Eatabit, a mobile technology startup in Charleston that simplifies orders for restaurant diners with text messaging, has surpassed $10,000 in food order value after just four months of operation. “That’s huge for us. That was a big proof of concept that we had in mind—like, can we run $10K through this?” said co-founder Greg Oleksiak, who developed Eatabit with Stewart Moore and Tim Taylor.
Customers often get frustrated when calling in food orders to hectic establishments. They receive a busy signal, get placed on hold for long periods, or might even receive the wrong order from the restaurant. Restaurants get bogged down handling incoming phone orders and tracking handwritten tickets. Eatabit solves these problems by allowing customers to order food using text messages sent from their mobile devices.
HOW EATABIT WORKS
The ordering process is extremely simple: Customers initiate the order by sending a “Hello” or “I’m hungry!” text to the restaurant’s assigned Eatabit phone number, then the Eatabit API walks customers through the ordering process back and forth by auto replying with questions and responses based on the customers’ text messages such as: What would you like to order? Would you like pickup or delivery? and Are you paying with cash or credit card?
Eatabit also simplifies the ordering process for restaurants. Once the customer completes the order, an Eatabit printer at the restaurant creates an alert and generates an order ticket containing the customer and order information. Restaurants can then respond to customers with expected wait times and alert them when the order is ready for pickup or delivery. Customers can also give real-time feedback and comments by replying to follow-up text messages generated by the restaurant after completing their order.
Co-founder, Stewart Moore, who has worked in the restaurant industry, believes Eatabit is a better alternative to online ordering, which can be a hassle for customers who have to visit the restaurant’s website, then have to locate and submit their online order form if that feature is available. “There’s about 600,000 restaurants in the US, and the vast majority of them do not have online ordering at all. So this is a plug and play solution that we can walk in the door and walk out, and they will actually have a new ordering channel and revenue stream.”
The service is free for customers, and there is no mobile app installation required—just text messaging capability on a mobile device. “Text is very simple, there’s no geo-location or images, just asynchronous back and forth. But it’s the most popular app on the mobile phone so why not do it this way? You’re not doing taxes over text,” said Moore.
For restaurants, there is a tiered monthly fee based on the size and type of restaurant. The only equipment required is Eatabit’s printer plugged into the power. The printer is a patented, thermal printer containing a custom cell chip and printer circuit board, enabling it to connect over a cellular network to the Eatabit API. It was designed and developed with the help of electrical engineer Tim Taylor in a garage during the summer of 2013. The printers are physically assembled in house by the Eatabit team in ten minutes, then flashed with software, before they are ready for deployment to the restaurants. Moore believes the simplicity of the system setup will allow it be widely adopted, saying, “Our idea is to configure these devices in house and then drop ship them to any restaurant anywhere because there’s nothing to setup. That’s the beauty of having it. With the cellular network, they can just plug into the wall, and we make updates to the software through the API.”
RESTAURANTS USING EATABIT
Eatabit is currently in operation at four restaurants in the Charleston area: Paisano’s Pizza, Steel City Pizza, Sticky Fingers, and Relish.
Paisano’s Pizza owner, Nick Skover, loves Eatabit, “It’s great! Eatabit allows me to keep receiving orders even when the phones are tied up and my customers love it! We’re often at a critical mass of phone calls where all lines are busy. So it’s a great asset to have when we’re really busy. Kids these days are on their phones so it’s a great additional option them to order. No confusion on phone number because there’s never a mix on phone number. With phone orders, there’s often bad reception and hard to hear exactly what customers are saying. With Eatabit we never have that problem. It’s huge for restaurant owners to get instant feedback about how they’re experience went.”
Eatabit plans to continue its expansion into all types of mom and pop joints, and small restaurants in Charleston. “We just recently signed up our first Chinese restaurant through the South Carolina Restaurant Association. That is a big opening for us that could lead to quite a bit more in that really tough-to-conquer sector with these Chinese restaurants,” said Oleksiak.
Eatabit recently developed a customized workflow to speed up the service for the upcoming Charleston Riverdogs’ first home game at the Joe Riley Stadium. Instead of the waitresses running back and forth from the box seats and skybox suites to the kitchen with order tickets, Eatabit has supplied them with customized Nexus 5 phones so they can submit orders via text messages from their stations. Runners will then bring the orders out to the customers.
Oleksiak believes Eatabit will greatly improve the stadium’s ordering process, as well as other businesses that need custom solutions, “They’re going to see a huge gain on just the order tickets and reduction in loss. Customer satisfaction is going to go through the roof. It’s different than our consumer workflow, obviously, because it’s a specialized workflow. That’s what’s great about our product system—we can customize workflows to tailor business needs or rules.”
Moving forward, the Eatabit team plans to improve the texting interaction with efficiency tweaks, link up their system with online aggregators, and develop a way to accept payments.
Eatabit is one of the companies that have been accepted into the 2014 Cohort of Startups at the Harbor Accelerator. The 14-week program helps entrepreneurs execute their business by providing resources and support. At the end of the program, Eatabit had the chance to pitch their business to investors and stakeholders at the Dig South conference in the Wild Pitch event. They tied for runner up to first place and got everyone buzzing.
Moore’s advice for other entrepreneurs in Charleston, “Concentrate on getting rid of your fear of failure and see failure as a pure positive because you can turn that failure into something positive for your next effort. Maximizing failure is the key concept.”
Moore believes this year holds much promise for Charleston and Silicon Harbor: “It’s a great time to be in Charleston with its growing tech scene. 2014 will be Charleston’s best year ever I’m sure. It’s really encouraging to read stories online about new tech, new ideas, and new businesses moving to Charleston. I hear about news happening in Silicon Valley on the other side of the country, but now it’s happening here. You can feel the energy in the tech community in Charleston.”