UNION, a hotel engagement platform, seeks to save the restaurant industry

If you’ve been to a restaurant since the lockdowns were lifted, you’ve probably had a disappointing experience. Hospitality workers left the industry in droves during the pandemic and the ‘big resignation’, with some 892,000 catering and hospitality workers leaving their jobs in August alone this year, according to the United States Bureau of Labor. Restaurants and bars have struggled to hire enough staff to replace them and return to pre-COVID sales levels and service standards.

And it shows – in the form of reduced seating capacity, long waits to order, reorder, tip and pay. In many cases (including my favorite local restaurants), restaurants throw in the towel and shut down for good.

Just in time to face the labor shortage and the precarious economic situation of restaurants, hotel engagement platform UNION just closed a $ 22 million Series B funding round led by Clerisy, the consumer-focused growth equity fund launched earlier this year by former L Catterton partner Lisa Myers and Gilt Groupe and Glamsquad founder Alexandra Wilkis Wilson. Other participants in the round included Roth Capital, Aquila Capital Partners and previous investors NEA, Wellington, Fiserv

, and the old WorldPay

CEO Tony Catalfano.

The UNION platform sets itself apart from other hospitality and payment solutions by combining a point-of-sale system, contactless mobile orders and payments, and customer data that helps operators automate loyalty. CEO Alex Broeker said the company is on a mission to save the restaurant industry by enabling busy restaurants and bars to use consumers’ smartphones as a center of engagement so they can achieve the same. sales volume than before the pandemic with 75% less staff. , while “treating every guest who walks in the door like a VIP”.

Bringing hospitality back to experience, with digital help

The good thing is that guests don’t have to download another app to use UNION. First-time users click a QR code with their phone, something we’ve all grown used to over the past couple of years, to access a native app-like experience that lets them quickly start ordering, regardless of the location. attendance of the place. . Broeker says that in most restaurants and bars, it takes an average of 8 minutes for the first drink order from a table to arrive, but UNION, with its integrated point-of-sale system and mobile ordering system, reduced that to just 42 seconds. The platform allows customers to order and pay when they want, while capturing information such as their favorite spirits brands, favorite dishes, and preferred payment method.

Once a guest has used UNION for the first time, the platform essentially takes over the function of the Big Brown Book that restaurateurs kept behind the bar to record the preferences and personal information of regulars so that each staff member can treat them like a VIP. The platform personally welcomes the customer each time they visit a bar or restaurant powered by UNION and allows them to open their check with a single click on their phone, so that they can order immediately.

The platform is designed to make each guest feel special by suggesting specific items based on their order history (eg, “Welcome, Marie. Would you like to re-order a Tito’s and cranberries?”) . Sites and their partner brands may also recommend items as part of promotions and awareness campaigns or to reward loyalty, for example by offering a free cocktail made from a new brand of whiskey or a free new aperitif. On the menu. The hospitality and recommendation experience is conversational and contextual, increasing the human touch that Broeker says is always a crucial part of the hospitality experience. The company never sells customer data and does not share merchant details with other merchants on the platform.

Considering the high turnover of employees in restaurants and bars, in addition to staff shortages, the platform ensures that every server, after only five minutes of training on the first day of work, can recognize UNION customers and offer a high personalized experience.

The result is increased sales for sites and servers and a much better experience for customers. Broeker says establishments using the UNION system have seen their sales increase by an average of 37% as the platform allows customers to order, reorder and pay faster, which means tables turn faster. The company claims the platform cuts customer wait times by 80% and triples server coverage areas, allowing high-traffic sites to open all their seating sections instead of having to leave a few. -one empty due to staff constraints. Sites that use UNION to present customers with a special offer like a free sample or discount have seen those checks increase, on average, by 42%, Broeker says.

Use case in any industry where maintaining a great customer experience is important

UNION is the only platform offering a combination of mobile orders, payments and loyalty capabilities. The cloud-based software system was specifically designed by food and beverage veterans to meet the needs of high-end, high-volume bars and restaurants and to operate quickly and reliably regardless of whether a venue has it. 100 or 1000 open checks. The Austin-based company processes more than $ 1 billion in consumer transactions each year. Hotel establishments pay a subscription fee to UNION, and unlike many CRM systems, they do not pay additional fees for successful upsell or cross-sell offers.

Rather than focusing on huge national restaurant chains, UNION targets the roughly 20% of hotel groups that own the busiest and most popular locations in major metropolitan markets. The company has just opened 1,000 locations in 35 states and plans to expand internationally into bars and restaurants in Europe next year before taking on the hospitality industry.

Broeker says the platform “delivers the convenience, timing and ease that consumers want,” while enabling the efficiency that short-staffed owners need. In light of pent-up consumer demand for hospitality experiences after so many months of foreclosure, and restaurant owners’ demand for solutions that help bring service levels back to pre-pandemic levels, the company has closed its last funding round at the right time. .

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Cecil N. Messick