Restaurants Flock to Tock’s Reservation Ticketing System

Jun17, 2016

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If you’re looking to score a reservation to Alinea, the Michelin three-starred Lincoln Park restaurant ranked among the top 50 restaurants in the world, you have to be quick. When reservations opened for a table during Alinea’s first two weeks after a recent five-month renovation, tickets sold out in two minutes. And if you were lucky enough to get a spot, you had to go through Chicago startup Tock.

Tock is an online reservation platform founded by Alinea owner Nick Kokonas and former Googler Brian Fitzpatrick that’s changing the restaurant booking game. Using a ticketing system where people put down a deposit in advance to hold a table, Tock helps restaurants give diners more than just a meal, but an experience not unlike paying for a ticket to a show. And while Tock may have started as your way to get inside Alinea, the startup reaches far beyond Chicago to make sure patrons get a seat at the most sought-after restaurants around the world.

After officially launching just one year ago, Tock is now used by more than 80 restaurants around the globe. It’s in eight countries and 30 cities, including top restaurants like Maude in LA, Lazy Bear in San Francisco, and The Clove Club in London. The startup has processed over $30 million in bookings and has sat over half a million diners since launching in June 2015, said Fitzpatrick, Tock’s CTO.

One reason for its early success is that its business model cuts down on restaurant no-shows. By requiring a deposit in advance, Tock can almost guarantee a restaurant that a diner is going to show up, Fitzpatrick said.

“As soon as anyone puts any kind of money down, even a $20 deposit, the no-show rate plummets,” Fitzpatrick said.

Restaurants see an average no-show rate of around 15%, but if it starts snowing–for example–it can jump as high as 70%, Fitzpatrick said. Tock is helping restaurants keep those reservations even in bad weather.

“If people put down (a deposit) and it starts snowing, you’re still going to show up,” he said.

Tock’s model also benefits restaurant patrons by cutting down on table wait times. If a restaurant knows you’re going to show up, it can more confidently have a table ready for you when you arrive.

But Tock isn’t about making sure you can score a table at your neighborhood Olive Garden on Friday night. Tock wants to help new and unique restaurants sell “experiences,” like a $1,000 Proposal Experience at a private cupola at London House in Chicago, or a $165 7-course meal inside Aviary’s kitchen in Chicago.

But a reservation through Tock doesn’t mean having to break the bank. You can reserve a table at Aviary’s main dining room for $20 a person, or a table at Band of Bohemia for $10 (deposits are applied to the final bill).

Tock is also providing the booking tech behind unique, intimate venues like Milk Room, an 8-seat rare spirits bar in the Chicago Athletic Association, and at Portland, OR-based Farm Spirit, a 12-seat vegan restaurant.

“If you have a 12-seat restaurant and 4 people don’t show up, you worked a 15-hour day to make no money,” Fitzpatrick said. “We’re enabling these types of restaurants to really flourish.”

Tock makes money by charging restaurants a $695 monthly fee to use its platform. The startup is now up to 15 employees, two-thirds of which are working on engineering and design. Fitzpatrick, who worked at Google for almost a decade and helped launch Google’s Chicago engineering office, called Tock’s team the “best engineering and design team I’ve worked with.”

Tock has raised an undisclosed amount of funding from investors like ex-Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff, and 1871 CEO Howard Tullman. The startup is raising a Series B round now, Fitzpatrick said.

He added that Tock plans to keep a pretty lean team, but it could grow its headcount by another 50% over the next year.

“Our goal has always been to keep the team as small as possible,” he said. “Hire the best people that we possibly can, make no compromises when it comes to hiring great people, and do as much as we can with as little as we can, as far as personnel goes.”

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