While working in Washington, D.C, TwentyTables Founder and CEO Alex Cohen thought he had three options for an affordable lunch: He could pack a brown bag, scour the web for discounts or pay full price for a meal. His wife, who also worked in the city, faced a similar problem, as did his colleagues. “Universally, we all had problems finding a consistently priced, affordable meal as a substitute for a brown bag lunch,” Cohen told PYMNTS in an interview.
To provide an alternative to full-priced restaurant meals, Cohen started the TwentyTables mobile marketplace to connect restaurants and diners looking for affordable lunches. Consumers can buy tickets for a fixed cost of $6. One ticket is redeemable for lunch, while two tickets are redeemable for dinner. “The consumers are getting the benefit of negotiated meal prices in advance by virtue of the ticket system,” Cohen noted.
With the app, a diner can then place an order, and the restaurant can approve or reject the order based on its current capacity. If the order is approved, the consumer can show up at a predetermined time to pick it up with the mobile order-ahead model. And because consumers always order in advance, restaurants have time to prepare the meals and serve a range of diners.
The company’s target market is consumers who pack a brown bag for lunch. The app also seeks to serve college students who might run out money at the end of their meal plans. Cohen also said that tourists traveling to Washington, D.C. who have to go through the expense of purchasing airfare, hotels and cars could buy books of tickets, too. Overall, the company’s market could encompass any individuals who are cost-conscious.
With the platform, diners can order from restaurants ranging from a hoagie shop to a Korean barbeque restaurant and an Ethiopian restaurant. “It’s a broad, diverse array of food, spanning both culture and geography,” Cohen said. He also has a pizza chain on the platform, which has locations in both Washington, D.C. and Charlotte, N.C. The trick to scaling the service, according to Cohen, is to create relationships with institutions that have presence in more than one geography. Then, as the company scales, it can add the company’s other locations.
Cohen noted that restaurants like the platform, which also offers dine-in orders, because it can draw people into the restaurant to purchase add-ons. The service can also help generate foot traffic. “We are bringing people to your doorstep,” Cohen said. The restaurants, too, have autonomy, as they can swap meals in and out, turn the orders on or off and accept or reject orders in real time.
Apps With a Mission
Beyond the app’s mobile order-ahead functionality, it also has a focus on food insecurity. (According to Feeding America, food insecurity is "a household’s inability to provide enough food for every person to live an active, healthy life.") Cohen said that particular challenge arises, in large part, because of a lack of predictability: Consumers don’t know where their next affordable meal is coming from. The app is designed to create predictability and security for people who are consistently priced out of the marketplace. The app also features a charity component: For every 20 meals served through the platform, TwentyTables donates five meals through its partners.
Beyond TwentyTables, other restaurant mobile order-ahead platforms with a social or environmental focus are connecting diners with restaurants. Canada’s Feedback app, for instance, lets restaurants offer time-sensitive deals to diners to help tackle the challenge of food waste. Restaurants on the platform offer products ranging from cold-pressed juices to pizza and sushi and, like TwentyTables, diners can order food ahead for pickup.
From Feedback to TwentyTables, mobile order-ahead apps are showing that marketplaces can connect diners and restaurants at the local level, while accomplishing missions ranging from food waste to food insecurity.