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Can Textaurant make restaurant waits less annoying?

Posted by Scott Kirsner  September 7, 2010 11:44 AM

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Textaurant founder Josh Bob tells me his Waltham start-up has just landed its first big customer in Boston: Finale Desserterie & Bakery. Textaurant's technology allows restaurants to use a laptop to manage their list of customers waiting for a table, sending out a text message to let customers know when one becomes available. Finale will be using the system at the local chain's two busiest locations, in Harvard Square and Boston's Theater District, starting later this month.

You can already see Textaurant's system in action at Cafe Luigi in Bedford, and the Right Fork Diner on Martha's Vineyard. Bob says that the Right Fork Diner began using Textaurant just before July 4th, "and they were handling about 400 people a week day."

Instead of writing your name down on a yellow pad and hollering it out when your table is ready, or handing you a buzzing pager that limits where you can wander, Bob says that hosts using the Textaurant system simply type your phone number into an Internet-connected laptop. A few minutes before your table is ready, you receive a text message. "You can go anywhere you want," he says. "You can go to the bar next door, or you can go home and take a nap."

Textaurant charges a monthly fee of roughly $50 to use the system, and a small per-party fee for every group that is seated. Bob's goal is to undercut the prices of rival systems from companies like JTECH and OpenTable that also allow restaurants to manage a waitlist. But those players, with their big sales forces and established relationships with national chains, will be formidable competitors for Textaurant. My sense is that the Waltham company, which has been funded by "friends and family" thus far, will have to build a great product, and fast, and hope to be acquired by a more established provider of restaurant technology.

Next up is an enhancement to the Textaurant system that will let you put your name on a restaurant's waitlist via their Web site, without having to show up in person first. Working alongside Bob at Textaurant is Dan Pickett, formerly director of engineering at Second Rotation (the company that became Gazelle.)

"Right now, we're almost exclusively focused on Boston restaurants," Bob says, "but we've had some discussions with national chains. We think Finale will open up a lot of doors for us." (Red Stripe, a Providence restaurant, will also begin using the Textaurant system later this month.) He says the company's "white whale" prospect is the Cheesecake Factory, where hour-long waits aren't unusual.

Textaurant pitched at the first Open Angel Forum in Boston back in June, and the company will be demoing at BizTechDay in New York later this month.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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