Q&A with DineTonite founder and CEO Mohammed Islam
DineTonite is an online restaurant reservation and discount service. The New York City-based company was founded in 2010 and currently offers its service in New York, with more rollouts planned in the near future.
SUB: Briefly describe the DineTonite user experience.
Islam: DineTonite offers restaurant patrons the ability to save an unlimited dollar amount at restaurants. Individuals simply login to www.dinetonite.com to find and research the right restaurant by searching by location, cuisine, and other factors. Upon selection of the restaurant, DineTonite presents a real-time reservations calendar that displays percentage discounts off the entire food bill for that specific day. Dynamic discounts vary day-by-day per the restaurant management’s desire, with deeper discounts typically appearing during the week. DineTonite members can use the service to book restaurants up to three months in advance.
The restaurant is not charged a fee for using the service. A flat fee of $5 is paid by the customer to DineTonite for each book reservation. Usage of DineTonite does not require the patron to bring any sort of coupon or printout to the establishment. The DineTonite system provides restaurant management with all of the pertinent information, including the patron’s exact percentage discount which is automatically deducted from the bill.
DineTonite patrons are recognized by the establishment upon taking their seat. The discount is handled with complete discretion, so only the patron and the restaurant staff know about the savings.
SUB: Where did the idea for the site come from?
Islam: I owned a restaurant in Midtown Manhattan and always needed new ways to bring people in, especially during non-peak times.
I thought the industry needed a new model where customers receive a percentage off of their bill as opposed to a set dollar amount. To achieve the goal of restaurants of filling tables on weekdays, I created a tiered percentage discount system to offer greater discounts during the week. Restaurants would charge less on the customer’s bill, and while they would take in less immediate money, that is offset by the increased traffic and exposure.
SUB: What is the value proposition you bring to the market?
Islam: On typical daily deal sites, patrons often receive a $10 or $15 savings and they have to present coupons. For larger parties, giving a static dollar amount of savings does not make much of an impact.
Our offer benefits consumers by providing a bigger discount, of up to 35 percent at some restaurants. Patrons can book reservations on our site for parties of up to 8 individuals, meaning total percentage discounts can easily eclipse $100.
For owners, they are giving up a percentage of their sales, but they are building traffic in a better manner. With daily deals they consistently lose money, but DineTonite still gives them a positive return while increasing exposure. Expenses such as establishment and other fixed costs remain the same, but by filling tables with DineTonite that would have otherwise been empty, the owners receive additional profits that they normally wouldn’t, while adding just food costs.
SUB: What is your business model? How do you make money?
Islam: DineTonite has a simple business model that involves a flat $5 booking fee per reservation that is charged to the patron. The participating restaurants do not pay any “membership” or service fee to be a part of DineTonite.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition?
Islam: There is a site in New York called Village Vines that has some similarities to DineTonite, but it is not comparable. They do not offer real-time reservations, which causes patrons confusion and forces them to call restaurants directly to confirm reservations. Our site was designed and built to be user friendly, and we feel our actual reservation process is the best and fastest for consumers.
We don’t consider other daily deal sites or review-centric sites to be competitors.
SUB: What were some of the challenges you faced in getting the web site/service up and running?
Islam: A main challenge for the company was to build a customer friendly site that would be easy to use for even the least tech savvy individuals. We carefully minimized the steps involved to sign up and make a reservation. If the site is not designed right from the start, it won’t gain traction and repeat usage, so we really challenged ourselves to produce a polished site.
SUB: How much outside funding have you raised to this point? Do you plan to raise more in the near future?
Islam: DineTonite was launched as a completely self-funded venture. As the site expands into other cities and we need marketing dollars, we will likely pursue outside capital.
SUB: Where do you see DineTonite in roughly a year from now?
Islam: Assuming the site performs within our expectations, we will expand into five to seven other major metropolitan areas within the year.
SUB: Finally, a question I always ask: as an entrepreneur who has weathered the down economy, what advice do you have for those just starting out—especially in an economy that remains less than dynamic?
Islam: The biggest key for early entrepreneurs is to always present value to the consumer. The customer needs to have a real perception of value. With our site, we presented something of true value that was very attractive in a down economy. We offer a win-win situation for the consumer and the merchant, which is an important goal for any entrepreneurial venture.
Beyond value, I always embrace the core values of working hard, focusing on the goal, and moving on from brief setbacks.
DineTonite – www.dinetonite.com