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Have you ever been at a restaurant and the server is perfectly attentive until you actually need him or her, and you’re left sitting there waiting to order another round or pay your bill?
Boston native Alex Reveliotty — who jokes he was eating at Jacob Wirth before he was born — knows the feeling and is working to change these issues in guest services through real-time predictive data.
“An analogy that I typically use to describe Telative is that it works like a GPS for restaurants,” Reveliotty said. “A manager is going to start their shift at Point A and finish their shift at Point B, and most of the time they are working from experience and gut feel without the benefit of decision support from data.”
The Telative software was created using existing data that’s collected in restaurant POS systems and other technologies that restaurants use, such as OpenTable. It gives front and back-of-house staff the ability to see alerts displayed on web-enabled devices next to server stations or on TV screens.
Telative alerts staff when a certain table needs to be bussed, when entrees need to be fired and it will notify them to check for crumbs or crayons under the table after a party with kids has left.
“If two guys come in on a Friday night and they order appetizers and drinks at a specific time, based on our data, we can predict that they will need another round at a specific time later in the meal and alert the server,” Reveliotty explained.
Reveliotty has more than 20 years of experience in the food and beverage industry, working in manufacturing, wholesale and retail, and he got his first taste of the industry when he founded Tremont Ale Brewery in 1993.
He got the idea for Telative in 2008 with some motivation from Dunkin Brands and Moneyball.
While working with Dunkin, the company was in the midst of a major technology push and he witnessed it make powerful improvements based on data from some 7,000 locations. At the same time, he was reading Moneyball — a book that details Billy Beane’s philosophy of building a baseball team through data.
“I realized there’s all this data being collected — almost like baseball statistics — in POS systems and technologies that restaurants are using that can be used to better understand how employees are performing,” he said. “By taking data and using analytics against that, we can deliver that data in real time so people can actually use it. The key thing is that an employee is right there in front of customers and we can influence his or her behavior in such a way that the customer experience improves.”
After learning how to build an effective rules engine for restaurants and site-specific models (the secret sauce behind Telative’s metrics), Reveliotty decided to go all in with Telative in 2013.
Thanks to his connections from the food and beverage industry and education at Northeastern University, he was able to build a team with 20-plus years of experience in development, sales and business development, and modeling and statistical progressions.
According to Reveliotty, the early reviews were positive, and if there was an area that needed improvement, he received the necessary feedback to make the appropriate changes.
But the purpose of Telative is not to improve guest services at smaller, owner-operated establishments.
“The target that we’re shooting for is more of like an Applebee’s or Chili’s — larger chain restaurants. These brands often struggle with guest service, so our target is to help those guys improve that,” he said.
These restaurants are competing on price, get less traffic and face a high employee turnover rate, so, according to Reveliotty, their main avenue to survival is to improve guest services.
“When you’ve got all that turnover, a difficult labor pool and are facing seismic industry shifts where minimum wage is increasing, the Affordable Healthcare Act is in play, overtime rules are changing, there’s a lot of pressure to figure out a way to remain viable,” he said. “What we’re focused on is helping those brands not just survive, but really thrive into the future.”
Innovation in restaurant technology is a crowded space right now — Reveliotty noted there are about 150 mPOS startups like Toast currently in the market — but he’s comfortable backing Telative’s legitimacy to make a difference.
“It sounds crazy, but we really came at this in a way that we recognized a big problem and asked if we could use the technology that’s already in place in a better way to solve that problem,” he said. “Even though there have been some real hurdles, we’re laser focused on where we’re headed.”
That focus is on closing out a $1M seed round by the end of this year or early next in order to convert the beta prototype into a commercially ready product that they can formally pilot in a better-known chain like Legal Seafoods.
Other players in the restaurant-tech game may be working with a bigger budget, but like Billy Beane, Reveliotty understands the key to success lies in the data.
“It’s not my first time at the rodeo as far as startups go,” he said.
Image via Alex Reveliotty