Ben Leventhal, one of the founders of Resy Network, Inc., says restaurant technology hasn't evolved quickly enough and when he started his company in 2014 with CrowdTwist co-founder Michael Montero and social-media star Gary Vaynerchuk, it was to fill a need that wasn't being met.
Now Leventhal, who co-founded the wildly popular food blog Eater, is in Austin to celebrate the official launch of the "Resy" app here. Austin joins about 40 other cities where the app is active, allowing diners to reserve seats at a curated set of restaurants.
The iOS and Android mobile app, he says, won't ever have garish promotions or blaring banner ads. The business model isn't advertising or data collection, it's selling itself as a service for restaurants to better manage their dining rooms and provide a better customer experience, he says.
In an interview with 512tech, Leventhal explains how "Resy" has been evolving and what customers who use the app to grab a spot at local spots such as Olamaie, Ah Sing Den or Juliet Ristorante can expect.
(This interview has been edited for clarity and length.)
512tech: How did the company start?
Ben Leventhal: We started because we wanted to create something that we felt didn’t exist, which was an incredibly simple, straightforward two-tap solution to booking the best restaurants in the country. I think you’ve seen for a long period of time there’s been some deterioration in the technology in restaurants. Some of the things as a consumer you’ve come to expect from apps and technology you really don't get with the restaurant technology experience before Resy.
I spent a lot of time with restaurants and with people in the industry and I think I’ve come to understand what the challenges are and what the opportunities are. The opportunity as we see it for Resy is to build a world-class piece of software that truly services both the consumer and the restaurant. For the consumer that means incredibly easy communication with the restaurant, it means good group-planning tools, a curated list of restaurants. When you open the Resy app you should see 20 or 30 or 40 restaurants and you should have confidence in knowing that they’re all great. There’s only good choices among them. As a consumer, that is a profound shift from other services that are discovery portals.
How are the restaurants curated?
We literally think about every restaurants and figure out, "Is it appropriate for the app?" Some of it is our editorial instinct. Over time, it becomes about the technology and us being able to take signals in and deliver a good set of restaurants for you. We're gonna come to understand who you are as a diner and what you like and continue to put things in front of you we think you’ll enjoy.
How big is the company?
We’re at 25 (employees). Most are in New York, some folks around the country. We have one person covering several markets in Texas who's here several times a month.
What technologies in the restaurant industry are breaking down?
The legacy services, if you will, they’re very clunky, they’re siloed, they’re hardware solutions versus software. OpenTable, it’s 20-plus years old, it’s a terminal, it’s hardware, it’s not cloud-based, it doesn't do simple things like integrate customer records across multiple restaurants. It doesn’t facilitate some of the logical communication between guests and restaurants like text messaging if you're running late. Overall,it’s just a dated piece of software. We haven’t really seen a lot of innovation in the space for whatever reason. In the last few years, the shortcomings of the legacy systems have come to light. Companies like Resy are focused on these opportunities and focused on making this technology better.
We also really want to operate in lockstep with the restaurants. We very much see the restaurants as our partners. We’re listening very closely when it comes to understanding features that they feel they need to run their business. We have a willingness to engage with restaurants and understand pain points and solve for them. The nature of that relationship where it’s about partnership has largely been missing from this space for a long time. We say that Resy is built by restaurants for restaurants.
Is Resy primarily for fine dining?
It’s definitely sit-down restaurants. That’s our sweet spot. Taco stands don’t need reservation software. We definitely want every great restaurant in the city to be on the app.
If I own a restaurant, what's the process to get on Resy?
We have a restaurant-side app. Resy OS is the software that runs the restaurant. This works across any iOS device. We’ve been working on an extension for the (Apple) Watch. As opposed to a system that’s based on hardware terminals and physical locations of the product, this is in the cloud and it’s anywhere that you are. We work with the restaurant, we set up the floor plan. The back-end system covers inventory and reservations and it manages wait lists and guest communications and the guest database. It takes a week or two, then they’re up and running. It becomes the software that they use to run the restaurant, everything in the dining room.
We have a mobile payments product, but in terms of those traditional point-of-sale roles and menu item inventory, that’s not what we do. It’s a software-as-a-service business. We charge the restaurants for that software. You'll never see (ads and promotions for diners) in the app.
Are there particular cities where this has really taken off?
New York is our oldest city. Certainly we have a ton of traction in New York. We just launched in Seattle, which we’re very excited about. We’re very excited about this market. I think Austin is a tremendous food city. We launched Charleston this year, which I think is a really great food city. We’re taking off in cities that have great restaurants. Restaurant culture has become so much a part of the entertainment experience.
How does Resy benefit restaurants?
The restaurant business model is evolving. That we know for certain. The cost of real estate is going up, the cost of labor is going up. There’s shrinking margins. The restaurant, existentially, at this moment is thinking "If I want to continue running this restaurant profitably, what do I have to do to change my business model?" One is a software like Resy which has a different pricing structure and sets up a different relationship between restaurant and consumer. Ultimately, one we believe is much more profitable. Resy encourages regulars, it encourages repeat business. It encourages people to come through the front door who are gonna be long-term, great customers. We’re not charging per cover, we’re charging a flat fee. It’s much more cost-effective, we think it sets up consumer-side longevity.
Are there things about Austin's restaurant scene that are unique that you're seeing?
I think we probably are still discovering that, to be honest with you. I think we’ll probably discover some of the nuances of the market as we go.
In different markets we’ve seen for example in San Francisco there’s a really pronounced concierge culture. Those relationships are important to those restaurants. We’ve spent some time working on features around that idea to address that need. In Los Angeles, where there are many talent agencies and you have a culture of assistants at scale making reservations for their customers and clients, restaurants need a system of managing agents and assistants. It’s something we’ve worked on there.
Austin does have a culture of all these events that are in town, like South by Southwest and ACL Fest.
Is that something Resy would work on, such as festival seating, pop-up restaurants and events?
We do ticketing as well. It’s a fully functioning system in that we have ticketing, we have reservations. You can charge a cancellation fee or require a deposit. It is suited for different restaurants and formats, for sure. We’re looking forward to getting into some of that.