Q&A with Joel Montaniel, CEO & Co-founder of SevenRooms

Joel Montaniel. Image: SevenRooms

When SevenRooms CEO Joel Montaniel founded the platform with Allison Page and Kinesh Patel, his experience somewhat mirrored that of the operators he meant to serve.

Prior to founding SevenRooms, Montaniel was in a draining, passionless career. His job involved sitting in a cubicle. He worked more than 100 hours per week on a regular basis. He found himself looking for the exits, and a hospitality industry entrepreneur was born.

Montaniel didn’t open his own restaurant—he created a platform that serves them. SevenRooms, as those who already use it know, features advanced FOH and CRM capabilities. One advantage inherent to the platform is the collection of guest data, utilized in this case to enhance the guest experience by several factors.

Using SevenRooms, an operator’s FOH team can more quickly establish positive (and profitable) relationships with guests. A person no longer has “to go 20 times to get recognized as valued regulars,” as Montaniel has explained. Guest data that can better inform the FOH staff can be collected rapidly, allowing guests to be treated to impressive experiences in just a few visits. The benefits are obvious: deliver personalized guest experiences, increase guest visit frequency and spend, create an army of brand advocates, make more money.

A focus on data also means that SevenRooms conducts industry-wide studies to better understand its current state and predict where it’s headed. Throughout 2019, we reviewed a number of their reports, such as informed predictions of how operators will use future technologies; how the platform has modernized the guest experience; and how eatertainment is the new nightclub.

We asked Montaniel five questions about the hospitality industry, changes it went through in 2019, and where he thinks it’ll go in 2020.

How has consumer behavior changed, and how are you helping operators adapt?

With the advancement of technology, consumers have come to expect more from their interactions with operators. No longer does a “one-size-fits-all” approach work for restaurants, hotels or nightlife venues. Rather, guests expect their experiences to be personalized to their taste, especially at venues they’ve visited before. In fact, a study showed that 80% of consumers are more likely to do business with a company if it offers a personalized experience. In a restaurant, these personalized interactions are made possible by capitalizing on the massive amounts of data collected with each guest visit.

Data allows restaurants to fine-tune their service based on customer preferences. For example, if a guest typically orders red wine, servers can use this data to bring over a complimentary glass of their favorite Pinot Noir for a special occasion. Additionally, if a diner has a severe allergy, ensuring the team and kitchen are on the same page can create new and improved touchpoints to make guests feel like the experience has been customized for them. These interactions are what turn a casual diner into a loyal guest for life.

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The SevenRooms platform truly allows operators to create these kinds of personalized and memorable experiences by equipping staff with the guest information they need to execute across the guest journey, whether that’s in-service, or in post-visit marketing and engagement. Operators who utilize data to provide above-and-beyond guest experiences are the ones that win time and time again—creating more loyal customers and increasing revenue through repeat visits.

What changes or disruptors had the most impact on the industry in 2019?

2019 was a big year for the hospitality industry as we saw consumer preference shift further towards prioritizing experiential and personalized experiences. Specifically, we saw significant focus on integrating more unique experiences in nightlife—blurring the lines of restaurants and clubs/bars. SevenRooms’ research on this trend found that nearly one in three Americans (29%) prefer a bar or club that has an activity, food, and drink all in one place—a massive shift towards the new “club”—eatertainment venues.

Costs seem to be rising on multiple fronts. How are you helping operators reduce them and maintain profitability?

Costs are absolutely top of mind for operators across the board—especially as we head into 2020 and the increase in minimum wage across the U.S. that goes into effect on January 1. One of the ways we help operators reduce costs is through our revenue model. While other reservation and guest management platforms mostly charge per cover, SevenRooms charges a flat monthly fee per venue. The SevenRooms software also works alongside consumer-facing reservation marketplaces, allowing operators to focus on guest experience, while still reaching their guests wherever they’re looking for reservations. Our technology provides flexibility and functionality that we pioneered within the industry. From our seamless mobile and web interfaces, to our 40+ POS integrations, to our ability to cross-sell reservations across a hospitality group—we’re leading the charge in an operator-first approach to business that helps operators unlock the full revenue potential of guest data.  

