I'm a fan of companies with a strong focus, especially in a crowded market. Reserve's challenge of scaling quickly while maintaining the personal feel of a human concierge is a big one, but this new hire signals the company's ambitions to continue to grow.
— Kristen Hawley
Reserve has announced the hire of a new chief operating officer, Michael Wesner, who started with the company on October 2. Previously, Wesner served as head of sales and sales operations for Amazon Restaurants. The move signals Reserve’s ambition and plans for growth in the hyper-competitive reservations and table management space. Currently, Reserve works with over 800 restaurants in all 50 states, though its efforts are mainly concentrated in 19 different cities.
Reserve launched in 2014 as a digital concierge, prompting app users to request a reservation within certain blocks of time and automating payment, eliminating the check presentation at the end of a meal. CEO Greg Hong maintains that the concierge element of Reserve is one of its best assets, explaining in an earlier interview that emulating the experience you might have with a hotel concierge is his long-term vision for the company. But it’s a numbers game, and given OpenTable’s dominance in the market with 43,000 restaurants on its platform, an upstart like Reserve has a long road ahead to level the playing field in terms of numbers. (Though its executives, of course, maintain that Reserve offers the best functionality in the marketplace.) With its new COO, Reserve is positioned to aggressively grow its business.
In an interview with Skift Table, Wesner describes his current priorities. “All 19 cities are focus areas where we want to grow and test,” he says, “increasing our overall selection from a consumer standpoint.” But while the focus on Reserve’s current markets is certainly important, in order to remain competitive and grow, he recognizes the need to continue to expand. “It’s the obvious choices,” he says of which cities he’ll target next, noting large cities and Texas and Florida are high on the list.
International growth is “not on the immediate docket,” according to Hong. “But as we start to make more progress in the markets we are in, it’s something we will start looking at, maybe as we think toward the second half of 2018.”
Wesner’s strategy is to double-down on the features and functionality that he believes sets Reserve apart, making it uniquely attractive to restaurants. According to him, that’s largely continuing to onboard restaurants aligned with the Reserve brand and the concierge-like experience of providing a high level of service. To date, the overall experience of how consumers interact with restaurants has been lacking, he says. He also hints that we might expect a consumer-facing announcement in the near-term “because we’ve built this high-quality level of selection, and it’s time for us to get out and get in front of that.”
“The core of all this is we just want to grow the business and Michael’s here to help us reach that,” Hong tells Skift Table. “The experience he’s bringing to the table will allow me to be more outbound-facing for the company, allowing him to take the reins internally, all in the effort of growing the business, helping support our restaurant partners, and making for a better dining experience.”
You can’t talk about reservations without talking about competition — and it’s not just from OpenTable. Resy, with 1,000 restaurants on its platform, also launched in 2014; ticketing service Tock also offers reservations and table management software. Each service touts its own benefits, but at the end of the day, a restaurant only needs one. “We’ve very much aware of what the competition is doing, but we’re not very concerned with it,” says Wesner. “We’re focused on the plan that we have in place.”
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story stated that Michael Wesner is the first COO of Reserve. In fact Anneke Jong served in the position from 2014 until 2016. Reserve has been without a COO since November 2016.