Last week marked one of my first date nights at a fine dining establishment since March, and while my husband and I were thrilled to have a reason to get dolled up and eat out, we were pleasantly surprised by how safe we felt. Seated in a cozy nook of the restaurant’s outdoor patio, we were appropriately spaced from surrounding guests, had a lovely server who kept his mask on at all times, and ordered all of our food through contactless ordering and payment app GoTab. We caught up with GoTab founder Tim McLaughlin about the rapid growth of his business mid-pandemic – he now has about 500 clients in the hospitality industry nationally – and why it’s been succeeding since 2016.
District Fray: What inspired you to found GoTab?
Tim McLaughlin: GoTab was really a result of our experiences at [Northern Virginia-based brewery] Caboose, which was there’s a slow time in business when nobody’s there and then there’s the time when everybody wants to be there. But unfortunately, due to limitation of tables, seats or ability of servers to get to customers, you just [can’t accomplish] a good enough service level and not everybody gets what they want. GoTab originally started as a way to take care of customers faster so they didn’t have to wait around for someone to get to them.
How has the app changed over the past few years?
Caboose has been using [GoTab] for two years. We’re all over the country. We focused GoTab on counter-serve places. The second brewery my wife owns is a counter-serve brewery. The product has changed a lot since then. Now, it commingles with servers. We’re rolling that out into some other restaurants now that are full service-based. The server – although we prefer to call them guides – the guide would walk you through the restaurant experience. But then as the guest, if you want to reorder, you can reorder and/or pay from your phone. It’s really up to the comfort level of the guest if they want to talk to a guide or not.
How has the business been impacted by Covid?
The biggest thing is we’ve rapidly moved into full-service restaurants because they need the help. They can’t get staff. Every full-service restaurant is short-staffed for a number of reasons – not only economics, but safety concerns. They’re looking at how to reduce the number of customer contacts. If you’re going to contact the customer, is it a good experience? We’ve had a ton of growth because the market has demanded it. We were actually growing pretty well pre-Covid. We just had a more limited market because the perception was you either had a server or you had technology, but you didn’t have both. We’ve always tried to mix the two because we think that hospitality and people are part of that experience.
Where do you hope GoTab is in the next year?
I would see it as a double win. Obviously, we’d grow our business but we’d also help our clients grow their businesses and recover and figure out how to operate in the new world that is Covid. But candidly, this model will work beyond Covid. We’ve been doing this for four years, and we believe the restaurant business was due for some innovation.