Event management platform Tripleseat announced today the launch of its DirectBook feature that streamlines the process of booking catered and private events with restaurants, hotels, and other hospitality companies. More importantly, the new feature allows businesses to provide such services to customers in off-premises settings — that is, outside a restaurant or hotel venue.
It’s a seemingly valuable tool for the catering industry, which has so far been slower to go online than other industries. But as I’ll get into in a minute, it’s also launching at a confusing time for the restaurant industry as a whole, and certainly for catered events.
Over a phone call this week, Tripleseat founder and CEO Jonathan Morse said his company has been working on DirectBook for nearly a year. Historically, booking an event — think corporate events, weddings, birthdays, and bar mitzvahs — meant calling the restaurant and interacting with one or more staff members to choose a menu, reserve the space, and pay for the event, among other tasks. DirectBook bundles all of these together and puts them on the restaurant’s website so that a user interfaces with that rather than a bunch of different people.
“There’s a lot of back and forth when you’re doing a catered event,” said Morse, adding that DirectBook “facilitates all the dialogue and last-mile logistics “without all the muss and fuss.”
The company has also incorporated an off-premises angle to this feature, which allows users to book catering services (food, tables, chairs, etc.) via DirectBook and have them delivered to a location (a park, your backyard) other than the restaurant or hotel. That makes sense, given that many restaurants and hotels can’t hold sizable gatherings due to state restrictions around COVID-19.
There’s no doubt that Tripleseat’s new feature could help event planners more easily manage their gatherings, and that restaurants could make some extra revenue from the process. But is now the best time to launch a tool that makes large(ish) gatherings easier? After all, DirectBook is kicking off at a time when the U.S. is seeing record numbers of COVID-19 cases. Some states are reimposing restrictions on the number of people allowed at any gathering, and others say that small gatherings are just as troublesome when it comes to spreading the virus.
Morse was quick to point out that DirectBook can be used for more than, say, a 50-person gathering. He cited the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday as an example. For years, restaurants of all types have offered Thanksgiving meals onsite, and many are now doing the same thing for delivery and takeout. Arranging a catered Thanksgiving meal for an extended family gathering would certainly be easier with a platform like DirectBook, given the amount of food needed. But again, there’s no getting around the risks of going to Grandma’s for a turkey dinner, especially since Grandma herself might be in the high-risk individual category. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has gone as far as to discourage these large family get-togethers for the holiday.
Taken together, all of this suggests a bit of a right train, wrong track scenario for the moment. Morse himself acknowledged on the phone that as of now, there is rightly so a lot of “doom and gloom around the restaurant industry” despite the interest the company is seeing in online event bookings.
Longer term, when large gatherings are once again safe, DirectBook could prove to be a very valuable piece of the restaurant tech stack when it comes to bringing some versatility and off-premises features to the catering world. Seen in that light, the feature is definitely one to watch. It’s just a matter of getting to the day when gatherings of any size are a little bit safer.