At Mani Osteria & Bar in Ann Arbor, Michigan, owner Adam Baru was regularly serving two future business partners without even realizing it.
Looking back, Baru can appreciate the irony. “I guess if we would have had Wisely I would have known them prior to that,” he says.
Those same frequent guests, Tyler Felous and Michael Vichich, were actually working on preventing such social disconnects from ever happening in the first place. The result was Wisely, a startup app that helps link a restaurant’s staff to its guests through beacon technology and good, old fashioned information.
“The minute that a restaurant says guest experience is the most important thing to them, then that’s someone who’s going to be interested,” Vichich says. “Because it’s all about providing the guest a better level of experience, learning about them, and having a relationship develop.”
Initially, Vichich says he was traveling door-to-door to introduce Wisely to restaurants. If they wanted to participate in the platform’s seven-month pilot, which launched in November 2014, the group would install a beacon—a little device that emits a Bluetooth signal—and set up a smartphone or tablet capable of downloading the Wisely app. Once a guest downloaded the app on his end, the connection would be made.
The app works two-fold. From the restaurant’s perspective, a push notification alerts the staff when a signed-up guest arrives. Information, from how many times they’ve dined at the concept to customer feedback, preferences, and other relevant tips, is sent to the back of the house. That allows a manager, or server, to treat the Wisely guest on a more personal level, something Baru says is an often unreachable goal.
“If I look at who my top 100 guests are, my guess is that I probably would recognize, of the top 100, maybe 25 percent of them,” Baru says. “And the others are just names with a dollar amount spent attached to them. So, when they walk into the door [with Wisely], I’m seeing a picture of the person and seeing that this person is a golden member and they’re $50 away from being a platinum member. That becomes huge.”
The latter part of Baru’s comment touches on the customer side of Wisely. The Preferred Guest Program is something Vichich says is very different than the typical, and often seen, customer loyalty initiatives regularly rolled out by brands.
Basically, instead of being tempted by a monetary discount, Wisely sets up a tailored program that aims to strengthen the restaurant experience—and in turn promote loyalty.
For example, at Mani Osteria, gold members can “Match the Kitchen,” and take home a hat from the restaurant. Baru also talks about a program where a bartender at his other concept, the Mexican-themed Isalita—will teach guests about tequila through a one-on-one taste testing.
“With Wisely, I can go to the table and say hello, and introduce myself,” Baru says. “Or for a manager to be able to go over and introduce themselves is great. It continues to build that relationship and hopefully strengthen a bond and the guest’s desire to dine with us because of that acknowledgment. The goal is to keep people coming back.”
There are silver (spend $250 in six months), gold ($500 in six months), and platinum ($1,000 in six months) levels. One of the challenges, of course, is getting people to initially download the software.
Baru says they train staff to promote Wisely and feature it on the restaurant’s social media outlets as well as in-store paper products. The number of signed-up guests was approaching 600 in late summer.
Overall, Vichich says the Ann Arbor sample provided enough positive results to take the next step. They want to go national, and are currently live in around 75 Michigan restaurants, and starting to pop up in Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia, and Orlando.
The type of information gathered is changing as feedback from operators continues to stream in. Vichich says they plan to add a way for diners to note specific needs, like allergy concerns. Wisely also allows restaurants to message guests about upcoming deals and announcements, and provides integrated analytics.
The cost is also something that’s fluid at the moment. Vichich explains that pricing plans are unique to the restaurant and haven’t been solidified just yet. There’s typically a small startup cost and a monthly fee.
But, at the end of the day, the platform always comes back to people, he says. Just something as simple as remembering how a customer likes her steak cooked, and improving on that experience if it was done incorrectly in the past, can add up.
“Sometimes technology is seen as this thing that’s anti-human,” Vichich says. “You hear about self-driving cars and things like that. We are a tool that helps humans be more human. It’s about using all of the information a restaurant has through their systems to recognize a person and make him feel valued, make him feel important. That’s kind of the core thesis of hospitality—to make people feel appreciated and important, and that’s our mission.”