Sometimes people enjoy living life as it happens. Unfortunately, most restaurants that require reservations of some kind do not feel this way.

YumTable has found a way to help hungry people find restaurants in your neighborhood. If a restaurant faces a last minute cancellation or has an open table, they can list the opening and find a paying customer quickly. Customers can finally find an open table without all the calling, and restaurants make money on an opening that may have remained unfilled.

I recently asked the founder of YumTable, Mark Sehler, a few questions about his service and his goals for it.

Tell us a little about YumTable?

YumTable is a last minute restaurant booking service that connects hungry people with empty restaurant tables with deals near them, or where they are travelling to. It establishes the “last minute” concept to the restaurant scene in line with other familiar concepts such as with flights or hotel accommodation.

How does it work?

Hungry people can book available tables via the yumtable.com website or location based iPhone app by searching by suburb. Restaurant can set custom deals for time periods or days they know they have surplus table capacity, create an early sitting (eg early bird dinner) or if they get last minute cancellations and want to fill the table. Customers then browse all available tables with deals in time-order, knowing all deals are live and can be booked without having to talk to the restaurant – confirmations are instant by SMS message and email. Best of all there are no coupons! The restaurant knows any YumTable customer booking has an incentive or deal that they have set, so when it comes to paying the bill any discount is applied without asking for it.

What inspired it?

We know that many restaurants offer specials on a daily basis to attract hungry people and new customers walking by, we created YumTable with this in mind, however to widen the net for people looking for a free table rather than restricting it foot traffic. From the customers perspective it can be difficult to book a table last minute, usually resulting in many phone calls and knock backs until they find a free table – it’s very much reflective of the non-committal and spontaneous trend of society these days. YumTable embraces this trend by showing all the available tables near hungry people looking for one there and then. We also dislike coupons – they are awkward, embarrassing and cheapens the dining experience. We wanted to come up with a brand and solution that was street-smart, with a great user experience that is fun to use and engaging – we think that our website design does that with use of ad hoc images supplied by customers and the YumTable team to connect people on the street with the service.

In what countries/cities are listings through your app available?

We are currently fully launched in Australia, and piloting in New York City and Los Angeles with restaurants being added daily through our sales teams. We are soon to launch in New Zealand and Hong Kong with teams being set up in those locations.

How does a restaurant get listed?

Any restaurant on the planet can sign themselves up and be found in their location through YumTable. Restaurants simply set up a profile, then can start designing offers and scheduling them in real-time through their YumTable account. We’ve had restaurants buy 3G iPad’s to just quickly jump on YumTable and add more tables when they find their restaurant has free tables they want filled.

How much does it cost?

For hungry people, it’s free to use the service and book a table. For restaurants, it’s free to list and we provide 20 table bookings for free as well to try out the service, after that it costs them around $1.6 a table booking…pretty much a no brainer.

Do you have any goals you would like to accomplish over the next year or so?

We’re continuing to add more restaurants to the service to further enhance the experience of using YumTable. Our goal is that no matter where you are there should always be at least 5 restaurants near you that you can choose from. We’re also in development to deploy an Android app, and enhance the social sharing of the service with anyone who has the app, such as inviting a group to dinner.

What are some lessons your business has taught you?

You definitely need to get people involved in a business concept that cover the skill sets that you need for it, ie you can’t do it all yourself. I’ve found there are also huge differences in taking a business from start-up to commercial reality. When you’re developing in the garage it’s great fun, however as you start to open the garage door and release your business to the public, operational issues begin to take hold and before you know it there’s a danger of making rash reactive decisions to your site to correct the feedback your getting from the market. I’ve found it a really interesting cycle that can really improve the business but at the end of the day it’s our product and we have the vision, so maintaining a cool head to keep the website pure to our original goals is really important.

Do you have any advice you would like to offer fellow app entrepreneurs who are just getting started?

Pick a simple idea that you know is achievable, and most importantly has a business model OTHER than an advertising selling strategy. If you look at YumTable, we’ve got a no advertising policy so as to not pollute our website. Focus on good SEO so as to limit your reliance to SEM/CPC advertising costs. Also get lots of honest feedback about your idea from friends and potential target audiences before starting – ignore the naysayers who pretty much see fault in everything. It’s a confronting process as well that requires courage and self belief at times when you think that no one is interested.

Originally posted by Angela Shupe on May 17, 2011 in Featured / Interviews.

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