If you’re a chef, an owner, or an investor, you may be fearful to bet on tech. New software may sound great, but will it actually get used by your team? And will it last or go the way of Betamax or Polaroid, becoming irrelevant?

With those worries in mind, we reviewed dozens and dozens of young tech companies. We then collected only the top startups we feel confident have built solutions in 2018 that are the operational equivalents of sous vide cooking and the at-home immersion circulator: they’ll still be essential tools for years to come. In short: You got this tech thing, and we got your back.

This list is Skift Table’s first attempt at spotlighting the most impressive new or little-known restaurant tech startups.

We are drawing on the knowledge we have gained through five years of coverage of hundreds of newly launched startups in travel, events, hospitality, and restaurants, both at Skift Table and our sister site, Skift.

To help differentiate between unicorns and brands in hyper growth mode, we include only startups that have raised less than $25 million in funding. In the reporting of this feature, some startups fell off the list because of the cap, including notable companies Resy and Reserve. Resy has raised $40 million — up from the $15 million that was previously reported, and Reserve’s total stands at $27.3 million. Both continue to impact the industry through an important entry point: dining reservations.

Our list of 13 top startups in 2018 spotlights a mix of consumer and business-to-business models, with a few that derive revenue from both. Some of these companies are profitable. Most aren’t. We believe all of them address problems that are legitimate enough that customers will pay for their solutions, in due course, and that their number of potential customers is large.

Note: These are sorted in alphabetical order rather than ranked.

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Startups to Watch

BentoBox

New York, NY

A restaurateur’s dev team

Money Raised: $9.3 million
Headline Investors: Bullpen Capital and Armory Square Ventures

Skift Table Take:

BentoBox occupies an all-important niche in restaurant operations: modernizing a restaurant’s web presence. Unlike Squarespace or Wix, BentoBox focuses on creating a content management system that specifically delivers what restaurant operators need from a website. Mobile design and functionality is a top priority, as is making the most important information for customers — phone number, address, menu — as easily accessible as possible. With a backend system built to cater to restaurateurs, BentoBox takes the pain out of learning how to make last minute menu changes, integrating a reservations widget, or installing an online form for private events or catering queries. At-a-glance analytics offer restaurants the ability to track traffic, changes, and interest over time. The company currently partners with over 2,500 restaurants.

BlueCart

Mountain View, CA

A marketplace in a smartphone

Money Raised: $22 million
Headline Investors: Greycroft

Skift Table Take:

BlueCart wants to make it easier to connect suppliers and restaurants who are looking to sell and buy, respectively, everything from oysters to toilet paper. The four-year-old company is one of the few to get both parties to move away from phone calls, faxes, and cash transactions, and into a world where someone selling aged beef can manage everything from an inbound order for dry-aged steaks to its eventual delivery at a restaurant. On the restaurant side, operators can integrate BlueCart’s software into Quickbooks and other systems they already use. While its stepping into an area dominated by giants like Sysco, it’s backed by venture capital giant Greycroft and has indie cred courtesy of Blue Hill co-owner David Barber’s Almanac Insights, which contributed to the most recent round that brought the startup’s total raised to $22 million. That helped provide funding to acquire Sous, which handles mobile orders for the restaurant wholesale industry, in June of this year.

Culinary Agents

New York, NY

Career growth and opportunities for restaurant workers

Money Raised: $4.3 million
Headline Investors: RRE Ventures, Female Founders Fund

Skift Table Take:

Launched in 2012, Culinary Agents connects restaurant-industry job-seekers to the kitchens and dining rooms that need them. Today, the business is close to half a million users supporting nearly 20,000 hospitality businesses nationwide. As a kind-of “LinkedIn for restaurants,” businesses can post (and job-seekers can search for) a range of jobs, including full-time, part-time, and seasonal work. A “gigs” section, currently in beta, allows businesses to post even shorter-term openings to fill gaps in shifts with qualified workers. At a time when restaurant labor couldn’t be a hotter topic, Culinary Agents works to do well by both job-posters and -seekers to deliver the most qualified workers to empty positions in restaurants across the country. 

Goldbelly

San Francisco, CA

Seamless without borders

Money Raised: $13 million
Headline Investors: Intel Capital and Global Founders Capital

Skift Table Take:

If you’re going to pay a premium to have food shipped to you from far away, you’re going to want to go with the local standout brands — Kreuz Market in Lockhart, TX, Russ & Daughters in New York City, or Prince’s Hot Chicken in Nashville, TN. — and nearly all of them are on Goldbelly. Goldbelly works with its 350 partners in nearly every U.S. state to select key items for shipping, and then figures out the best way to prep and package them so they don’t disappoint. While Omaha Steaks or Harry & David’s may do their own specialty shipping thing, Goldbelly takes a marketplace approach. Since launching in 2013, it’s expanded to 32 employees, mostly in the Bay Area, and raised a modest $13 million.

