The online reservation wars continue: Today, a new app called Reserve enters the space, bringing with it the promise of "digital concierge service" and access to tables at restaurants in New York City, Los Angeles, and Boston. Reserve will roll out in San Francisco in the next few weeks, and the company is working towards adding DC, Chicago, and London to the list. The app has been in the works for several months, and has an impressive list of entrepreneurs behind it, including founders from Uber and Foursquare.
When the customer arrives to the restaurant, they are promised to "be treated like a regular."
Here's how it works: Customers will select where to dine from Reserve's "curated list" of restaurant partners and give a time window of when they would like to do so. Reserve then secures the reservation at the restaurant, sending updates to the customer along the way. When the customer arrives to the restaurant, they are promised to "be treated like a regular even if it is your first time there." There are no membership fees and the app is free to download.
Reserve also is a mobile payment service. Customers have their payment information and tipping preferences on file with Reserve. No bill is presented at the end of the meal. Instead, the transaction happens through Reserve, which adds a $5 flat fee to the bill, regardless of party size. There's an interesting twist: customers can also offer to pay more than the restaurant's stated menu price, basically incentivizing restaurants to seat them.
CEO and co-founder Greg Hong explains how Reserve works from the restaurant's point of view. Unlike reservation services like OpenTable, Reserve does not cost restaurants any money. Because guests request tables with a time window and because Reserve does not require restaurants to hold tables, Hong says Reserve is "putting restaurants back in control of the dining room." Hong adds that since no tables are being saved, it's up to the restaurant whether they can seat a Reserve customer: "Our diners are not stepping in front of other diners to reserve a table."
"Restaurants generally operate on very slim margins, and we have no interest at all in cutting into them." — Greg Hong, Reserve CEO
Hong also says Reserve helps combat the issue of no-shows. Reserve charges customers who no-show $10-$25, and passes those fees directly to the restaurant. "Restaurant generally operate on very slim margins, and we have no interest at all in cutting into them," says Hong. For customers who are paying more than the stated menu price, Reserve will share that additional revenue with the restaurant. (In beta, only 1—2 percent of customers have used that option, and Hong says it is not the focus of the service.) Restaurants can also offer special perks to Reserve customers, such as a tasting menu only available by booking through the app.
There are several big name restaurants that have already signed up. New York City restaurant partners include Major Food Group — whose restaurants Carbone and ZZ's Clam Bar are available via Reserve — Aldea, ABC Kitchen and ABC Cocina, and M. Wells Steakhouse among others. Participating restaurants in Los Angeles include Bestia, Lucques, Republique, and Rustic Canyon. In Boston, restaurants like Craigie on Main, Alden & Harlow, Oleana, and L'Espalier.
Hong emphasizes that Reserve is more concierge than online reservation system, but the new service will undoubtedly be competing for both customers and restaurant partners with the reservation behemoth OpenTable and its newish last minute table alert system, startups like Resy, which lets customers buy seats in a rev share with restaurants, and even Nick Kokonas' tickets system. Hong says what makes Reserve stand out in a sea of competition is that its "focus is 100% on the dining experience."
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