It goes without saying that Boston is full of great restaurants. In the North End, you can grab an authentic Italian slice of pizza or you can head to Davis Square for some sushi.
However, despite the incredible selection of places to grab a bite, and a large population of foodies, some restaurants in major cities, Boston included, have trouble retaining frequent customers. Former investment banker and first-time entrepreneur Brice Gumpel had a chance to look into this part of the restaurant market while living in New York City.
“I ran a food blog with my girlfriend called ‘Olive the Noms.’ It started out as a passion project, but it soon became popular enough where I was invited to all these events across New York City involving food,” Gumpel said. “One thing I would always ask the restaurateurs what brings customers back, and I was surprised at some of the answers.”
Gumpel found that the national full occupancy rate is 36%, and most restaurants will close their doors or get sold off within three years. Gumpel started to brainstorm an idea for restaurants to keep attendees coming. In late 2015, Gumpel met Harvard University graduate Atallah Atallah and they began working out of the Harvard i-lab to start creating and developing a retention platform for local restaurants.
“Restaurants have been disrupted before, but one thing that has yet to be solved is retaining customers,” Gumpel said. “We wanted to create an app that brings the customers to restaurants. Rich or poor, users want a better experience for a better price.”
Gumpel and Atallah’s startup Seated allows users to book reservations at a certain time. Scrolling through the app, users can sort restaurants by type of cuisine and location in the city. The company has found that newer restaurants are eager to sign-up because it allows for a direct marketing to the consumers.
“Pasta Beach in Rowes Wharf is one of our customers, and when we first started talking to them, they told us their demographic was mostly older men coming to lunch from their office jobs,” Gumpel said. “When they signed up with Seated, they found newer and younger customers were coming in based on what they saw on the app.”
Currently, the company’s app is in 15 cities across the United States, with over 1,000 different restaurants. The app also offers an incentive for users; after booking a restaurant, within 24 hours they will receive a gift card from either Starbucks, Amazon, or Uber.
“It was not hard to partner with the companies who are giving out gift cards since those companies tend to have products and services that can be put to use,” Gumpel said. “It’s a win-win: restaurants will fill tables and users will feel compelled to keep going out.”
When the app was being developed, the two founders wanted to create a UI that both users and restaurants wouldn’t have trouble with. Gumpel got in contact with Rhode Island School of Design graduate Emily Law, who later became Seated’s Creative Director.
“We wanted to have a clean and modern design, that also had a focus on restaurants’ brands,” Law said. “We wanted to implement user-generated content as well, including restaurant reviews and pictures of the food. For some of the restaurants, we went inside to take the pictures ourselves.”
Now, the company had a vision and a product and it was time to give it a trial run. They had a choice between Boston and New York and settled on the Hub.
“Boston was a great choice for us because a lot of restaurants are old school and are in need of technological disruption,” Law said. “It’s also easy to target with so many demographics, especially with college students.”
Seated found a lot of success with Boston area restaurants, with some statistics showing certain restaurants with a 97% retention rate. The ability to book at any time had the company to modify the way users can choose reservations.
“Mei Mei had an influx of Seated customers, so much where they needed to set time limits for when users can book reservations,” Law said.
“So, we decided to feature times when restaurants were below 70% capacity,” Gumpel added. “This way, restaurants don’t feel overwhelmed with an influx of customers.”
Mei Mei is one of Seated’s many success stories in the Boston area, as their continued partnership has resulted in steady customer flow for the Asian fusion restaurant.
Recently, Seated has created more features for the app, including limits for how many bookings a user can make during a week and by showing what peak times are for restaurants. This allows Seated’s clients to gain more of an insight with their customers.
Finding a restaurant can be hard with so many choices, but it doesn’t have to be. Seated will point users to their new restaurant-of-choice, but also offer something else in return.
“We want to direct you to your favorite restaurant,” Gumpel says. “Restaurants have all this unused inventory, we’re helping them keeping that space full.”