Empowering Local Restaurants Online

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In 2011, pretty much every restauranteur knows that their business needs some sort of Web presence. They may just need a functional way to let people know their address and menu, or they may want a more sophisticated marketing outreach, but online is certainly part of the equation. The problem is that most restaurateurs aren’t versed in Web design, and many don’t know exactly what they should be doing online and why.

SinglePlatform is trying to change that. The service, which was recently named one of America’s most promising startups by Bloomberg Businessweek, has created a one-stop-shop for the creation and hosting of dynamic restaurant Web sites. The company provides integrated social media capabilities, and also gives a direct method for participating restaurants to measure the ROI of their investment in the site.

The company’s CEO, Wiley Cerilli, previously worked at SeamlessWeb, where he says he began to realize that even small, local restaurants needed to market themselves online. But when he looked at restaurant Web sites, he noticed that they are often a mishmash of different features and often-outdated information that won’t necessarily result in people actually showing up for dinner.

“Oftentimes they either paid $5,000, $10,000, $20,000 to create a website to some design shop, and it’s out of date because the company won’t update it for free, and they aren’t going to pay them $100 to update it every time,” says Cerilli.  “Or it’s their cousin’s cousin who did it in college and they have a crappy Web site that’s hard to update.”

SinglePlatform’s goal is to simplify the entire process, creating a robust Web presence for a restaurant that leverages all of the latest social media bells and whistles, updates automatically, and ultimately results in more people walking in the door.

“If you’re a restaurant owner, you want to be able to manage your entire web presence,” says Cerilli. “They can log into and they can put in their menus, their photos, their specials, their address, their hours of operation — anything that you need to know about a restaurant — into a platform and it updates their Web site, their mobile Web site, Facebook, Twitter. It updates Foursquare, it updates CitySearch, it updates thousands of sites, MerchantCircle. And we work with data providers like Local Eats, and data providers like FoodSpotting, and menu items like Menuizer and Menu Picks, 600 university websites, thousands of hotel directory sites – so it really just updates their entire Web presence at the click of a button.”

One key aspect of the service is a kind of traceable ROI than any small business owner can appreciate. After the initial setup, SinglePlatform gets its commissions from direct phone calls to the restaurant via a specially dedicated phone number. This way, restaurant owners know exactly how many customers are making reservations as a result of their interaction with the site.

“If you’re a veterinarian, you want to get calls; if you’re a plumber and you want to get calls; whoever it is, you pretty much want to get calls. So, [SinglePlatform] can work for any vertical, but we really want to own the restaurant vertical.” — Wiley Cerilli

Cerilli says that he’s also talked with bigger Web players like Groupon and Foursquare about building their deal platforms into the back end of their sites: “We’re certainly not opposed to it, but we don’t want to be that engine. We don’t want to be the customer-facing engine, we just want to be the platform that everyone wants to integrate with.”

While SinglePlaform is focused on restaurants for the moment, Cerilli says that the platform’s model can be extended to many other types of small businesses: “It can work with any business,” he says. “I mean, if you’re a veterinarian, you want to get calls; if you’re a plumber and you want to get calls; whoever it is, you pretty much want to get calls. So, it can work for any vertical, but we really want to own the restaurant vertical. There are eight million restaurants worldwide and that’s what we want to sort of own over the next couple of years.”

Cerilli says the hardest part of scaling up the model is managing all of the relationships: “You get up to managing hundreds of thousands of relationships, and there’s questions that [customers] have. So, we’re looking at ways to automate that and provide them with online tutorials and things like that. But for right now we’re not really running into any of those issues.”