It's funny how small ideas can turn into entirely new businesses. Such is the case with the new restaurant service Reserve. Reserve aims to make dining a better experience through the use of a digital concierge. Reserve partners with top-tier restaurants to make the entire process seamless. Everything happens through your phone - recommendations, reservations, feedback, and even payment through a credit card on file. All this comes at a cost of a $5 flat fee per reservation. Obviously online reservations are nothing new, but Reserve supposedly distinguished itself by offering actual people to assist with reservations. So while an automated app like OpenTable might now show any reservations, Reserve might be able to get something last minute due to a cancellation or alternative seating (e.g. at the bar).
Since I had a code for a $20 credit, I decided it was worth a try. Incidentally, I wasn't sure if that credit could be used for food too and I'm happy to report that it can, although from a business point of view, it might have been wiser to restrict it to the concierge fee only so that I would use the service multiple times. First step was to make reservations using the app on my android phone. So I opened up the app, selected my general location and time desired for reservations and the app displayed a list of potential restaurants, complete with background pictures showcasing each one.
This is the first point that the Reserve app showed it limitations. There were no reviews or ratings of the restaurants, something that is now integral to me choosing a place for an evening date. Now, Reserve will state that they only offer the best restaurants, with "carefully curated recommendations", but this didn't stop me from using a laptop on the side to cross check recommendations with Yelp and TripAdvisor. Interestingly, the Reserve experience includes the option to review the restaurant right in the app, but it appears to be private feedback only. Quite a different style than that of many other services. To Reserve's credit though, every recommendation I viewed had at least a 4-star Yelp rating.
Every recommendation I viewed had at least a 4-star Yelp rating
I also found no way to filter the list of recommendations, which was at least a few dozen long. Specifically, I wanted to filter by type of food and distance. Los Angeles is a big place, and it became a chore to click on each one and find out the distance. I will point out that there was an option to view a map, but this still isn't as useful as a list filter.
Nevertheless, I found a restaurant nearby and asked for a reservation between 5 and 6 o'clock. Several minutes later, I received a text from a real person at Reserve letting me know that I would need to choose another place since the that restaurant was having a special event that day. Ok, no problem. I went into the app an updated the reservation with another selection. Minutes later I got a text confirming the reservation at my new choice - Dia De Campo in Hermosa Beach. I very much appreciated the personal service.
A few hours later, we showed up at the restaurant. We were greeted like any other night out and sat down immediately. Likewise, the rest of the meal was like any other (except the food was outstanding - I highly recommend it) As we neared the end of our meal, there was a slightly awkward exchange when the waitress asked if we were ready for the check and I responded with something that sounded a lot snobbier than I intended like, "the card should be on file". She paused for a few moments and then it hit her, "Oh, are you doing that Reserve thing?" Uh, yeah, I am. A few minutes later the waitress returned with a final receipt and we were out. The tip is predetermined when you place the reservation.
In the end, I have mixed feelings about Reserve. I really want to like it, because I appreciate a top-notch experience all the way around. That being said, it offered a lot of nice features, but really only one feature that I can't find elsewhere - the payment on file. And honestly, I do really like not having to mess with paying at the end of the meal. It always seems to take forever to receive the bill, pass a credit card, and wait again for the waitress to pickup again. But unfortunately, that was the only thing that somewhat flopped, as the waitress wasn't even aware that I was a Reserve user. Now, that's the fault of the restaurant and not Reserve. But in many ways, that doesn't matter to the user and that represents the risky situation Reserve has committed to - their service is only as good as the restaurants make it. And Reserve doesn't appear to have much control over that - other than obviously choosing with whom to partner.
Here are a few recommendations for Reserve:
- Add Features. If you want to be a one stop shop for a total experience, I shouldn't have to switch to other apps to find locations, reviews, etc.
- Tip. I would really like the option to adjust the tip after the meal, since here in the States the tip is dependent on the level of service.
- Stronger Partnership. Restaurants really need to buy into this elevated experience - Reserve can't do it all on its own. Find ways to incentivize places to offer a Reserve experience.
The market for a seamless concierge restaurant experience is a niche one, but one that I know plenty of people will happily part with for $5. Reserve might not be at that seamless level yet, but hopefully as it grows, it can continue to separate itself from the pack. You can decide for yourself if Reserve is worth it with this $20 credit: EK6KEW