Can a New Takeout “Subscription” Service Help Save NYC’s Best Restaurants?
Table22 provides a platform for restaurants to bring in monthly revenue when they need it most
When COVID-19 first entered our daily vocabulary, Sam Bernstein was in the process of launching his startup — an online marketplace for university housing. But then, as is the case with just about everything that has happened over the past year, things got derailed. With the realization that his company was no longer viable due to a lack of demand, he did that thing every VC, entrepreneur and tech writer loves to talk about: he pivoted.
So his team changed course and launched Table22, a platform for buying subscriptions to local restaurants. He says his team were “inspired by all the pivoting, twisting, turning and reinventing restaurants were doing at the time. We looked around and saw all these new product offerings and got excited about how [we] could solve for what has been a long-term issue in the restaurant industry.”
That issue is well known: it’s hard as shit to run a restaurant. The margins are razor-thin and the work is unending. If you’ve never thought about it, read this piece by Gabrielle Hamilton in the New York Times about why she decided to shut down her popular downtown restaurant Prune in the early days of the pandemic.
So Bernstein and his team devised a platform for restaurant subscriptions as a way to “help build stable, predictable and typically much higher-margin recurring revenue for the business.” He points out that this has not widely been part of the industry financial model, but “has amazing downstream financial and operational benefits.”
They launched in May of 2020 with Bento Picnic, a Japanese cafe and natural wine bar in Austin. Now they have more than 150 restaurants in close to 50 cities, with New York as their largest market. Some restaurants are doing six figures of annual recurring revenue with much higher margins than normal restaurant methods.
The beauty of the way that Table22 works is that every restaurant designs its own subscription model. Some offer meal kits (think a very elevated Blue Apron), some do pantry provisions, others serve pre-made meals … there are even some cocktail kits culled from the city’s best bar programs. Through these subscriptions, Bernstein is hoping to bring restaurants to life in new ways outside of typical dine-in or take-out methods.
If you’re concerned about price gouging like on other restaurant apps, know that Table22 takes on average a very reasonable 10% of subscription revenue, significantly less than meal-delivery apps, which can run as high as 30%. It should be pointed out that none of these subscription programs are exactly cheap, but when you consider that they have some dynamite, independent, local joints on the roster, it all seems pretty fair.
You can order a “cook the book” meal (meaning a dish from their cookbook) from storied Italian joint Frankie’s Spuntino, which includes pre-prepped ingredients for a three-course meal for four to six people. You can explore The Four Horsemen and their prestigious wine program via a subscription highlighting both established and emerging winemakers. Enrique Olvera’s ATLA has both a mezcal program for rare expressions of the spirit and a “cook the book” program for at-home meal kits from the award-winning chef. The Italian all stars at il Buco offer up a monthly provisions box filled with pastas, cured meats, olives, sauces and other jarred products. Speakeasy PDT has an easy-to-mix cocktail kit.
Everything is available for pick-up, and most are also available for delivery depending on the borough you live in (for a small extra fee). There’s plenty more on offer than the places mentioned, covering a wide swath of cuisines and formats. So help out your local restaurant and subscribe here.
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