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Brooklyn Boîte Seeks — And Finds — Rave Reviews Via Mobile Payments Apps

A hot spot’s experiments with Cover, Sosh, Open Table, and others has improved its digital presence and given it alternatives to traditional review sites.

The Pines is a Brooklyn restaurant that has helped turn a previously non-descript strip into a burgeoning restaurant row.
The Pines is a Brooklyn restaurant that has helped turn a previously non-descript strip into a burgeoning restaurant row.

Nestled on a strip of 3rd Avenue in Brooklyn that was once filled with warehouses and loading docks and is now dotted with cool, upscale restaurants, The Pines is a cozy 40-seat spot that offers an inventive take on American cooking with original cocktails, craft beers, and natural wines.

When it first opened three years ago, The Pines didn’t take reservations and it was cash only. But as it has become more popular — reservations are strongly encouraged, even during weeknights — The Pines hasn’t so much adapted to the typical conventions associated with dining out; instead, it’s continued to try to experiment and improvise.

A Big Tip

About a year ago, a representative from app-based mobile pay startup Cover approached The Pines about using its system to help draw in customers with the promise of “dining without waiting for the check.”

Anthony Mastropolo, who was The Pines’ general manager at the time, had been bombarded with tech bearing similar offerings. But the timing — and Cover’s pitch — was right.

The bar at The Pines (photo credit: The Pines)
The bar at The Pines (photo credit: The Pines)

“They came in with the idea of being the ‘Uber for restaurants,’” said Mastropolo, who has just left his post at The Pines this past week. “It brings in people easily by helping erase the uncomfortable part about waiting for the check, going over the bill. All these services — we also use Open Table and Sosh, for example — are good for business. It’s new, but they’ve been good for customers and servers. And it’s what more and more people seem to want to use.”

Mastropolo’s only concern was that Cover users, who agree to pay before they even order, would tip less than regular patrons. But so far, that hasn’t been the case, as tips from the app’s users have tended to range from 20- to 30 percent, Mastropolo said.

Discovery Is An Off-Menu Item

Cover appealed to Mastropolo in part because it had gained traction in Manhattan by signing up other trendy eateries. Those restaurants across the East River were the kind of establishments Mastropolo thought would reflect well on The Pines, which was one of the first Brooklyn spots to join Cover.

Cover's promise to restaurant-goers is "dining without waiting for the check."
Cover’s promise to restaurant-goers is “dining without waiting for the check.”

“We liked seeing our name on the emails that Cover would mail out to its members,” Mastropolo said. “It was good marketing for The Pines and we didn’t have to pay extra for it.”

In addition to an e-newsletter listing restaurants in Cover users’ neighborhoods, the mobile app itself also makes recommendations based on where a member is located as they browse for a place to go.

“Every restaurant partner would love to drive more business, and that’s certainly something we hope to do,” a Cover representative said. “But right now, our primary benefit is a better experience for restaurants and diners. We don’t charge any additional fees — we’re not a marketing platform. We’re a true partner focused on the service itself.”

Four-Star Reviews

Looks like you're dining at...
Looks like you’re dining at…

Cover actively works with its restaurant partners by giving them increased visibility through the search function on the app, placement on its website, as well as promotions via social media like Foursquare lists. Cover also has a formal relationship with Google-owned reviews platform, Zagat.

“When searching for restaurants on Zagat.com, diners will now see a “Pay with Cover” badge to indicate which places accept Cover,” the rep said. “Separately, after users have paid for their meal using Cover, they will be prompted to rate the restaurant’s Food, Decor, and Service, which is shared anonymously with Zagat and will not be displayed publicly. Users may opt in to receive a follow-up email from Zagat where they will be encouraged to leave a written review. This feedback will be incorporated into Zagat’s signature curated ratings and reviews.”

The company is considering other formal relationships with other platform partners, added the rep.

“We don’t have a formal relationship with Foursquare at this time; we’re using it as a social media platform to boost discoverability and be of service to our users,” the rep said.

An alternative to established reviews sites like Yelp, which Mastropolo called “the devil,” because he feels that reviews-only sites tend to elicit mostly negative reactions from patrons, is also what made The Pines turn to Cover. (Though it should be noted that Yelp has been trying to change its profile from “reviews-only” lately with services like Yelp Now that is aimed at on-demand diners.)

Patrons at The Pines
Patrons at The Pines

Feeding The Uber-Obsession

Differentiation is the main challenge that Cover, Open Table, Reserve, PayPal and others in the space have to contend with.

“We’re unique because we deal only with payments,” the Cover rep said. “We don’t do ticketing, and we’re agnostic as to how a user gets into a restaurant. We’re an out-of-the-box solution that can work with any restaurant: those that take reservations and those that don’t; those that have Point Of Sale systems and those that don’t; and even those that don’t usually accept credit cards. We focus on doing one thing as well as possible.”

As for The Pines, Mastropolo said that the restaurant would likely consider anyone that can connect with customers.

“The world is Uber-obsessed,” he said, “and why not see if you can apply in other ways and see if it works? And in this case, it works.”

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of GeoMarketing.com. A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.