Here’s How Reserve Plans to Make the Dinner Bill Disappear

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We’ve become used to the ability to make restaurant reservations with the click of a mouse or the tap of a screen, but what if the service didn’t stop there? What if it was extended to ensuring that every aspect of your dining experience was just as smooth and simple as making the reservation?

Enter Reserve, a mobile app that bills itself as a digital “personal dining concierge.” Launched last October and live in several cities, Reserve offers a wide-ranging service that provides a new perspective on what making a reservation means. Greg Hong, Reserve’s co-founder and CEO (who will be joining us as a speaker at Street Fight Summit West), spoke with Street Fight about the company and the ever-shifting landscape of the restaurant industry.

There’s been a big resurgence in technology affecting the restaurant industry, particularly regarding consumer experience. What do you think is driving this change?
Mobile in and of itself has made a huge difference. The amount of technology that people have on their phones alone allows us to do things that [earlier] would have been impossible. You look on the restaurant side, and the are able to, with a few taps of a button on an iPad, interact with our diners. I think that the level of technology being where it is, and how much it’s evolved, has allowed us to deliver a service that wouldn’t have been possible five or  ten years ago.

What role can a company like Reserve have in marketing?
At the core for us, it’s fundamentally about connecting diners and restaurants. Innately some [marketing] happens, but the focus for us is more along the lines of: “How do we make sure that diners have a tool and restaurants have a tool where the two of them can interact through an app at a really high level?” Imagine if you’re going downstairs to your hotel concierge, they’re going to have a dialogue with you back and forth about ultimately getting you seated and accommodated, and it’s going to be really thoughtfully done.

We’re hoping to emulate that same experience through the app itself. That’s our goal. I think there’s an inherent, built-in level of marketing there — internal marketing, if you will. But part of that is just being about helping our restaurant partners deliver hospitality at the highest possible level.

OpenTable has built a big business managing restaurant reservations for years. What does the presence of a company like Reserve do in terms of changing the concept of making reservations?
Thinking of recommendations and actually helping people figure out where to go is part of what we’re offering. Again, it comes down to what you would experience if you went downstairs to talk to your concierge at a hotel. They’ll take care of you. We’re doing a lot of that for you. Having to go to a lot of different review sites, having to go to different online booking portals, picking up the phone to call your friends… in a lot of cases, you end up going in circles.

We’re taking quite a bit of that legwork out of the experience for you to give you a more thoughtful recommendation, to give you an alternate seating time or seating type, all of the same dialogue you would get if you were to call the restaurant yourself. It’s about doing this in a manner where it’s almost invisible. Doing it really elegantly in partnership with the restaurant in the right way makes all the difference for us. Every step of the way, we’re looking at all of the interactions between a diner and a restaurant, saying, “Where can we improve?”

Is it hard to develop a strategy that is built on being across the entire stack, rather than just focusing on a single element like payments or reservations?
That was something fundamental to the inception of what we were building — when I sat down with my co-founder and we started talking about what Reserve should be, that’s what we were after. I mentioned earlier, this concept of taking care of people at every interaction point along the way — that’s really where we’ve tried to focus. In cases where we do it thoughtfully, we can only end up acting like a concierge. Part of that means we’re going to take that and extend it to cover the entire experience.

Looking ahead, how do you see companies like Reserve continuing to innovate the restaurant industry?
A lot of that comes back to, how do we take things that people are already doing in real life and emulate them through technology? These experiences that people have when they’re interacting with restaurants, we want to make them as seamless as possible, but as personable as possible in the process. I think if it becomes transactional, you lose the hospitality end of the experience, and we want to make sure we’re aware of that. Our focus is on encouraging that human interaction and strengthening the relationship between our restaurant partners and our diners.

Annie Melton is a contributor to Street Fight.

Greg Hong will be a speaker at Street Fight Summit West in San Francisco on June 2nd. More info and buy tickets here.