Food Fight: New App “Reserve” Takes Aim At Priceline’s Open Table

Steven Bertoni
Steven Bertoni Forbes Staff

Reserve, the first company from start-up incubator Expa, just emerged from stealth mode.

The mobile app, founded by Joe Marchese and Greg Hong, aims to control your whole  restaurant experience: from finding a hot spot, to reservations, to paying the check. It’s like–let’s all say it together–Uber for restaurants.

Here’s how it works. You create a profile, add a credit card and decide how much you want to tip. Once that’s all set up you can search restaurants and make reservations. This can already be done on sites like Open Table–but Reserve takes the process one step further. Since all your payment info is on file with Reserve, after the meal you simply get up and walk out. No more waiting for the bill, watching a stranger walk away with your credit card, and figuring out the tip. Unlike Open Table (which is free for the customer) Reserve charges the user $5 per reservation.

The diner gets a simpler experience, the restaurant gets data. Reserves backend gives restaurateurs data like order history, number of visits and average bill size–in short it identifies objectively your best paying customers and how to best serve them. That makes for a revenue tool in the thin-margin world of dining.

Unlike Open Table, which lists available reservations, Reserve is demand based. You make a reservation and app texts you back if there is an opening–or suggestions different times and different places if there’s not. Given this model, and the data Reserve throws off, it’s fair to guess that frequent diners and big spenders will have a better chance at getting a table.

Still in beta, reserve has signed up about 20 restaurants each  in New York, Boston and LA .

Reserve was developed in Expa Studios, an incubator started by Garrett Camp (co-founder of Uber) and Naveen Selvadurai (co-founder of Four Square). Expa investors include Richard Branson, Li Ka-Shing, Meg Whitman, Ram Shriram, Sherpa Ventures and Lerer Ventures. That’s a glitzy and influential group. Reserve will need their firepower if it hopes to battle Open Table (acquired by Priceline for $2.6 billion in June) which has more than 30,000 restaurants in its reservation network. And on the payment side Reserve faces competition from start-ups like Cover and Square plus incumbents like PayPal (and now Applle) all trying to do the same trick. We’ll see who will win a seat at the table.

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