Kitchen Cut

Henley-on-Thames, England

Digital tools for a smarter menu

Money Raised: Undisclosed
Headline Investors: Self-funded

Skift Table Take:

Restaurant industry vet John Wood teamed up with an engineering team in 2011 in an effort to provide greater insight into what dishes cost to create and produce on a consistent basis. Kitchen Cut helps its 2,000 restaurant partners discover which dishes deliver the most profit, what ones diners like most, and what pricing may be off. Kitchens are also able to get insight into calorie counts and manage allergens in order to either keep its employees informed or better disclose either or both to diners. Although it is based outside of London, Kitchen Cut has a presence outside of the UK as well. Since its founding, it’s stayed small, both in terms of staff (currently 20) and money raised (it is still self-funded).

Omnivore

San Francisco, CA

The restaurant technology connector

Money Raised: $24 million
Headline Investors: undisclosed

Skift Table Take:

The more you know as a restaurateur, the faster you can act to mitigate problems and increase revenue. That’s Omnivore’s value. The three-and-a-half-year-old company connects smaller restaurant technology companies to a restaurant’s point of sale system. The result: a sort-of app store for restaurants that allows them to leverage their existing technological investment to receive and implement all-important data through one central system.In June, Omnivore hired its first chief marketing officer, Shane Wheatland, from The Coca-Cola Company, where he spent more than 20 years. Wheatland’s first priorities include building out the company’s value proposition to the larger industry — especially to larger restaurant chains.

“I summarize 2017 as the year of the restaurant technology pilot,” said founder and CEO Mike Wior. “In 2018, we’re starting to see it’s time for restaurants to pull the trigger and make decisions on these technologies.” Omnivore’s goal is to cut through the noise and pie-in-the-sky promises of technology, distilling what works and can drive real benefit to restaurants, connecting them with the tools they need to run efficient and profitable businesses.

Pared

San Francisco, CA

A Lyft for restaurant labor

Money Raised: $14 million
Headline Investors: CRV (Charles River Ventures), Uncork Capital, and True Ventures

Skift Table Take:

Will Pacio worked in fine dining at The French Laundry and Per Se and later started fast-casual restaurant chain Spice Kit. Pacio experienced the industry’s labor problem first-hand — like needing a substitute dishwasher — and wanted to solve the pain of his peers. So in 2015, he co-founded labor marketplace Pared. True, several other hiring websites already existed, but they were generic. While they provided hiring data to managers, they didn’t give insights to the restaurant workers seeking gigs. Pared stands out with two distinct edges. The mobile-first marketplace is built to keep in mind what’s most important for restaurateurs in vetting quality talent. But it’s also designed to offer insights to the workers themselves to help them suss out the best venues to learn fresh skills and grow their network — an informational feature that attracts a better pool of labor. No wonder that Pared, which has about 30 employees today, has been growing fast.

Plate IQ

San Francisco, CA

The digital bookkeeper

Money Raised: $7.5 million
Headline Investors: Initialized Capital and Eileses Capital

Skift Table Take:

Where other companies on this list are focused on data analytics in the front of the house, Plate IQ uses data to streamline a number of issues in back-of-house operations. The platform automates perhaps the least fun part of running a restaurant, invoicing, and helps operators with everything related to supply chain management along the way. Plate IQ can gather data on ingredient costs in specific areas over time, inform its restaurant partners when they’re overpaying on certain food items, and arm them with supporting data to help negotiate prices with their vendors. That same data could also be used to better inform the cost of each plate on the menu. Launched in 2014, Plate IQ currently works with 5,000 restaurant locations.

Salido

New York, NY

All-in-one restaurant operating system

Money Raised: $16 million
Headline Investors: First Data, Shana Fisher (Third Kid Venture), Tom Colicchio, Stephen Starr, Phil Suarez, Jimmy Haber (Esquared Hospitality)

Skift Table Take:

Using too many individual systems leads to lost data which translates to lost revenue. Salido is aiming to change that with its full-stack restaurant solution offering restaurants a point of sale, labor management, advanced reporting, inventory, and payments with one system. It offers point of sale and kitchen display system hardware along with the software that powers nearly every aspect of a restaurant’s day-to-day operations. Salido has processed nearly $500,000,000 worth of transactions at 150 locations from San Francisco to London. Restaurant customers include Eleven Madison Park, ABC Kitchen, Shuko, Eataly, and more. With strategic investments from leading restaurateurs and a leadership team with significant restaurant experience from the host stand to technical operations, the team has the industry insight it needs to build a product by and for restaurants.

