NoshList, a waitlist app for restaurants created by Firespotter Labs, has helped seat nearly 12 million diners in more than 3,000 restaurants since its launch earlier this year. This certainly reflects the broader trend of mobile app growth.
But despite the staggering growth (and success) of apps now available specifically for the restaurant industry, Firespotter CEO Craig Walker says we're just getting started.
Walker, who has 15-plus years of experience as an entrepreneur including at Google Ventures, said he wanted to do something "next generation" using devices and no cabling, and the restaurant industry provided the perfect opportunity.
"In 2010, I knew I was going to invest in something restaurant-related. I asked a friend who ran a restaurant about his business that day and he showed me this 20-inch-long piece of paper. I couldn't believe it. It just seemed so inefficient considering what's available now," Walker said.
At that time, he adds, about one-third of Americans had a smartphone — a number that has since grown to more than 50 percent.
"The fact that every restaurant isn't running the front of the house on an iPad tells me we're in the first inning on this trend," Walker said.
So, he and his team launched Nosh, which scours the Internet for reviews for consumers so they can see what dishes have received the most favorable responses. Shortly thereafter came NoshList, which manages a restaurant's waitlist to increase seating efficiencies by contacting the customer via SMS on their smartphone. According to Walker, it eliminates the need for paper lists and buzzer systems and also adds credibility.
"For the customer, there is that 'cool factor,' that the restaurant just texted them about their open table. They don't have to wait around the lobby anymore," he said. But there's more — much more — opportunity from the mobile side.
"Mobile is so effective to communicate one on one with your customers. There is so much more you can do, like push promotions or specials, provide better service, and the payment aspect should be big — I have kids; when they're done eating, it's time to hit the road," Walker said.
He admits it will take some time because the industry has some apprehension about new technologies and there isn't a tangible ROI yet. But he also expects mobile to change the restaurant industry more than anything else we've seen.
"Think about it — our experience at restaurants is the same as it was in the 1920s. It's so inefficient. The server asks if you need anything else, then gets your check, then gets your card, then gets your change," Walker said. "Because of mobile, that's all about to change for the operator and customer — the wait, payment, the revenues. There is so much more you can do with it."
Photo provided by philcampbell.
Read more about mobile trends at restaurants.