SoonSpoon is a new online reservation site that is tailored to last-minute diners hoping to snag reservations at places where reservations are made days and sometimes weeks in advance. It launches later this month. Eater chatted with Travis Lowry, co-founder of SoonSpoon, about his venture.
Tell us about what SoonSpoon does.
We aggregate last-minute reservations at restaurants where diners would be very excited to get last-minute reservations. We focus on small, creative places, and we notify diners about these unexpected last-minute reservations via text message, Twitter, and email. Our goal is really to bring a little flair and spontaneity to a category of restaurants in which dining spontaneously has been difficult. It's been tough to dine at restaurants like these last-minute.
Where did this idea come from?
I made a reservation at Strip-T's for a six-top on a Friday night, and I made it a couple of weeks ahead of time. Then, the people I was dining with — their flight got canceled. I had to cancel the reservation the day of and I felt really bad. I love Strip-T's; they're a great restaurant, and they don't have a lot of seats in there, so I knew that an empty six-top would be painful if they didn't fill it. My guess was that because they are so popular, they probably wouldn't get last-minute calls for it because people would assume that there would not be a six-top available so late on the day of. So this seemed like an interesting opportunity for diners to eat really awesome meals and help restaurants provide hospitality for the type of diner that likes to eat last-minute.
How many restaurants do you have participating in this program?
Right now we have 14 restaurants, places like Puritan & Co., Journeyman, Menton, Clio, Uni, East by Northeast, and L'Espalier. So we have a nice little mix, both in location and in price. We have high-end and those that are maybe a little bit cheaper. We're price-agnostic. Price is not what qualifies a restaurant, and even though these are all different, they are sort of the same creative-wise. We might be pulling in a couple more before our launch.
How do you decide what restaurants will participate?
We have a couple of advisors: Jonathan Fenelon — he was at Craigie, Menton, Strip-T's, and Ribelle and is now at Clio, and Eli Feldman, who was director of operations for Barbara Lynch Gruppo and is now owner of 3 Princes, a consulting firm. They've been very helpful in a number of ways, from shaping the product and shaping how we reach out to restaurants to this idea of what restaurants would be a good fit for this. I don't have an algorithm or anything like that. At this stage, it's just places that make sense.
So you're about a week away from launching. How strong of a following do you already have?
We have about 450 people signed up, which is not a lot, but for 14 restaurants it makes sense. We're not dealing with a large number of inventory, maybe a deuce or a four-top a day, four to five times a week. We don't have a huge following right now, and that's okay. We're not OpenTable, we don't have tens of thousands of reservations available, and it's for a very specific type of diner. As we grow, I think it will ramp up very quickly. We are doing some events as well that will help out.
What sets you apart from other similar reservation booking sites?
We are very, very simple. Our site will have no photos, no addresses, and no reviews. It won't even have pages or usernames. It will be a single chart of what is available today. Stir, which is one of our restaurants, may have a couple of reservations in the future just given how unique they are. There's no searching or selections. If there's only a four-top available, then the diner has to find three friends to go with. There are no descriptions; it's a given that these are some of the best restaurants in the city. We're very simple and tailored to people that love dining. People can sign up to get restaurants by neighborhood — for example, if someone only wants to be notified about restaurants in Inman Square. People can also choose what days they want to receive the information.
We're also putting on events and providing rewards to our most prolific diners. We've partnered with PHaDe Food Labs to put on dinners where we'd pick up the tab. When we notice that diners are dining well — making a lot of reservations and sticking to them by showing up and not being late — we'll reward them with something special like a half bottle of sparkling wine brought over to them, something like that. We're creating this club of people that will have this unique connection to restaurants.
— Katie Chudy
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