Welcome to Expedite, a (mostly) weekly newsletter by Kristen Hawley covering what’s important in restaurant technology.
Tock’s newest thing(s)
Maybe the time for a digital concierge service is now? Or… at least later this year.
Tock founder Nick Kokonas proudly revealed his company’s latest feature on Tuesday: Tock Time. It’s a suite of features slated to launch in the second half of the year, act as a kind of digital concierge, offering suggestions, assisting with well-in-advance reservations and also highlighting the more last-minute, I-want-to-book now spots. “Tock Time will be your personal digital assistant working to get you a hard to book table, the winery tour of your dreams, or a last-minute weekend table in your neighborhood,” Kokonas wrote in a Medium post. It’s also a paid feature, with pricing to be announced later.
Among the perks: a wish list targeted toward special occasion dining, especially the sort of destination restaurants that book up far in advance. (A Bloomberg article cites Copenhangen’s Noma as an example, but I’ve lived on that wait list for years, so cross your fingers and throw your darts in the dark!) Separately, an “instant book” feature shows bookings that are available now, or tomorrow, or basically any time in the near future, curated to your own preferences.
Sounds like the company is prioritizing two very different but very common use cases, and that’s good, because all reservations are not created equally. The fact they’re even differentiating between the different ways people interact with restaurants has been a defining feature for Tock, which continues to market itself as a little bit anti-establishment, yet firmly pro-restaurant and pro-diner. Tock the company has long touted its superior technology, which is at the crux of these new product announcements — it needs to be able to tap into real-time availability of some of the world’s most sought-after reservations where patrons are ready to fork over serious amounts of cash in order to enjoy a meal.
Kokonas is known for his outspoken criticism of Tock’s competition, and there’s still plenty of that to go around here. I’ve covered this space for seven years, and I’ll admit that that level of candor makes for easier reporting. It also makes it a little easier to compare apples to apples, and building a product that’s fueled by the deficiencies of the incumbent is how the industry moves forward. Healthy competition raises all boats… or something.
There are some immediate changes in store for Tock users, too: diner preferences and a robust user profile, and a little gamification in the form of preference quizzes and badges. Sure, why not? I loved Foursquare in its heyday.
I’m always intrigued when a company announces new features are coming soon, though. This week, for something completely unrelated, I talked to an operator who was a little disillusioned with restaurant technology. “You hear a lot about road maps,” he said. “Call me when you get there.”
What else is happening?
OpenTable finally released its Premium Tables feature to the masses — it launched as a feature for Capital One cardholders only. Those cardholders will still get the benefit as a perk, but the rest of us have to use our hard-earned points for access to primetime reservations at over 200 restaurants. How many points? 2,000 (!!) — the same amount redeemable for $40 in Kayak hotel credit, $20 in OpenTable dining credit, or a $10 Amazon gift card. Is a coveted reservation really worth that tradeoff? (I’m truly asking… because I’m on the fence. But I also spend a lot of money on Amazon so…)
...We’ll just go with the reservations theme here.
New Orleans-based restaurant critic Brett Martin has a bone to pick with Resy. He mistakenly booked a reservation for the wrong day, and when he immediately tried to change it, he said, the process triggered aun automatic cancellation fee of $25 per guest. His initial response was to decry Resy’s presumed lack of hospitality, but really, it highlights a real challenge of using external systems to gatekeep in-house experiences. In a rare moment of agreement with New York Times critic Pete Wells, I liked his take on Twitter, offering an option of explanation: “(C) the restaurant outsources its first encounter with potential customers to a company that's only tangentially in the hospitality business.” Third-party services are de-facto gatekeepers, no matter how you slice it. Choose wisely.
Expedite is produced by Kristen Hawley, a San Francisco-based journalist with over six years of experience covering the restaurant technology industry. Previous iterations of this content were available via Chefs+Tech and Skift Table. Thanks for reading.
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