June 21, 2016
Extending the hospitality experience beyond just the meal
Some thoughts from Krystle Mobayeni, Co-founder & CEO
We all know what it’s like to walk into a restaurant or sit down at a bar and feel that magical sense of just...being in the right place. There is an effortless anticipation-of-needs and attention to detail that is so perfect, it’s often missed. This is hospitality. Online, though, restaurants haven’t really figured out how to make hospitality come to life.
As guests, we see and complain about painful restaurant website experiences with missing information, clunky mobile experiences, unnecessary PDFs, and more. Basically, lacking that anticipation-of-needs, which is at the core of hospitality. It's also all the little details that would fit seamlessly into your experience if you paused to think about it. Things like updates so you know your favorite weekday dinner spot now does brunch. Or being able to text to ask if the kitchen is still open. Or the ability to book your 15-person team dinner without putting your credit card on a PDF and scanning it.
It’s easy to forget in the middle of an amazing dining experience that running a restaurant is extremely tough. The idea that restaurant owners could know how to shape the internet to reflect their unique vision of hospitality in the digital world isn’t very realistic. At least I don’t think so.
Why should that special first moment at the table or bar be so different from the first encounter online? At BentoBox we don’t believe it should be. We support restaurants in treating their guests online with the same ethos of unwavering hospitality with which they treat each guest in-person.
The backstory: A few years ago, I began working on websites for a couple of well-known restaurants in New York. It quickly became obvious to me that these restaurants, like many others, were trying to figure out how to use technology to get closer to their guests - but there was nothing out there that was truly helping them do this.
I started digging deeper and found an underlying theme. Every restaurant owner and manager that I spoke with wanted to give their guests a good experience online - but they just couldn’t find a solution simple enough, comprehensive enough, or guest-focused enough to match their standards of hospitality, despite the dozens of products they were pitched weekly. I sensed a lot of frustration.
So my team and I set out to tackle this. We wanted to bring to life - through technology - the spirit of warmth, generosity and humanness that restaurants bring to hundreds of millions of people every day around the world. By helping restaurants do this, we would ultimately help them grow their business and succeed.
Our work started with mobile-first, easy-to-update websites. If you think about it, this has become the only place online that restaurants have total control of their brand and their business. From there, our platform quickly expanded into a connected suite of digital tools for restaurants: from private events to e-commerce to menu management to gift cards. We didn’t start building BentoBox to “replace OpenTable” or to “solve mobile payments” (which some venture capitalists may have liked better!); we built it to help restaurant owners realize their visions more fully.
The more time I’ve spent building technology to bring hospitality online, the more I’ve thought about why this is the problem I chose to solve. It was personal. So many of my best conversations, most memorable experiences, and fullest moments have occurred in restaurants. And even further back, I grew up in a Persian home where hospitality came before everything else. Even now, when my fiance and I visit my parents in Maryland after a long week of work - we might arrive at 1 a.m. on a Friday night and my mother will still have a hot lamb shank - and nine other dishes - waiting for us on the table (and every time I think to myself: this woman needs a website!). Everyone from a family where hospitality comes first knows what I mean.
And so do all the restaurant owners and operators in the world. Working closely over the past few years with some of the most accomplished restaurateurs in the world, as well as family businesses who know the names of all their regulars, a single thread has woven through nearly every conversation: hospitality first, offline and online.
Hospitality isn’t easy. It can be a brutal business. Long hours, low margins, and little thanks. And yet, it’s at the root of what is good in culture. So, I believe in doing what it takes to help this important value stay strong - and even blossom - in these digital times. Hospitality first, always.
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