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Blackbird: The Revolutionary Loyalty Platform Transforming Independent Restaurants

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Edited by: TJVNews.com

In the world of dining, the name Ben Leventhal is synonymous with innovation. As one of the co-founders of the popular restaurant-news site Eater and the groundbreaking restaurant-reservation service Resy, Leventhal has played a pivotal role in reshaping the way we experience and interact with restaurants, as was recently reported in the New York Times. His latest venture, Blackbird, is poised to revolutionize the industry once again. Blackbird, which launched in New York City in April, is the world’s first loyalty platform designed exclusively for independent restaurants, according to the NYT report. The platform recently announced its successful pilot program and plans for expansion to San Francisco and Los Angeles. Backed by a substantial $24 million investment from a16z (Andreessen Horowitz), along with previous seed funding of $11 million led by the Union Square Ventures fund, Blackbird is set to disrupt the restaurant landscape, the NYT report added.

Blackbird’s emergence couldn’t be more timely. The NYT report indicated that independent restaurants have been grappling with challenges such as rising labor costs, new pricing dynamics, and the encroachment of national chains. The aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic has spurred a period of self-reflection for these establishments, prompting them to explore innovative strategies for survival and growth.

In an interview with the New York Times, Ben Leventhal emphasized that despite the enduring fascination with restaurants, chefs, and culinary culture over the past two decades, many independent restaurants find themselves struggling. Leventhal observed that “the average restaurant is doing the same or worse, and connectivity between restaurants and guests has eroded.” Factors like the surge in home delivery through third-party apps and the decline of direct reservations lines have challenged the traditional restaurant-guest relationship.

Blackbird aims to recapture the essence of the “old school maître d’ mindset” by bridging the gap between diners and independent restaurants, as was reported by the NYT. The platform offers a unique approach to customer loyalty that goes beyond the usual discounts and points system.

Blackbird’s premise is straightforward: diners sign up for the platform at no cost. Upon registration, they are tagged, enabling Blackbird to track their restaurant visits, the NYT report stated. Repeat customers are identified and rewarded with enticing perks, including complimentary cocktails, extra desserts, and exclusive birthday discounts.

One of the standout features of Blackbird is its real-time communication channel. It serves as the first app that facilitates direct text messaging between restaurants and members. Approximately 20 restaurants in Manhattan and Brooklyn are already equipped with Blackbird readers at their entrances, the report added.

These establishments, often characterized by their trendy and cool ambience, include Di An Di, a cozy Vietnamese restaurant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, Principe, an upscale SoHo restaurant, and Upside Pizza, a fast-growing local pizza chain, according to the NYT report.

For independent restaurants, maintaining a connection with diners after they leave the premises has always been a challenge. Natalie Freihon, a veteran restaurateur, noted, “We put in a lot of time with guests when they’re in the restaurant. But as soon as they walk out the door, it’s very hard to keep track of them,”  as was reported in the NYT. Blackbird changes this dynamic by creating an ongoing relationship.

Like many loyalty programs, Blackbird collects essential personal information from its members, such as their names, ZIP codes, and birthdates. Additionally, it gathers detailed data from each dining experience, including the menu items ordered, special requests, and food allergies, as was noted in the NYT report. While this data collection may be common, independent restaurants often lack the tools to effectively utilize this raw data.

Ben Leventhal emphasized the difference between merely knowing a customer’s birthday and having the means to invite them back for a special drink, as was reported in the NYT. Each participating restaurant can establish its own reward system with tiers based on the number of visits. Moreover, customers earn credits, known as “$FLY,” during each visit, which can be redeemed at any Blackbird restaurant.

Blackbird operates on a revenue-sharing model, where it earns a small fee for each member visit. Over time, the platform may also consider charging restaurants for licensing its software. Furthermore, Blackbird has the potential to monetize the data it collects, similar to other platforms like Resy and OpenTable, according to the NYT report. However, Blackbird distinguishes itself by allowing restaurants to access data from all members, not just those who dine at their specific establishments.

Blackbird assumes the role of guest relations that many independent restaurants often cannot afford. While it doesn’t handle reservations directly, it integrates seamlessly with popular reservation tools like OpenTable, Resy, Tock, web hosting platforms like BentoBox, and management systems like Toast, the NYT reported.  It provides an additional layer of personalized communication and engagement that enhances the overall dining experience.

One of the most innovative features of Blackbird is its SMS concierge service, enabling direct communication between restaurants and customers via text messages. The NYT report also said that this feature allows customers to inform the restaurant if they are running late or need additional seating. In return, restaurants can reach out to Blackbird customers to fill last-minute openings, enhancing efficiency and ensuring diners enjoy a seamless experience.

However, there is a potential challenge with this direct communication. The influx of text messages, differing member tiers, and expectations of V.I.P. treatment could present operational complexities.The report in the NYT stated that Ben Leventhal addressed this concern, explaining that restaurants will have the necessary information to make fair decisions when faced with limited seating. Whether it’s a once-a-year visitor or a loyal regular, restaurants aim to balance democratic principles with financial sustainability.

Blackbird is reshaping the independent restaurant landscape by providing a groundbreaking loyalty platform that strengthens the bond between diners and establishments. In an industry that faces ongoing challenges, Blackbird offers a lifeline to independent restaurants seeking to thrive in a dynamic and competitive market. By fostering direct communication and rewarding customer loyalty, Blackbird represents a visionary approach to the future of dining, one that empowers both restaurants and their patrons. As the platform expands to San Francisco and Los Angeles, the culinary world eagerly anticipates its transformative impact on the restaurant experience.

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