By Zoe Leavitt, Tech Analyst at CB Insights
These startups have raised $1.6B in aggregate to integrate digital features into nearly every aspect of restaurant operations.
Americans spent more at restaurants than at grocery stores last year for the first time, according to the US Census Bureau, due to a mixture of falling grocery prices and more restaurant visits. But restaurant sales dropped in the second quarter of the year, leading some to predict a coming “restaurant recession,” and with minimum wage increases on the table in several major US markets, some argue automation is the future of restaurants.
Eatsa, a quinoa bowl chain with locations in California and aggressive expansion plans, already operates restaurants that are nearly fully automated and require minimal, if any, interaction between employees and customers.
While not all restaurants are aiming at that level of digitization, startups are tackling nearly every aspect of restaurant operations, from CRM to mobile payment platforms to tracking foot traffic to managing inventory. We previously looked into the transformation of brick-and-mortar retail through technologies like augmented reality product displays and shopper-tracking beacons, and now we’ve identified similar startups targeting the restaurant industry.
Startups in the space have attracted the attention of numerous big tech corporates. For example, last year Alibaba acquired restaurant discovery app Koubei and Heartland Payment Systems acquired numerous restaurant-specific payment startups, while in 2014 Oracle acquired hospitality software platform MICROS Systems for $5.3B. Recently, news broke that IBM may be in talks to acquire iPad POS platform Revel Systems, valued last year at $540M.
Scroll down to view the graphic, read in-depth category descriptions, and see a company list with select investors. The startups in this graphic raised a total of approximately $1.6B in disclosed funding.
Categories and Company List
Many startups focus on the restaurant front-of-house, tackling categories like:
Table-top self-service ordering & payment devices – Companies like E la Carte, with its Presto dining system, provide interactive tablets that let guests scroll through digital menus, place orders by touchscreen, and pay by card directly from the table. E la Carte has raised $68.5M in funding with clients such as Applebees and Outback Steakhouse.
Smartphone payment platforms – Startups such as TabbedOut ($41M in funding) partner with restaurants to let guests pay and split the bill directly on their own smartphones.
Phone-charging stations – Several startups offer stations specifically geared toward restaurants, cafes, and event venues that let guests charge their mobile phones. Leading in funding with $5M is Powermat, which provides wireless charging mats to Starbucks.
Guest wi-fi – Purple Wifi and Zenreach in the US and WiWide in China provide restaurants with guest wi-fi systems that can also track who’s logging on and off to help restaurants better analyze customer behavior and demographics.
Wait-list management – Several startups help eliminate restaurant lines with mobile apps that let guests join digital queues and receive notifications by phone. Nowait ($22M in funding) integrates customer analytics and floor maps for servers, and works with restaurants including Buffalo Wild Wings.
Customer loyalty – Heavy hitters in restaurant loyalty include FiveStars ($90M in funding), LevelUp ($53M in funding), and Belly ($26M in funding). These startups offer points, reward systems, and sometimes pay-by-phone options for customers, as well as analytics and marketing options for restaurants.
Others help restaurant managers streamline back-of-house processes, including:
Broad restaurant management software – These SaaS startups provide broad management platforms for restaurants that help control things like inventory, staffing, marketing, and financial management (some other categories in this graphic show startups that focus on just one of these features).
Tablet POS platforms – These startups all offer tablet-based point-of-sale systems for restaurants, aiming to give servers and cashiers faster and more mobile ways to process check-outs. (These are systems used by restaurant employees, not guests).
Staffing – Startups like When I Work ($24M in funding) provide software for restaurant employee scheduling and communication.
White-label delivery platforms – We’re all familiar with Seamless, of course, but the startups in this graphic offer white-label platforms for restaurants to create and manage their own online ordering and delivery systems. OLO leads with $62M in funding.
Restaurant music – These startups provide smart music systems for restaurants and cafes. TouchTunes ($65M in funding) offers a “digital jukebox” with a companion mobile app for guests, while Rockbot ($6M in funding) gives clients like McDonalds, Panera, and Buffalo Wild Wings a digital music dashboard with curated music stations.
Marketing & CRM – These companies focus on restaurant marketing, such as Fishbowl ($23M in funding) that works with clients like Jamba Juice, Planet Hollywood, and Buffalo Wild Wings for data-driven marketing. Other CRM platforms like Upserve ($40M) offer features such as tracking frequent visitors, recording favorite dishes and upcoming reservations, and helping design personalized marketing campaigns.
Energy efficiency – LumaStream ($13M in funding) designs low-voltage LED lighting systems for restaurants. Small Box Energy ($4M) provides cloud-based HVAC control systems to restaurants and convenience stores to reduce energy and maintenance costs. Powerhouse Dynamics ($16M) works with restaurants like Burger King, KFC, Hooters, Bertucci’s, and Au Bon Pain to control HVAC and lighting and reduce energy usage.
Purchasing and inventory – Companies like BlueCart ($4M in funding) help restaurants track inventory levels, streamline supplier communications, aggregate different supplier orders, and analyze costs.