Anyone that’s booked a reservation from a phone or a computer is probably using OpenTable without even realizing it. Built as a backend used by restaurants and third-party applications, OpenTable handles the technical details of booking a reservation. Near-ubiquitous despite preferring to remain in the background, OpenTable has reached the point in its business where early employees start to leave and shake things up at another company.
That’s what John Martin, former Director of Sales at OpenTable, has done with his move to E La Carte. Founded in 2009 and backed by Y Combinator, E La Carte was founded by a group of MIT engineers to improve the billing experience at restaurants. The company’s Presto tablets, which are designed to help users order their food or split the check, are shipping in a larger number of restaurants than ever before and E La Carte was looking to hire someone with experience in the restaurant business. At the same time Martin was looking to start or join something new, so he and fellow OpenTable-r Scott McCarthy joined as VP of Sales and VP of Operations, respectively.
While moving from one restaurant-focused technology company to another might not qualify as “new” to most, OpenTable and E La Carte differ in their approach to the dining experience. OpenTable operates as a platform to get customers into a restaurant; once that’s been accomplished the company has fulfilled its end of the bargain. E La Carte, on the other hand, centers on the experience inside the restaurant. If OpenTable (through one of its numerous partners) handles the chair, E La Carte handles the table, menu, and cash register.
During our call, Martin said that he believes E La Carte can grow even larger than the company that he left, citing a market that is “at least twice, if not three to five times the size, of OpenTable’s.” Where OpenTable revolves around a dining experience that may require a reservation, E La Carte’s Presto tablets can be used everywhere from chain restaurants and small businesses all the way up to high-end establishments.
E La Carte CEO Rajat Suri echoed the sentiment, saying that the company designed its Presto tablet to be available to as many restaurants as possible. E La Carte was built after Suri and his friends – all MIT students – couldn’t figure out how to split the check at a local restaurant. The joke “How many kids from MIT does it take to split a check?” led to E La Carte’s founding and “numerous” trips to China to get the Presto tablet produced.
Now, the problem with bringing a new solution to restaurants isn’t the restaurant itself; it’s the restaurant’s patrons. Suri says that the iPad hasn’t been popular in restaurants because patrons sometimes actually steal the iPad that they were using. The Presto tablet is designed not only to stay at the table but is also cheaper than the iPad, so if someone does decide to grab one, the replacement cost will be much lower than the iPad’s $499 starting price.
Besides splitting the check, Presto has been designed from beginning to end to become a part of the restaurant experience. Users can order directly from the tablet, which the company says leads to a 10 percent increase in sales and increases the “up-sell.” (You know how servers will ask if you want a side dish or want to add bacon to your already heart attack-inducing burger for just 30 cents more? That’s an up-sell.)
This is a strong product that appeals to restaurants for its money-making prowess and to customers for the time it saves at the table as well as taking the bill-splitting process and making it simpler. An experienced salesperson who has worked in the restaurant business for 24 years (12 of which were at OpenTable) can help E La Carte leverage its existing products and make a trip to the restaurant easier than ever before.
I’ll eat to that.