Food BytesTech-savvy Waitr Disrupts Restaurant Delivery World
It’s lunchtime. You’re stuck at the office and need a quick but healthy lunch. That new salad shop down the street is intriguing, but you haven’t had time to stop in and check out the menu. No problem: Using your new Waitr App, you pull up the full menu, check out descriptions and photos of the salads, and with a swipe here, a touch there and your safely stored credit card information, your lunch is on the way to your door.
While the Waitr App is a great asset for today’s busy consumers, the real benefit belongs to participating restaurants that have seen an overall sales increase of as much as 20 percent through take-out and delivery services.
“Waitr has opened up an entire new line of business for our participating restaurants,” says Chris Meaux, Waitr founder and CEO. “For many, the app has expanded or added a whole new category of business. One restaurant saw a first-month increase of $35,000 in sales they didn’t have before.”
The idea for Waitr was conceived during an entrepreneurial idea-sharing event in Gainesville, Florida, where Chris and his team brainstormed the concept. Chris brought the idea back to his hometown of Lake Charles, Louisiana. The app is free to users, but makes a small percentage on each transaction, along with an extra fee for delivery service.
Moving forward with the idea, Chris brought in software programmers who became technical co-founders, and he then won a business pitch competition, earning the company additional attention.
A software company at heart, Waitr’s added benefit is a back-end platform that enables restaurants to manage their own menu from a desktop computer – changing prices, adding photos and creating daily specials in real time. Ultimately, Waitr becomes a system that can collect data and allows restaurant owners to actively market to customers and drive orders.
Waitr utilized the state’s Angel Investor Tax Credit in its first round of funding, allowing the company to raise $200,000.
Chris moved the company into the SEED Center business incubator in Lake Charles, which introduced him to LED’s Small and Emerging Business Development (SEBD) program, or SEBD. Waitr utilized the state’s Angel Investor Tax Credit in its first round of funding, allowing the company to raise $200,000 and bringing in the original team members from Gainesville to join the venture. The investment, combined with LED’s Digital Interactive Media and Software Development Incentive, was used to commercialize the product and hire a business development team. Waitr also participates in monthly, peer-to-peer roundtable discussions, which bring the CEOs of emerging Louisiana companies together to share ideas, discuss challenges and provide solutions to common problems. The company also used SEBD website assistance to partially fund its new online presence.
In 2015, Waitr expanded from its home in Lake Charles to Lafayette and Baton Rouge in Louisiana, then to Texas in the city center of Houston, The Woodlands area and Lake Jackson. Waitr now partners with more than 300 restaurants, and more than 60,000 users have downloaded the app. To put the company’s growth in perspective, it garnered 57,000 orders during the entirety of 2015 and has received 55,000 orders in just the first two months of 2016.
In early 2016, Waitr was accepted into LED’s Economic Gardening Initiative, which the company will use to review its core strategies and plan its growth. The program utilizes maps, tools and demographic information that help identify markets most conducive to Waitr’s expansion.
At year-end in 2015, the company employed 300 people – 250 of them in Louisiana. Aggressive expansion plans in 2016 put Waitr in position to employ hundreds more, from management and software engineers to customer support and delivery drivers.
“The state has been instrumental in our growth,” Meaux says. “LED helped us raise capital with angel investments, and offset costs, which allowed us to hire highly skilled software developers and engineers. Now with Economic Gardening, LED is providing us with research to expand and grow. We are very excited about our potential.”