This restaurant tech is actually helping independent eateries survive

Last year, when indoor dining shut down across the country, ChowNow, a digital ordering platform for restaurants, became a lifeline in multiple ways. First, “every restaurant in the country was like, we need online ordering and we need it this afternoon,” says Chris Webb, CEO and cofounder. To meet the demand, he hired 200 laid-off workers from across the industry to help onboard new restaurants. Webb, a former investment banker who founded the company in 2011 to give local pizza joints the tools to compete with Domino’s, now finds himself dueling with DoorDash, GrubHub, and Uber. But while those delivery apps take a hefty cut of every restaurant sale that goes through their platforms, ChowNow charges restaurants a flat monthly subscription fee as low as $99. During the pandemic, ChowNow developed a curbside pickup offering for restaurants that couldn’t afford to deliver and launched a diner loyalty program to lift restaurants’ profits. “Everyone was recommending selling gift cards,” Webb says, but those would lead to months of future losses. With the loyalty program, restaurants could offer regular customers discounts (25% off) for an annual membership fee ($100). ChowNow grew more than 50% last year, has more than 20,000 customers, fulfilled its 100 millionth order in 2020, and says it’s profitable, another rarity in the world of restaurant tech. In 2021, it projects $100 million in annual revenue.

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