It is getting more crowded at the table for apps used to pay restaurant checks via mobile devices, but New York-based Reserve believes it provides a broader range of services than its rivals.
I met up with Reserve’s CEO Greg Hong (pictured above) on Friday before he spoke at the tail end of the Techweek New York conference. Hong sees his company’s app as a concierge that helps people discover places to dine out, not just a way to quickly pay for a check and go. “At its core, Reserve helps you find a great restaurant, makes it easy to book a table, and handles payment automatically at the end of the meal,” he says.
Reserve’s app went live in October 2014, Hong says, after about one year of development. He says the app can be part of the whole dining experience. When someone starts looking for places to eat, whether on the fly or planning in advance, Reserve suggests places nearby (or in a location they plan to be) based on their tastes. It can also offer alternatives if the first choice is unavailable.
The person who booked the reservation through the app can automatically pay for the meal themselves or send invites to the others they dined with to download the app to divide the check among them. Users can also set what percentage tip they want to include with the payment.
There is definitely a growing line of mobile payment apps for dining and drinks, all trying to get into people’s smartphones—and some consolidation is already underway. In September, New York-based Cover, whose app lets friends pay and split checks for dinner, was acquired by London’s Velocity. HouseTab, also based in New York, lets users order and pay for drinks for themselves or friends, even if they are not in the same bar. Austin, TX-based TabbedOut is another player with an app for paying for meals. Even Priceline-owned OpenTable, based in San Francisco, offers mobile payments for dining out through its app.
Though the competition is pretty thick already, Hong believes Reserve brings a bit more to the table. “Some of the other services out there focus on one or two features,” he says. “From my perspective, they’re features, not a product.”
He also says some providers that restaurants work with for booking tables may charge 25 cents to $1, or even more, to seat each guest—while restaurants typically see just three to five percent in margins overall. “That’s a hard call for restaurants when they are, in some cases, paying to seat their regulars again and again and again,” he says. Reserve does not charge restaurants to use the technology, but rather charges a $5 fee per reservation to users. Payments for the meals are processed through Stripe, Hong says.
Prior to co-founding Reserve, Hong owned and consulted for a variety of small businesses, as well as worked in the finance and digital advertising industries.
Reserve has raised $17.3 million so far from investors that include Expa, Uber co-founder Garrett Camp’s startup studio; Human Ventures; Lowercase Capital; First Round; Sherpa Capital; and Hollywood stars Jared Leto and Jon Favreau.
Hong says Reserve is spreading its reach, and can already be used in some 350 restaurants across New York, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angles, Chicago, and Philadelphia. “We will soon be launching in our seventh city, Washington, DC,” he says. That launch is expected in the next few weeks; the exact date has yet to be determined, Hong says.