You have probably been part of this scenario: You want a restaurant reservation but without the hassle of calling around to find a table. And besides, you’re not even sure where you would like to go. For Hub diners, there is about to be another app for that.
Reserve, a New York-based restaurant reservations application built for iOS operating systems (iPhones and iPads), launched on Oct. 28 in Boston, New York, and Los Angeles. The company has satellite teams at its launch cities, and in San Francisco, where it is looking to expand. CEO Greg Hong, who is based in New York, calls Reserve a “digital concierge service.” He and cofounder Joe Marchese, also in New York, are hoping for the app to make “every part of the dining experience better.”
The mobile platform instructs users to give the number of people in the party along with a date and time (or time range) they’re looking for. Then a list of options in their city pops up, culled from Reserve’s restaurant partners. Users receive text message updates as reservations are facilitated on their behalf.
The new app has incorporated elements of service designed to set them apart from competitors such as OpenTable (which offers a comparable function). In Reserve, users create a profile within the app that allows them to upload a photograph, which is passed to the restaurant so diners are greeted by name. Reserve is free to the restaurant community; the diner pays a $5 fee at the end of each reservation. OpenTable does not charge customers, but restaurants pay $199 a month.
Reserve stores diners’ credit card information and tipping preferences so it can settle the check. Diners need only grab their doggie bags at the end of the meal. As director of content and communications Nadja Blagojevic puts it, “Never end a meal doing math again.” OpenTable too is now offering an auto-pay option, but only in New York, San Francisco, and Washington. It has partnered with Apple’s new Apple Pay to give
iPhone 6 users the option to pay with their devices.
Boston ended up on the short list of launch cities because of what Hong calls its “unique food culture.” Reserve acquired the Boston-based startup SoonSpoon in August, and hired one of its founders, Travis Lowry, as restaurant operations manager for the Hub. SoonSpoon was a similarly conceived site that worked to get diners last-minute reservations. Lowry says both companies “approached hospitality the same way,” and that made for a “seamless” merger.
In this new role, Lowry can preserve the relationships he built with local restaurants, and is bringing on some establishments that had resisted SoonSpoon, such as Alden & Harlow in Harvard Square. General manager Jen Fields explains that Reserve is a good fit for the restaurant because of its “progressive aspects” and willingness to bring technology into the dining arena.
Reserve has also recruited sibling restaurants Island Creek Oyster Bar and Row 34, because, says their co-owner Shore Gregory, Reserve has the capacity to “increase the level of hospitality we provide guests,” and the system helps restaurants better serve customers.
Ming Tsai is working to develop a chef’s tasting menu at his Boston restaurant, Blue Dragon, which will be available only to diners who make their reservations with the app.
With guidance from Uber cofounder Garrett Camp, Reserve built a team of 30 employees in four cities, with 90 restaurant partners.
But there are still kinks to be worked out. Currently parties of two or more using the app have no option to split their bill between credit cards, though this is something Hong intends to offer. Also the service is not yet accessible to Android users, who do have access to OpenTable.
Besides San Francisco, Reserve’s next launch phase includes Chicago, Washington, and London. For now, its new twist on the old recipe for hospitality can be tested here in Boston.
Bethany Graber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: An earlier version incorrectly referred to Ming Tsai’s Blue Dragon.