Story

Dining Platform Acquires Info Sci Alum's Start-Up

by Louis DiPietro

It’s impossible for restaurateurs to know what every guest thinks about their dining experience. Was their entrée cooked to perfection? Has the wait staff been more than accommodating? What would make the experience unforgettable?

While customers have review sites like Yelp to rant or rave about a particular restaurant – and to do so publicly – posts are unverified and generally short on helpful feedback that a restaurateur could use to improve operations.

Enter Servy, the crowd-sourced, “secret shopper” start-up company founded by two Cornell alums and recently acquired by the AirBnB-backed table reservation platform, Resy.

Used by more than 500 restaurants in several major markets, the Servy app – created by Robert Edell (School of Hotel Administration, ’12) and Julien Wormser (Info Sci, ’12) – helped fill an information void between restaurants and their customers, allowing real diners to provide owners private feedback into what went well and what didn’t.

Earlier this fall, Resy – a table-reservation app and customer management system – announced it had acquired Servy for an undisclosed amount of cash and stock. Resy intends to integrate Servy’s mystery dining and guest-feedback analytics into its platform, which 700,000 diners use each week in roughly 1,000 U.S. restaurants.

“Pairing reservation, point of sale and survey data will give our clients a complete and detailed view of their guest experience and performance,” Resy CEO Ben Leventhal said in a statement announcing the deal.

For longtime friends Edell and Wormser, Servy’s acquisition is the latest adventure in the pair’s long history together, from junior-high basketball teammates in Millburn, NJ., to Cornell classmates, to business partners and entrepreneurs.

Edell tended toward entrepreneurship, startups, and management, while Wormser – similarly entrepreneurial – was tech-minded, with a passion for building software and a fondness for user-experience design and human-computer interaction. Both had stayed in touch after they graduated and landed jobs, catching up and sharing a vision to do more impactful and personally relevant work.

Their paths would converge as business partners thanks, in part, to a horrible dining experience.

As Wormser tells it, Edell and his now-fiancé had the kind of meal worthy of a scathing Yelp review, but he thought better of it and instead began exploring how restaurants received useful, private feedback from customers. He was surprised to learn that most restaurants still relied on secret shoppers, anonymous diners who eat on the restaurant’s tab and then evaluate the experience. These visits are often cost prohibitive for restaurants, costing anywhere from $50 to $500 per visit, Wormser said.

“At that moment, Rob contacted me and asked if I wanted to start working on a project where, through technology, we could crowd-source mystery shopping and enable restaurants to get more data for a fraction of the cost,” he said.

In the fall of 2014, Servy was acceptance into a business accelerator program. After receiving seed funding to support their business, Edell and Wormser quit their day jobs and jumped into Servy full time. Inside of three years, Servy expanded as restaurateurs in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington DC, and elsewhere realized they could get better and cheaper insights from real customers through the app, rather than relying on the legacy mystery shopping industry. By the time Resy acquired the company in early October, Servy had fulfilled more than 100,000 evaluations across 500+ restaurants.

In joining Resy, Edell and Wormser see a thrilling opportunity to join forces with a company that serves thousands of restaurants, millions of users, and is the exclusive restaurant reservation partner of AirBnB. The partnership also helps narrow the duo’s focus. Marketplace apps like Servy are notoriously challenging to build, Wormser explained, since designers must juggle the unique and distinct needs of participating businesses on one end and app users on the other. Joining Resy allows Edell and Wormser to focus solely on building a great product, rather than dedicating time to drumming up interest among restaurants and users.

“At Resy, Rob and I will be building a feedback and mystery shopping service from the ground up,” he said. “We are really excited to empower the million-plus restaurant diners who make reservations through Resy to now provide restaurants with a revolutionary perspective into their guest experience.”

Learn more about Resy at www.resy.com

Louis DiPietro is the communications coordinator for Cornell's departments of information science and statistical science.