thoughtful articles by some of the most important food+tech brains. (Shameless plug: they’ve invited me to participate; I’m stoked.) With new ideas and articles featured for the entire month of June, this site is the place to watch this month. Please support this!


Everyone Buy NEXT’s Recipe eBooks

Continuing its fantastic tradition of innovative ideas, Chicago’s NEXT restaurant is offering two eBooks — one featuring the restaurant’s “Paris 1906” menu, the other, “Tour of Thailand” menu — for any price you wish to pay. The recipes are the exact recipes used in the restaurant, not a “watered-down, home-cook version that doesn’t really produce the same results.” If these sell well, the restaurant will continue with its subsequent menus. And, of course: “We’ll also share the results of this pricing experiment on this website to show other restaurants, writers, and publishers the results in terms of volume, average payment, and traffic.”

Awesome. These pros are the best.


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