Waiting for ashtray-sized restaurant pagers to sound off before hungry toddlers do could become a distant memory if a local smartphone app's national launch models its Pittsburgh debut.
NoWait, an iOS app that lets consumers search restaurant wait times, add names to waiting lists, check their place in line and receive texts from restaurants when their tables are ready, will be available throughout the country early this year, said Ware Sykes, CEO of the Oakland-based company.
Founded by a group that includes Carnegie Mellon University graduate Robb Meyer as an Alpha Lab company, in 2012 NoWait raised $2 million from a group of investors that includes South Side-based Birchmere Ventures. In September, the company raised an additional $2 million from an unnamed investor.
Preparation for the national launch comes less than six months after the app was released in Pittsburgh, in large part because of what Mr. Sykes called a "phenomenal response" locally.
When the app was released in September, it was connected to five area restaurants. Today, the app has a 97 percent approval rating, operates in more than 50 local restaurants and has seated thousands, including nearly 50,000 people in the first two weeks of December. Additionally, since September the app has cut its users' average wait time for a seat down from a high of 90 minutes to around five minutes.
"We're giving people the most precious thing in life back: their time," said Mr. Sykes.
With the integration of social media features that tell friends where you are waiting in line and sends Facebook or Twitter messages to friends telling them their name has been added to a wait list and an option to see which nearby restaurants are using NoWait, Mr. Sykes said the app is at an ideal stage for national growth.
Combined with the fact that national chains such as Chili's and TGI Friday's have used the NoWait app to seat more than 25 million diners since 2012, the company is hoping its existing reputation will help it make headway as it rolls out in new territories.
"The app has the ability to not only solve a great number of problems for consumers, but to also drive consumption for business owners," he said.
The app is hitting the national scene during a time when contenders such as San Francisco-based OpenTable and Tulsa, Okla.,-based DinerConnection are vying to take over the space.
One advantage Mr. Sykes said NoWait has over its competitors is the fact that it features an analytics platform that allows chains to make comparisons between individual restaurants. Also, the option to use a customizable floor plan to help hosts manage the flow of guests via iPad and a new option allowing consumers to suggest restaurants that should be using the NoWait app are designed to increase the number of guests per day and promote growing restaurants among thousands of users.
A flexible pricing plan that ranges from $59 per month for restaurants with up to 500 wait listed patrons to $199 per month for places with 2,500 patrons is another feature Mr. Sykes said gives NoWait an edge.
For local chains such as Burgatory, which has locations in Fox Chapel, Robinson and a Burger + Shake Stand in Consol Energy Center, the app has helped to manage customer seating without drastically changing the way hosts normally work, said manger Jimmie Kuhl in a press release.
"At first we were a bit nervous to use NoWait, thinking that we would be losing control over our wait lists but we found that the app was far better than we are at quickly and efficiently seating customers," he said.
Although Mr. Sykes said the company hasn't hammered out the details of its national launch and hasn't released the names of the next cities that will receive the app, he said consumers should expect to see NoWait across the country well before the spring.
With an Android version of the app slated to be released in the next few months, Mr. Sykes said he expects the outstanding growth seen in 2013 to extend through the new year.
"We were seating 700,000 users per month in January 2013. In January 2014 we expect to seat close to 3 million per month," he said.
Deborah M. Todd: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1652.
First Published January 2, 2014 11:37 PM