UW grads create app to redefine the way we dine out

YoEats will launch in mid-July and offers users the ability to rate individual menu items in real time, as well as pay from their mobile device at participating restaurants, so no more waiting for the check.

How many times have you gone to pay your bill at a restaurant and the server seems to just disappear with your credit card while you wait, and wait, and wait — all so you can just sign your name?

Or how about when you try a new restaurant and the menu just overwhelms you with options — none of which you can be certain will meet with your tastes, even if they all sound delicious?

A new mobile app designed by UW–Madison grads will launch this summer aimed at alleviating those dilemmas and much more. YoEats bills itself as the world’s first and only intelligent point of sale (POS) application, and to listen to CEO and Co-Founder Clay Burdelik tell it, the app could soon redefine the way we dine out.

“I had so many frustrations working in the restaurant industry, and I [even] missed a train as the result of a waiter who went MIA,” says Burdelik. “I said, ‘It’s absolutely crazy that I can’t pay this from my phone.’ I was thinking about how I could pay a taxi (Uber) from my phone but not a multimillion-dollar enterprise? It was so ironic. Everyone is paying from his or her phone. Amazon, Uber, EatStreet — we’re even depositing checks from our phone. The only time you ever have to hand your card to anyone today is at restaurants. Then it’s this back-and-forth process that is so wasteful and time consuming.”

According to Burdelik, there are other apps trying to get into mobile payments but they’re in their infancy. YoEats has a few key differentiators including personalized menu generation.

“We help every user order the optimal item in each restaurant and then we collect itemized customer feedback,” notes Burdelik. “This helps us learn about the user’s palate and deliver unprecedented insights to restaurant owners. Yelp appeals to a niche market. As the result of mobile payments, we appeal to the masses and collect a much more accurate representation of consumer sentiment.”

Starters

Burdelik had the idea for YoEats but first he needed some help.

Growing up in Chicago, Burdelik’s family always took advantage of the rich food scene. He was immersed in the environment from a young age and worked every front-of-the-house position imaginable in restaurants. “I saw firsthand the inefficiencies of the restaurant business and the frustrations that they cause.”

Burdelik studied entrepreneurship and management at UW–Madison and graduated in three years, in 2017, in order to pursue YoEats.

“I had done the market research, built the business plan, and was set on finding partners to build the platform,” recounts Burdelik. “I was at the Churchkey one night and saw my friend, whom I had met freshman year. He lived across the hall from me on Sellery 6b. I asked him if any of his friends were computer science (CS) majors and he introduced me to Chris Betagole. Chris and I agreed to get coffee and he brought his roommate, Brandon Humboldt, along.

“We discussed the idea and felt very comfortable with each other’s personalities and complimentary skill sets,” continues Burdelik . “That was April 2017. Since then we have added another developer and multiple adjunct team members and volunteers, including restaurant and tech advisors, advertisement specialists, web developers, and sales staff. Many will come on full-time once it’s financially viable.”

Humboldt is the lead back-end developer for YoEats. He grew up in rural Neillsville, Wisconsin, and taught himself how to build computers when he was 8 years old and started his own computer company at the age of 13. Graduating from UW–Madison in 2018 with a degree in computer science, Humboldt previously held positions as the UW Department of IT (DOIT) help desk lead, as well as completing a development internship for Sony in Madison.

Betagole, who grew up in Cincinnati, is the UI & UX lead for YoEats. He has worked for multiple area development firms doing front-end development, and he graduated in 2018 from UW–Madison with a computer engineering degree.

As for their motivations to start a company, each of the three co-founders had longstanding desires to build something from scratch, just in different ways.

“I have always had the entrepreneurial spirit,” notes Burdelik. “I was always having lemonade stands and car washes as a kid. I quickly learned the value of social entrepreneurship when I started charging $3 for a cup of lemonade so I could donate it to Hurricane Katrina relief. Other kids were selling cups for 25 cents. My grandpa was an inventor, my parents started their own business, and I just always had the itch to be innovative and do my own thing. Working my summer internship definitely taught me that I didn't want to go the traditional route.”

“I always had the itch,” Humboldt says. “I started my own computer company when I was 13. That being said, where we are is definitely a product of the team. But yeah, I always had visions of starting my own software consulting firm.”

“It was an organic process,” explains Betagole. “I always wanted to build something but not a business. I’m an engineer, not a business guy.”

(Continued)

 

Main course

YoEats promises to be unique in that the app works symbiotically between restaurants and their patrons.

