Why Reserve is a compelling new app

18 November 2014

Recently on Product Hunt, I stumbled upon a new app called Reserve. The app is another entrant in the restaurant reservation space, but it does a few more things for the restaurant experience that make me really excited about its future.

The Reservation

At its most basic, Reserve helps you book reservations. There are a couple of nuances, however, that makes Reserve much more than just a souped-up OpenTable.

When you open the app, you're prompted to input some parameters for your reservation: the number of people, the date, and a time range that works for you. Then you're taken to a list of restaurants that could potentially have reservations that fit (might just be whether the restaurant is open, but maybe there are other factors here), from which you choose one. The app then goes off and tries to figure out if it can make a specific reservation at that restaurant in your time range.

If a reservation can be made, great. If not, something interesting happens: Reserve sends you a text telling you that it couldn't make it work, but it suggests a couple of nearby restaurants also on the Reserve platform that might work. This struck me as a clever way to elevate Reserve from merely another reservation-making system to something closer to a concierge.

Moving the interaction off the app into a text message is an interesting choice. This definitely fosters more of a sense of conversation and closeness, and probably has a higher response rate in the event that Reserve needs input back from the user (e.g. whether to take a given reservation or to switch to another suggested restaurant). I wonder if, in the future, the luxury of a concierge that you can speak to over the phone will slowly be replaced (or, better yet, made available for lower prices) by concierge-like services with whom you communicate via text.

It's worth noting here that the restaurant selection currently available on Reserve is pretty strong in terms of quality (not yet in terms of quantity). This not only targets a specific kind of customer, but is a great sign that the Reserve team is playing nicely with the restaurant industry to work out all these partnerships.

The Experience

If a reservation works out, the next big feature that Reserve touts is the automatic payment process. You fill out credit card information on your Reserve profile, so when you're done eating the bill can be directly charged to your card, without the back-and-forth of paying at the restaurant. The tip is included, and can be changed anytime throughout the meal via the app. This comes at a $5 "concierge fee" for Reserve.

This is a clear win-win(-win). The restaurant gets to provide a more seamless experience, and probably gets to turn over its tables slightly faster by reducing the time needed to pay. Perhaps waiters get a slightly higher average tip amount, via psychological hacks like a higher suggested default or psychological distance from the painful choice of picking a tip amount. The customer gets an extra bit of convenience in the form of convenient payment, a feature that customers have become habituated with via other apps like Uber. And finally, Reserve gets some fairly valuable data about consumer spending.

This in itself is not incredibly revolutionary, and, again, is consistent with a trend of worry-free payment flows. What I find potentially interesting is the thought of all transactions in the real world moving towards this kind of payment process. This is not just about being able to use your phone to pay at the cash register - this is about not having to pull out your phone at all. Imagine being able to walk into any kind of physical store selling goods or services, and paying merely by identifying yourself to a sales associate. The store might be able to identify the presence of your phone, and then match up your name to the list of phones in the store. Any amount you owe is then automatically charged to your phone-linked credit card. This kind of shopping experience doesn't feel like it'd be far away.

The Feedback

Another major point that Reserve emphasizes is the ability for users to give feedback to a restaurant after dining there. This is not about feeding into an aggregate review of the restaurant, but rather is about helping the restaurant in a more private way.

Restaurants will like this because the data is coming from someone who is a) a real customer (compare to Yelp) and b) likely a frequent restaurant-goer. The feedback probably comes pretty quickly after the meal, and faster feedback is generally more helpful. The customer will probably like this because the feedback process can be pretty simple (just selecting a certain number of stars, it seems), and it's kind of a cool way to "continue the conversation" with the restaurant, so to speak, for those who are into that kind of thing.

What intrigued me about this feature is that it's a riff on the traditional comment card, but a variation that's tech-facilitated. In addition, I wonder if Reserve will allow restaurants to customize the feedback questions that customers get to see. If so, it would basically turn the customers into something like a focus group, and would allow restaurants to gather very specific, targeted feedback.

So what?

So, Reserve applies technology to help make the entire experience of making a reservation and eating at a restaurant smoother. Part of me is excited about this just because I'm a big foodie, and I'm excited to see such a sleek new app coming in to improve a consumer experience that's centuries old.

However, I do think the "Reserve experience" is one that could have wider implications. As I already suggested, you could pretty easily see Reserve extending into other kinds of brick-and-mortar industries like spas, salons, or even gyms (consider the overlap between Reserve's audience and, say, Soul Cycle's). Then, it might not be crazy to think that the Reserve experience might apply to high-end shopping experiences, ones driven by a single sales associate getting to know an individual shopper well. But, in the short term at least, I imagine Reserve will be busy building up its list of partner restaurants.

The long-term path and implications of Reserve remain to be seen, but in the meantime, kudos to their team for creating a slick new app.

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