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Josh Harris didn't always intend to start a restaurant tech company. But with a background in finance and a entrepreneurial knack for innovation, the dissatisfied restaurant patron knew he wanted something better. So Chicago-based goDutch was born.
goDutch aims to make ordering, splitting bills, and closing out checks easier for patrons. And for restaurant operators, it offers higher profits, more satisfied guests, and more frequent table turns. The app also aims to make the dining experience more sanitary with touchfree menus and less face-to-face contact, important details in the age of COVID-19.
Back Of House spoke with Harris about goDutch's beginnings, where the company is headed now ahead of the app's official launch, and why its technology is so vital to today's modern restaurant industry.
This interview has been edited lightly for brevity and clarity.
Back of House: Who you are, and what you do for Dutch Technologies/goDutch?
Josh Harris: My name is Josh Harris and I started goDutch about three years ago. I was in financial services but always had a passion for entrepreneurship and innovation. There wasn't really one “a-ha” moment where I was like, “This app needs to be created. We need to create an offering that's beneficial for restaurants and customers.” It was really a combination of multiple experiences at restaurants. I would go out to eat with friends, and there are inconsistencies in the way you order the food, how you pay for the food, maybe the service is not up to par, there's always some sort of miscommunication there. So the idea for goDutch was really inspired by all those inconsistencies.
The main problem then was: we'd sit down at a table, we'd have a full meal, everything would go smoothly, we’d order through the waitstaff. But at the end, we found this problem where we were having to figure out who was paying for the bill, and there was really no solution to it. I mean, Venmo is great to split a $400 bill five or six ways, but then you have problems when it comes to fairness and figuring out who ordered what. That kind of inspired us — and inspired the name for goDutch. "Going Dutch" is when you decide to pay your own way. We wanted to provide a bill splitting solution.
I wanted to use QR codes to launch a comprehensive experience for the target audience, which was millennials. From the moment you sit down and begin your meal with your group of people, you scan the QR code. That launches this experience on your phone where you can order whatever you want, whenever you want. You can page the waitstaff if you need a side of ketchup or another set of silverware. The idea was this is a real-time, full-control application for restaurant goers.
BOH: So that’s how it started. Did you build out a version of that or was this still in the ideation phase?
JH: This was all the ideation phase. Fast forward to COVID this year. I found a product developer on LinkedIn, and I had a conversation with him back in January. I was like, “I'm at a point with goDutch where the idea is still valid — there's a need for it still. I'm sick of my finance job, and this is a dream I've had for years — now let's execute.” He built out a prototype for me in February or March, and then COVID happened. I was like, “Now we really need to execute because restaurants are going to start closing and technologies are going to start changing. This is primed and ready for something like COVID.” We finished the prototype in April or May, and we’ve been beta testing at a few restaurants here in Chicago.
BOH: What can goDutch do? Give us the 10,000-foot view.
JH: We're a technology that digitizes menus and ordering in restaurants by integrating directly into point-of-sale systems. Anybody can download it in the app store, and it will tap into existing point-of-sale systems in restaurants. It's a real-time experience built for customers and restaurants, and it helps relieve restaurants of unnecessary labor, and customers of extended wait times and payment issues. Our mission is to provide a platform that enables efficiency and comfort to the user, in addition to increasing profitability for restaurants. It’s been designed to fill gaps in service quality and sanitation, and it's really relevant now given the digitization that we see in everything that we do.
For the customer, we're providing a sanitary, comfortable solution to every problem that they see in dining out. We're also helping the restaurant save costs. We have labor optimization tech and algorithms built into our platform that allow the restaurant to see and analyze their waitstaff — how effective their waitstaff is being, how efficient their waitstaff is being, when they should have these people employed — and that helps them save costs where they can.
The revenue maximization component is made up of two parts. One: you go out to eat with five or six other people, and you need to order a beer but the waitstaff is not coming around, and it takes 30 or 45 minutes just to order another beer. In that amount of time, you could have ordered two or three beers from your phone at $8 a pop with the app, and that’s $24 more dollars that the restaurant could have made. It’s providing an experience to the user where they're just fully in control. That also benefits the restaurant.
Two: If a restaurant can turn the tables over quicker, it's a win for the business. Because of Covid, there's a need for something like this. Even if restaurant capacities decrease over the next couple years or over the next couple months, it's the perfect time for us to get in and analyze current operations and current technology and see how we can fix that.
BOH: The critique of this kind of tech is that it makes the hospitality experience very personal. Does the pandemic shift or undercut that critique, in your opinion? Seems like it might help it over the hump, so to speak.
JH: I think you're totally right that before there was a hump. There's this element of personality that restaurants have with their waitstaff coming out, bringing a wine menu, and offering their advice on menu items and specials. While I don’t think that aspect of service is going to go away, I think that the operational functionalities of what the waitstaff does are now being replaced by technology. Given COVID and what's happened and the need for contactless everything, I think we're replacing the operations from a previous restaurant world with technology.
BOH: How are you going to get diners to download the app?
JH: A lot of people are hesitant to download a new app or explore a new solution when they have a million different apps or a million different websites that they use. What we're doing, outside of the value proposition associated with the comfort, transparency, and ease of ordering, paying, and leaving, is we plan to roll out some promotional activities. We're going to roll out a promotional campaign that allows users to have a meal split with us and discounted — similar to UberEATS and DoorDash where you have a reward system. We're implementing a reward system where a diner goes out to eat at a restaurant that uses goDutch maybe five or six times, and then on the sixth or seventh meal, goDutch will split it with them.
Outside of that, it's really just about providing convenience to the user and giving them the transparency and the comfort that they're looking for in a dining experience. We don't want users to have to worry about going to a restaurant and coming in close contact with the waitstaff or touching menus that have been used a million times throughout the day and maybe not washed. We don't want them to have to worry about swiping their card. There's no element of miscommunication when you're liable for placing the order yourself. There are a lot of wins for the consumer, but we do have some fun things planned to drive usership right off the bat. And I think it seems to work. I think it'll really resonate with users that already have visited restaurants, during the COVID era — they're already used to the motion of scanning a QR code and getting something out of it like the menu. Let's take it a couple steps further and let them launch the menu, but also be able to order from their phone, and pay from their phone.