With so many technology products and services competing for restaurants' scarce time and investment, the best tech is the most invisible.
By Krystle Mobayeni as told to Chris Mohney
Zagat is teaming up with TechTable for the 2020 TechTable Summit on Tuesday, December 15. This one-day live virtual event will feature discussions with a blockbuster roster of restaurant industry influencers and hospitality leaders. Get your tickets here.
In advance of this year’s TechTable Summit, Zagat Stories presents selected interviews with TechTable alumni speakers. Krystle Mobayeni is co-founder and CEO of BentoBox, a website, e-commerce, and marketing platform for restaurants. See her previous talk at TechTable.
In some ways, I think that BentoBox was built for this moment. We really focus on and celebrate a restaurant’s digital property. When the brick-and-mortar properties were shut down and the digital properties became their only way they could communicate with customers, and the only way they could deliver their hospitality experience, we needed to make sure that we were there and doing what we have always done to support more and more restaurants.
We’ve always started with restaurants’ websites, and everything else has been add-on products. When the pandemic hit, we had just introduced our online ordering product as an add-on to the website. Within a matter of five days, we had spun out the online ordering product to be its own unique offering that you could buy without a website. That was really critical so that we could support not only our own customers, but also other restaurants that needed to get up and running with online ordering very quickly. It was literally from a Monday to a Friday that our product engineering team was able to detach it from the rest of BentoBox.
When I talk about us being built for this moment, we already have all these restaurants’ menus online. We quickly gave the restaurants a way to download a QR code from the backend of BentoBox that linked to this menu that we were already powering. Spinning out from online ordering is the ability to order tableside as well, which we put together back in July, and we launched it when the reopenings started happening.
It’s been really interesting to see how creative restaurants have gotten. From using our platform to sell tickets for pasta-making classes, or selling gift cards with significant discounts for when the restaurant could open up again. We’ve done a lot to aggregate all of these different ways that restaurants are being creative, and given that information back to our wider community.
Restaurant owners don’t start a business to become technologists. Now with the number of different fragmented tools and systems that they have been forced to use, it’s become a necessity. It’s not realistic to think they’re going to be managing a dozen different products and services in their “tech stack.” That’s startup lingo—that’s not for a restaurant.
If you think about all of these platforms as standalone businesses, they’re all pretty small. When you put them together in one system, it’s a much more powerful offering. You sell gift cards that can be used for online ordering. You can see when someone ordered. You can send an automated email campaign from BentoBox inviting them with a promo code to order again. And when people are doing events again, you can send them a note to have their birthday party at the restaurant. Being able to give restaurants this holistic view, and the tools to market with the same level of sophistication that tech startup marketplaces are doing—it becomes really powerful.
By offering these more independent products, you’re able to reach more restaurants and serve more restaurants’ needs. How we differentiate ourselves is that there’s actually value in using more BentoBox products. It’s not about being forced to use them in any way. The trend is that product offerings become more valuable, so that the restaurant has a choice, and they’re able to pick the most competitive products that best fit their needs.
We want to keep helping restaurants actually own and drive their own demand. They have to rely on marketplaces so much because those drive some demand, but we all know that the economics are not sustainable. So for us, it’s not enough to just offer online ordering. It’s how do we actually help the restaurants get more diners to use online ordering? How do we help them become smart marketers in an automated way, where they don’t even think about it? They don’t have these giant marketing teams.
We’re thinking about different ways to do smart loyalty programs, or email campaigns, or other ways that restaurants can make their diners purchase direct, and remain top of mind, and build a real relationship. When you order from a restaurant through a marketplace, your relationship is with those platforms. The relationship is not with the restaurant. That’s not hospitality.
As dine-in hopefully starts coming back in the next 12 months, how do we provide restaurants with tools that are used on-premises, so they can start connecting the online to the offline? That’s always been very hard to do in the restaurant industry—understanding how your activities online are affecting who walks in the door, and who purchases what. You have all that information once someone makes an online purchase, but not when they do a swipe of a credit card. If you can do both, it becomes really powerful. It helps restaurants deliver better hospitality.
My advice to restaurants is to adopt technology that doesn’t replace your guest experience, it just facilitates that experience. Good technology should be the kind that you spend the least time with. It helps you fulfill an order as quickly as possible, to talk to your guests as quickly as possible, or gives you the insight to know that this person is a repeat diner so you can acknowledge it like, “Thanks for coming back.” Technology should not create more work for you. If it is, then it’s probably not the right technology.