SevenRooms

New York, NY

The customer relationship manager

Money Raised: $16.4 million
Headline Investors: Comcast Ventures

Skift Table Take:

Good hospitality doesn’t start when the guest walks through the door and end when they leave. It instead extends to the entirety of a guest’s relationship with a restaurant or group. SevenRooms combines reservations, seating, and guest management at restaurants, hotels, nightlife venues, private clubs, and sporting and entertainment venues. Its white label reservations widget allows for direct bookings via the restaurant’s own channels, allowing the business to own its customer data. Earlier this year, SevenRooms inked a deal with point of sale giant Toast, attaching a customer’s spend and order histories to information about food preferences, birthdays, and other personal details in an effort to paint a clear picture of the diner. In short, that’s the company’s aim: to give hospitality businesses across the board the most comprehensive guest information possible. The company also partners with TripAdvisor and Instagram, offering its restaurant customers the ability to reach guests wherever they’re searching for a seat.

Tock

Chicago, IL

Pushing the envelope in reservations

Money Raised: undisclosed
Headline Investors: undisclosed

Skift Table Take:

When Tock founders Nick Kokonas and Brian Fitzpatrick launched the company in 2014, Fitzpatrick was fresh from heading Google’s Chicago office. Kokonas brought the restaurant-industry chops as co-owner of chef Grant Achatz’s Alinea restaurant. In that sense, Tock was launched by a restaurant for restaurants as a prepaid ticketing service for Alinea in 2014, and quickly turned into its own full-fledged business, processing $282 million in prepaid reservations to date. Its ticketing functionality lends itself to high-end restaurants from Noma to The French Laundry, but isn’t limited in its scope to fine dining. Instead, Tock has made pushing the limits of reservations its priority, expanding its offerings to include traditional no-fee reservations, reservations requiring a deposit, and add-ons like optional wine pairings or signed cookbooks. Recently, the company announced a partnership with WineDirect, powering reservations for tastings, cellar experiences, and restaurant pop-ups at wineries and vineyards. Tock’s versatility enables virtually any restaurant or restaurant-adjacent business to adapt its functionality to meet the technological and booking needs of an increasingly varied set of offerings. While Tock doesn’t disclose its total funding, it did announce a $7.5 million series A investment round in 2016 led by Chicago-based Origin Ventures.

Tripleseat

Concord, MA

Streamlining event management

Money Raised: $7.8 million
Headline Investors: Level Equity

Skift Table Take:

The incumbent player in hospitality event management software is Delphi, first coded in 1985 on Microsoft’s DOS operating system. It has a new owner, Amadeus, which has been rebuilding it on the widely used internet-based platform Salesforce. It’s a decent product. But there’s room for competition. Six years ago, former event managers built Tripleseat software using the latest internet-based programming languages and software design best practices from the first lines of code. Potential patrons use its white-labeled form to request a proposal. Then your event manager uses Tripleseat’s software to build proposals, event orders, contracts, and invoices. The software tracks bookings in a calendar and keeps all contacts and chat-based conversations in one place. Tripleseat claims 95 percent of customers stick with it annually and that it expects to grow about 40 percent this year. Its venues search engine drives leads to its customers and its partnerships with corporate events startups like Bizly and social networks like Facebook also bring in leads to restaurants.

Venga

Washington, D.C.

Data analytics for the front-of-house

Money Raised: $2.7 million
Headline Investors: Militello Capital, Cornell University, ThinkFoodGroup, Passion Food Hospitality and Alicart Restaurant Group

Skift Table Take:

Venga has tracked over $7 billion in consumer spending and counts over 130 million guest profiles on its platform, thanks in no small part to an extensive partnership with OpenTable that was sealed in 2013. The platform captures a ton of consumer data about food preferences, average check size, and feedback from past dining experiences, and then figures out how to deliver it to restaurant operators in easy-to-read, actionable formats. “We always try to put the restaurant first,” co-founder Winston Lord told Skift Table. Venga’s features are often developed from restaurant groups coming to the company and asking for ways to automate what they are already doing manually, like Googling guests to build dining profiles.

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