The subscription case
Restaurant subscription service Table22's Sam Bernstein on support, software, and the power of a good reputation
Earlier this month, I asked a lot of questions about subscriptions services at restaurants… because I still have a lot of questions about subscriptions at restaurants. In fact, I asked all of you to weigh in, and the results are more optimistic than I expected: A rough two-thirds of respondents were into joining subscription plans from restaurants.
You were not, however, into the idea of joining a wait list in order to join a subscription plan like the 4,000 coffee-lovers currently waiting to be let into the one offered by New York-based Blank Street Coffee. Only a quarter of you said you would. Hard agree here.
Funny enough, the National Restaurant Association says that 63 percent of adults say they’d participate in a meal subscription program from a restaurant — so thank you, Expedite subscribers, for mirroring those results almost exactly, over a year since those official findings were released.
That’s the audience that Sam Bernstein, founder and CEO of nearly four-year-old restaurant subscription startup Table22 is hoping to court. Table22 helps over 500 restaurants and food businesses sell a range of monthly subscriptions — meals, takeout, wine clubs, butcher boxes, cheese selections, and more. And when I say “helps,” I mean “provides technology and software,” but in many cases, direct logistics support, too — Table22 hires and pays the couriers that make deliveries.
Bernstein’s stated goal, he tells me, was to build what he calls “a customer monetization engine for the hospitality industry.”
“That’s a little jargony,” he adds immediately (and correctly), before offering a more palatable translation: “If we could build a model that helps restaurants generate predictable revenue from their best guests and customers — one that helped them meet new use cases in moments in those guests lives, that would be a winning model.” As Bernstein describes it, this is the so-called “customer monetization engine” that’s missing from many restaurants’ tech stacks.
I still have a lot of questions about subscriptions: How do restaurants use them successfully? How might they use them in the future? Will they? And is a small company that supports these subscription services at independent restaurants enough to go up against industry behemoths?
I asked Bernstein these questions and more in a recent interview. Our conversation follows below, and has been lightly edited for length and clarity.