By creating a platform that enables operators to capitalize on this guest data, we can further provide savings to operators through streamlined processes and reduced waste. For example, if a kitchen is ordering ingredients for the upcoming week and notes a significant uptick in the number of guests allergic to shellfish coming in, they will know to order less oysters, crab, shrimp and clams—reducing both food waste and cost on the operator. 

The same applies for in-service experiences to help boost revenue. Using a system like SevenRooms to understand the wine preferences and price tolerance of a guest coming in for the evening—based on historical spend—a sommelier can more proactively approach service and provide better recommendations, leading to increased sales for the property, and a happy customer that will continue to come back to your property. The SevenRooms system also enables restaurants to offer reservation upgrades, packages, and pre-sell experiences. This helps the restaurant generate more revenue while enabling guests to choose the type of experience they truly want.

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SevenRooms is focused on providing restaurants with the tools they need to create a better experience for the guest and more efficient processes for employees. Instead of competing against its clients to own the guest relationship, SevenRooms is putting data in the hands of operators, empowering the hospitality industry to use it to better serve their guests, grow their businesses and impact their bottom line.

What new innovations are you most excited about?

From the very beginning, our focus has been on building products that are 100% aligned with the operator. One of the upcoming innovations we’re most excited to introduce is our ability to harness the power of voice technology for in-service use at a restaurant. Last October, we received an investment from Amazon’s Alexa Fund—their first foray into restaurant operations—to build Alexa-specific skills for restaurant and nightlife operators. By harnessing this new voice technology, SevenRooms users will be able to instantly access key guest preferences and data, hands-free. Operators will simply be able to voice a multitude of questions from, “Do we have any peanut allergies in the dining room?” and “How are we doing tonight?” to “Who’s on table 17?” This capability allows operators to further streamline operations and enables their staff to seamlessly deliver more personalized experiences, without taking their eyes off the guest.

Looking at what's next, what's your forecast for your business and the industry in 2020?

2020 will be a big year for the hospitality industry. As we head into a new decade, not only do operators have to manage an array of advanced technologies across their tech stack, but also navigate a slew of new regulations—with data as the core focus. Guest data has the potential to further unlock operators’ abilities to create the most personalized experiences possible—but it must be used thoughtfully, and protected carefully. In the year ahead, we’ll see all hospitality operators, from Michelin-starred restaurants and multi-concept groups, to family dining and fast casual concepts, focus on bettering the guest experience using the rich data they collect through interactions with their guests. This will go hand in hand with a renewed focus on how this data is stored and shared across their organization, and which systems they can use to protect this data.  

Using systems like SevenRooms, operators have the ability to make every guest experience feel highly personalized. And as technology continues to advance, this will only be taken to the next level. But, with this power comes great responsibility, as data privacy and protection are incredibly important to consumers. We’ll start to see the hospitality industry focus on bettering their practices, especially with the enactment of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), the continued diligence surrounding GDPR and other legislation expected to pass in 2020. Operators will find themselves focusing on how to navigate and embrace these and other soon-to-come data-privacy laws to make them work for their businesses.

We also expect to see “eatertainment” experiences continue to rise in popularity as Americans demand more from their nightlife experiences. Based on our recent research, it’s clear the trend will continue through 2020, with almost a quarter (24%) of Americans wishing there were more venues near them that combine an activity with food and drink. And it’s worth the investment, as 21% of Americans are willing to spend more money on a night out at an eatertainment venue than a traditional venue.

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In the new year, SevenRooms will continue in our mission to help hospitality operators use technology to maximize profits, build brand loyalty and create more personalized guest experiences. We’re planning to considerably grow the team in the year ahead. SevenRooms is currently in the midst of a massive growth stage and to keep up with this pace, we’re hiring across every team and office—from New York to London to Hong Kong. We’re always looking for talented, passionate people who thrive in fast-paced startup environments and bring innovative ideas to the table for our next advancements.


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