“We plug our software right into a restaurant’s current POS system,” Burdelik explains. “We don’t change the workflow for the server at all, except that they don’t have to worry about running cards or splitting bills anymore. Users download our app the first time and enter age, gender, and payment information. [At the restaurant] they scan a QR code located on each table. The app will run their profile — which includes allergies, dietary restrictions, preferences, and past ratings — across a database of the menu at hand. We deliver the best options for each user, accompanied by professional photography to bring the menu to life. This helps create a safer and easier ordering process.”

With YoEats, servers come by and take the order like normal. “Our goal is not to take away personal interaction in restaurants, it’s to leverage technology to make those interactions better,” says Burdelik.

Instead of asking the server, “What’s your favorite?” customers will now ask, “Between X and Y, what’s your favorite?”

“It gives the server a fighting chance of giving a useful suggestion,” Burdelik notes. “Once they put the order into the POS system, the bill updates in real time on the customers’ phone. They are free to split and pay the bill whenever they’re ready. Customers rate each item 1-5 stars (required) and have the option to leave comments if they choose. Payments happen at the tap of a button and are more secure than ever before — no more handing a physical card to a stranger. We send tokenized card information to the restaurant’s payment processor, which is the most secure payment process that exists.

“Overall, customers get better suggestions and can see the food they’re about to order,” adds Burdelik. “Then at the end, there’s no hassles splitting and paying — customers can just leave when they’re ready.”

Burdelik notes how much time is often wasted with the traditional payment process at restaurants:

  • There’s the split second you and your party decide you’re ready to leave;
  • Then you wave down your server;
  • Then the server goes and checks on their other tables and has to bring out food;
  • Then they print out your tab, and they may or may not have to split it;
  • Then you put your card in a book and wait for the server to pick it up and run it; and
  • Finally, it’s delivered back to you ready to be signed.

“This process wastes valuable time and increases wait times,” Burdelik says. “If we can forego that process, it can save 15–20 minutes in many cases. Now that party who walked away at a 45-minute wait is staying for the 25-minute wait. We help restaurants capture more revenue during their peak hours. This isn’t to mention the extra time servers have to sell an extra beer and be more attentive on the floor.”

YoEats also collects anonymous data, which is important for restaurants to see. Participating restaurants will be able to view the ratings of each menu item and the segments that rated them (by age and gender).

“It’s a direct feedback loop that is virtually impossible to implement if not for our platform,” notes Burdelik. “We also understand the characteristics of dishes each user likes and dislikes so we can provide the best possible experience for each individual patron in each establishment. The feedback isn’t all about what we give to the restaurant, but how our machine learning helps each customer have a better experience.

“Between increasing customer satisfaction, turning tables faster, and helping restaurants understand their customers better, we can improve profits and help small businesses succeed,” Burdelik adds.

YoEats is planning a mid-July launch of its app, which will be available to consumers for free on iOS and Android.

Burdelik says the app is currently being tested at Bandung on Willy Street, his team is talking with local groups, and he hopes to have a few more local restaurants on board by mid-July when they launch. They’re also talking with restaurants in Chicago and will be reaching out more to establishments in Milwaukee and Minneapolis in the coming weeks.

So far there is positive reaction from restaurants the YoEats crew has talked to, even if local restaurants don’t have the same turnover issues as eateries in larger cities.

“We’re starting to target Chicago and Milwaukee because they’re busier and care more about table turnover,” Burdelik explains. “Some restaurants here say that’s great, but they’re only on a wait a couple times a week. Some are also just weary of new technology. However, nobody has said, ‘That’s a bad idea.’

“My neighbor in Chicago runs a restaurant that does $11 million per year [in sales],” Burdelik continues. “He says that if people were paying from their phones and leaving 15 minutes faster twice in succession, he could get an extra party at each table each night — Friday, Saturday, and Sunday — and forecasted he’d do another $2 million in business. We’re getting our tests in smaller restaurants before we tackle that.”

While the YoEats is free for consumers, participating restaurants will be charged a setup fee, a monthly fee, and then a per use fee.

“We can do targeted ads and data sales down the road,” says Burdelik, “but we don’t want to turn into Facebook. We want to be very transparent with any data we collect. Data would be completely anonymous and would consist of segmented ratings for beer, for instance. What did people 40–50 years old think of that new IPA from XYZ Brewery? [The restaurants] don’t know, but we could tell them.”

Dessert

Even though YoEats has yet to launch, its creators are already looking ahead to the next meal.

“We have tons of plans,” says Burdelik. “One involves creating a next-generation food discovery application. Imagine you, your vegan brother, lactose-intolerant sister, gluten-free mom, and steak-loving dad are all in Miami. Where can you possibly eat? We want you to be able to connect your profiles, search in a certain radius, and deliver the best possible restaurants for your party. That’s our vision.”

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