Last October, Joe Marchese, founder of the advertising company True [X], was out to dinner with one of his company’s earliest employees, Greg Hong. Both agreed that the entire night, from booking a restaurant to paying the bill, could have been more efficient.
That conversation morphed into the idea for Reserve, a mobile concierge service that is backed and advised by Uber cofounder Garrett Camp and a bunch of early Uber investors like Chris Sacca and First Round Capital.
Reserve, which launched on iOS on Tuesday, is one of Camp’s Expa startups. Expa raised about $US50 million to be a startup boot camp of sorts. Camp’s goal is to churn out three to four blockbuster startup hits per year, like a movie studio. Camp knew Marchese from previous work at Fuse; Marchese pitched Camp on Reserve, and Camp agreed to take it under his wing, although he isn’t technically a cofounder. Marchese is cofounder and executive chairman of the board; Hong is cofounder and CEO.
Reserve partners with 20 to 30 restaurants in New York, Boston, and Los Angeles. Boston is a launch city because Reserve acquired a similar startup there, Soon Spoon, which already had deep restaurant relationships there. The app plans to launch in Washington, D.C., London, and San Francisco shortly.
Members in those cities can enter a few details about their party size and what they would like in a restaurant reservation (Mexican? Thai?), and when they would like to go.
Restaurants, which are given iPads by Reserve with the app preloaded, can see requests and quickly accept or deny them, the same way an Uber driver can quickly decide on a ride request. You can imagine a restaurant having the Reserve app open at the hostess stand, where real-time inventory is managed.
Reserve books a reservation for parties of up to eight people 32 days in advance. It then texts the dinner organiser the details.
As with Uber and OpenTable’s new Pay product, credit-card information is stored on the application, along with tipping percentage preferences. The app will settle the bill for you without you having to ask for the check, and it takes a $US5 flat fee after the reservation is complete.
If a reservation time slot is very popular, Reserve has a bidding feature that lets users offer to pay premium pricing to dine there. It’s kind of like Uber’s surge pricing but for the food industry, and customers can choose how high the surge goes.
Customers will also be charged $US10 per head for cancelling less than four hours in advance and $US25 per head if they no-show.
Currently, Reserve is only available on iOS. It has no feature that will let a booker split a bill with fellow diners, although Hong says that will be built soon. It’s also not clear how this solution is different than Open Table’s app, which similarly lets bills be seamlessly paid on an app and reservations booked on a phone.
Also, because OpenTable doesn’t have an open API to build off of, Reserve is relying on its partnering restaurants to do some leg work when it comes to managing available reservations. They will have to monitor real-time inventory and updates from Reserve simultaneously on different platforms.
Hong says Reserve’s goal is to help restaurants do what they do best: cooking and creating a great customer experience. All the small business aspects of running a restaurant, from booking tables to paying bills, should be handled by light-weight technology like Reserve.
“We want to be a strong partner to our restaurants,” says Hong. “For us, it’s how do we partner with restaurants and deliver exceptional hospitality…We want to make [the dining concierge service] widely available. Reserve is almost like someone holding your hand for everything that isn’t actually going on inside the restaurant.”