NoWait, a mobile waitlisting management service based in Pittsburgh, is announcing today it has closed on a $2 million Series A round of funding led by Birchmere Ventures. Sand Hill Angels and previous investors also participated in the round. The idea to digitize waitlisting is not a new one, and it’s becoming an increasingly crowded market. But in NoWait’s case, it’s a combination of old school mobile support (SMS text messaging) and modern flair (an iOS software application that runs on iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad).
When customers enter a restaurant, they give the host or hostess their name and cell number, which is then entered into the iPad app. The customer then receives a text message with the wait time until their table is ready. Smartphone owners can also click a link that gives them info about their place in line, too.
This is similar to what the NoshList app from Firespotter Labs does, for example, although that company was working to make SMS communication 2-way between customers and restaurants when we last spoke to them in May. (Update: NoWait already has this). And speaking of competition, you can’t ignore the giant in the restaurant customer management space: OpenTable’s ERB. Plus, there are others like Livebookings, Timeview, Tableista, DinerConnection, WaitList Manager, TurnStar, Table’s Ready, and BuzzTable to name just a few.
According to Birchmere’s Sean Ammirati, the exciting thing about what NoWait does is not just that it’s replacing the traditional pen and paper or hockey puck buzzer system, but that it also provides more data to the business owners. “From the owners’ perspective this provided much better analytics into how their business was running even when they weren’t in the restaurant,” he says, adding that it was also much less expensive than pagers. Staff like it too, because it’s easier to use an app than the pager system, says Ammirati.
But NoWait CEO Robb Myer explains that’s it’s not just ease-of-use at play. After all, to varying degrees, all the competition offers that advantage over buzzers (at least if you prefer to work with apps). “What surprises me the most is how much restaurants really dislike the buzzers,” he says. “They hate them. They resent having to shell out money every month when they get lost, stolen, or just crap out. The buzzer companies are jockeying each other to make better buzzers. NoWait is completely changing the game,” Myer says.
But given that there are a lot of waitlisting apps on the market now, as noted above, Ammirati said that his firm chose to invest in NoWait after talking to its customers who had compared its system with others and then chose NoWait because they felt it was more mature and feature-rich than some of the competition.
Current NoWait customers include some big-name brands including Texas Roadhouse, Red Robin and TGI Friday’s, and, with the new funding, the plan is to expand its lineup further. NoWait says it has seated over 4 million diners in 45 U.S. states, Canada and Puerto Rico.