For most of us, being a regular at a bar or restaurant is coveted. Historically, great staff remembered certain details about regular guests, such as their cocktail order or preferred table, creating this incredible sense of belonging at an establishment. More recently, as technology has advanced, staff can now type and save notes on guest profiles so that they don’t have to remember, and can still have these details readily available every time that guest comes in. One founder is attempting to take this one step further by not only automating the collection of these preferences, but then rewarding the guest for their loyalty.
Blackbird Labs, founded in 2022, is a hospitality technology company aimed at helping restaurants connect directly to guests to offer rewards and incentivize them to become regular customers. Earlier this month, Blackbird raised a $24 million Series A Round, led by Andreesen Horowitz and American Express. Although Blackbird is incredibly new, there is good reason such big names are betting on them. Ben Leventhal, the founder of Blackbird, has a stellar reputation when it comes to building hospitality companies. He was the co-founder of Eater, the popular online food publication, acquired in 2013, as well as Resy, a leading reservation platform, acquired in 2019. (PR News Wire)
Blackbird diners can sign up for free when they visit a new restaurant. They simply tap their phone on a Blackbird reader, placed at each table, and create a membership. The app then tracks each visit, earning “tokens” every time you come in. The platform operates on Blockchain, using a currency called they created called $FLY, to cash in on perks. Thankfully, Blackbird does not require you to have an existing Blockchain wallet, and only requires a phone number to earn $FLY currency. Unlike your typical punch card at a coffee shop, this currency can be used at any restaurant associated with Blackbird. (NY Times)
Each restaurant determines its own rewards system, with varying levels of tiers based on the number of visits. One of the first restaurants brought on to the platform is Nat’s on Bank, a restaurant in the West Village in New York City. Every time a customer sits down and places their phone on the table, Nat’s gets an automatic alert. For Nat’s, tier 1 customers receive a free cocktail on the second and fourth visit. Customers move to tier 2 on the seventh visit, where they can earn items like restaurant merchandise or scented candles. On the 10th visit, they move to tier 3 and get a free appetizer with every visit, among other benefits. Each restaurant on the platform determines exactly how they want to reward guests as well as how often they want to reward them. (NY Times)
Another incredibly innovative feature, although daunting, is the ability to text directly with an employee at the restaurant. Most restaurants use iPads to organize their reservations system at the host stand, and texts can be sent directly to that device. For guests, they can let the restaurant know if they are running late, increase or decrease party size, or need to cancel. For restaurants, they can let guests know if a last-minute table opens up or if they can’t be seated until 15 minutes after their scheduled reservation. (NY Times)
And as for next steps, Blackbird believes they can fully democratize hospitality loyalty. "Blackbird will be the first decentralized platform built especially for the hospitality industry, Unlike legacy rewards marketplaces which maroon and lock earned points, the Blackbird protocol will eventually allow users to take the points they earn anywhere they go on public blockchains." (Yahoo)
Although it might take time for this software to be adopted, Blackbird could be creating the gold standard for hospitality loyalty. I think there is no doubt that Blackbird will excel at creating an enhanced guest experience. However, as loyalty is one of the more antiquated and individualized experiences for guests in all industries, Blackbird might be creating something much bigger. And while nothing is certain, there are few people who know how to build a hospitality company quite like Mr. Leventhal.