Tech start-up of the week: TableBookings

2 Feb 20143 Shares

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Sharif Bouktila, founder of TableBookings.com

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TableBookings is a new online service that allows restaurants to manage their bookings online. Customers can book online in real-time with instant confirmation and restaurants can get better insights about their customers.

TableBookings founder Sharif Bouktila said that the idea is to eliminate all the phone calls and email ping-pong that goes with reserving a table.

It also gives restaurants a better way to forecast for their business and market better in order to attract and retain loyal customers.

“TableBookings is the MailChimp of restaurant booking systems, fully featured yet simple to set up and use. Six months after launch we are No 1 in our local market with new restaurants joining every week, both locally and abroad.

“Our audacious goal is to have 1m restaurants globally using TableBookings.com by 2020. Restaurants now appreciate the value of social marketing, even the laggards are joining Twitter and Facebook en masse. TableBookings gives them a way to really capitalise on that effort by removing friction from the booking process and giving them a powerful CRM.”

Bouktila sees a real opportunity over the next three years, as restaurants replace and upgrade their websites to take advantage of mobile, to have TableBookings offered as a plugin or backend to their web presence. 

The founder

Bouktila graduated from studied commerce at University College Dublin and graduated in 1999. He worked in PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) for three years in management consultancy. In 2002, he opened a restaurant in Dublin 2 and ran it successfully for three years.

He has a strong IT background and has worked on projects all over Europe, with companies including Xerox, Cosworth, AIB and IBM. 

In 2010, as the data manager for the Big Switch Campaign in Bord Gais Energy, he designed a data-driven approach to its sales campaigns.

He saw the potential that technology and social analytics could offer restaurateurs and their customers, which inspired him to design and build TableBookings.com

The technology

tablebookings

Sharif Bouktila, founder of TableBookings.com, with Padraic Og Gallagher, president of the Restaurant Association of Ireland and chef and owner of Gallagher’s Boxty House in Temple Bar, Dublin

Hosted in the cloud, Bouktila explained there is nothing for a restaurant to install or maintain, as setting up a restaurant on TableBookings takes less than 10 minutes.

“Once we configure their table plan and opening hours, we install a booking widget onto their webpage and Facebook page, so their customers can check availability and make bookings."

The customer receives a confirmation email straight away and the restaurant also receives a copy.  If the customer needs to amend or change the booking, he or she can do it all online without the need to call the restaurant.

In 2013, TableBookings launched its product and began building its network in Ireland, working closely with restaurateurs.

“We are delighted with the feedback we are receiving and are working very closely with the Restaurants Association of Ireland to ensure that their members have the tools necessary to allow tourists to find and book great restaurants 24/7.

“We are already bootstrapped and profitable and are looking to build a board of advisers, mentors and possibly investors to help us on our journey and build on our current momentum, taking the business to the next level.”

Bouktila said feedback from the restaurants has been a critical factor in fine-tuning the product.

“Starting a new business is always a challenge. What we have done is particularly difficult, as our early customers had to use a new product for a critical part of their business.

“Thankfully, we have some great customers who gave us excellent support and feedback. Our first Christmas season was definitely a challenge, the volume of bookings coming into our restaurants was phenomenal, a really positive sign for us, our customers and hopefully the country as a whole.”

Cooking up a storm

Bouktila said the Irish start-up scene is still in its infancy. “The support that the incubators provide is superb, but I think that there is too strong a focus on attracting investment and not enough on sales/profitability. 

“We need to accept failure as part of the process and allow entrepreneurs to move on and possibly encourage them into other start-ups, which are gaining traction rather than feeling that they need to start again from scratch.”

His advice for other tech start-ups is to keep the ideas coming. “This might sound odd, but if you don’t have other ideas you would also like to work on, be cautious of investing all your time in only one. Work on your idea(s) until you absolutely must do something about it, and then go for it. 

“Test every assumption and get talking to customers before you feel comfortable. There is almost no business where you need to have a product built before testing your sales and marketing channels.

“Investors take a portfolio approach to the companies which they chose to invest in, the reason is that there is a high chance the business will fail, so enjoy the journey regardless of the outcome. You will gain a lot.”

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com