When planning on eating out, people may have sudden concerns: Do restaurants offer any vegetarian options? What’s the best way to find parking nearby? We’re 12, should we book a private room?
To help restaurateurs answer these and other questions (and pave the way for customers to stop by), Boston-based conversational AI startup OpenCity is working on an integrated CRM platform that streamlines communication between patrons and staff. The product is currently piloting at Sonsie in Back Bay and Cinquecento in the South End, plus other restaurants in six U.S. states.
Nick Belsito, the Worcester-native founder of OpenCity, is neither new to the hospitality industry nor to the startup world. In 2013, he launched a service – Beeline – to book reservations for hospitality or entertainment venues; from that experience, he walked out with the realization that one of the biggest challenges in hospitality is communication.
“Over 90 percent people rather send a message than make a call; it’s the way we communicate in our daily life with our friends, family and loved ones,” Belsito said. “But it seems kind of crazy how I can’t just shoot a text off to a business and get a quick answer.”
“It seems kind of crazy how I can’t just shoot a text off to a business.”
Text-based communication is a global trend indeed. A median of 78% of mobile phone owners in emerging countries used their devices for texting, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center report. On a normal day, U.S. cell owners between the ages of 18 and 24 exchange a staggering average of 109.5 messages — or nine texts every hour for 12 hours. Locally, a handful of Mass. companies have embraced this trend and decided to use SMS to provide services related to baby journals and dating.
Founded in 2016, OpenCity integrates with Google Search and Facebook Messenger. Also, it adds a chatbot on the restaurant website and provides a dedicated SMS number. As a result, customers don’t need to download an app to interact with restaurants, and can contact them from any of these platforms. On the contrary, restaurant owners can manage all these messages in a single platform: the OpenCity app.
OpenCity sells its service to restaurants on a monthly subscription fee, which ranges from $99 to $199 a month. Belsito said that the 10-person company raised a seed round earlier this year, but won’t disclose specifics.
“People just want instant gratification, so we provide that as well,” Belsito said.
OpenCity is one of BostInno’s 50 on Fire winners in 2018.