Where Does Textaurant Fit Into the Future of Restaurant Tech? Founder Josh Bob Speaks

7/21/11Follow @gthuang

Maybe it’s because I’m hungry, but I’ve been thinking about the future of restaurants lately. Like a lot of people, I eat out far too often, and I have strong feelings about the way the experience should go—the food, the service, the ambience, and so on.

So does Josh Bob. OK, it’s his job (though maybe he’s hungry too). Bob is the founder and CEO of Boston-based Textaurant, a startup that runs a mobile service aimed at taking the hassle out of waiting for a table, and boosting customer loyalty through deals and offers. Using the service, restaurants can send text alerts to customers’ mobile phones telling them their table is almost ready. So Textaurant does away with buzzers and pagers and tries to reduce the workload on the host, while helping the restaurant win over customers who would otherwise leave and not come back.

In case you’re wondering if this causes restaurants to lose out on business from people waiting at the bar, Bob says surveys show more than 40 percent of people will leave (and not even consider going to the bar) if told there is a long wait. That’s the lost business Textaurant is trying to save—and not just by texting them, but also by opening up a channel whereby restaurants can offer special deals and rewards.

The three-person startup is backed by Massachusetts angel investors (and 500 Startups’ Twilio micro-fund) and counts among its dozen or so customers Finale Desserterie & Bakery, Fire + Ice, and Red Robin Gourmet Burgers. It is a finalist in the MassChallenge accelerator program. (You can expect a rebranding and name change along with a new website in the next month, Bob says.)

Textaurant is part of a thriving mini-cluster of food- and restaurant-related startups around Boston that also includes Plummelo, I Am Hungry, Text My Food, Good Eats For Me, and Objective Logistics (see profile here). To some extent, the technologies offered by these companies are a subset of the local-marketing, loyalty, and deals systems that have permeated small-business life as of late. But restaurants have their own quirks and challenges. They are not usually the most eager adopters of new technologies, which can be very polarizing among their managers and staff.

“The restaurant industry has to change,” Bob says. “Anyone who doesn’t use technology will get left behind.”

So here’s his vision of what going to a restaurant will be like five years from now. You’ll decide you want to go to a certain type of restaurant (Italian or Chinese, say) or a particular neighborhood, he says. You’ll use your mobile device to look at Textaurant, which will show you that there are five Italian places nearby, say, and what the wait time is at each of them. You’ll check yourself in at one of the restaurants—with or without setting foot in it—and customize how the table alert will come to you (via text, voice, Twitter, or e-mail). You can also pre-order drinks for the table so they’ll be waiting for you when you sit down.

What’s more, your phone will be connected to your bill so you can accrue loyalty points based on purchases and receive special offers (like a free appetizer at the bar), he says. And on your way out, you’ll pay through your Textaurant account or another mobile system connected to your credit card or payment account.

Groupon, by the way, will have morphed into something else that’s probably unrecognizable today, Bob says. (Presumably along with other daily deal sites.) Not that it’s a bad thing, of course.

“There will always be significant value in helping businesses survive,” he says.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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