(credit: SilvrSpoon)

On the surface, SilvrSpoon looks like a combination of OpenTable, GrubHub and Yelp. But in reality, says the app’s managing and technical director Nick Terkay, “There is nothing just quite like us in the app store, and that’s because we’re much more than an app – it’s a whole platform engaging customers and restaurants to interact in the dining environment like never before.”

Set to launch this month in Chicago, SilvrSpoon hopes to make the ordering experience at restaurants a little simpler, as well as provide rewards to diners and ordering data and demographics to restaurants. I interviewed the app’s creators—Terkay, Patrick Meyn (business development director), and Eugene Revzin (operations director)—and they explained to me a little bit more about how SilvrSpoon works and why they think this kind of technology is necessary in the restaurant market.

How did you come up with the idea for SilvrSpoon?

Nick: We consider ourselves the types who like to go out to eat a lot. I wouldn’t go as far as self-proclaimed foodies, but we love dining out. Being in technology, we’ve seen it enter into so many other parts of our generation’s lives as a dominating form of how we do things: shopping, dating, social communication. So we started talking and wondered why isn’t this available when we’re out at a bar or restaurant. There have been many times where you wanted another drink or had a question about an item but couldn’t get the server’s attention. And when it comes to rewards, I’ve never been able to keep track of where I had points at or be bothered to be carrying around a bunch of cards. We see a huge gap in where things are in this industry and how they could be brought into the 21st century in an interactive way. That’s why we came up with SilvrSpoon.

Some people say dining out is just too much a very human interaction. And we don’t completely disagree. Everyone loves great service. We’ve found that there are so many situations where if you can’t get the attention of your server and want another drink, that you should be able to make that happen yourself. And if you can get points every time you do that, you’d have a lot of rewards coming your way (think free beer).

Can you explain exactly what it does?

Nick: OK. So you and some friends walk into a restaurant and a hostess seats you at a table. Sitting there is a table-tent with a QR code on it. Naturally you get a bit curious and want to know what this thing is. It says, “Check in with your mobile phone to start ordering,” so you do. You now have a table-specific menu, which you can order from, that notifies servers via tablet devices placed around the restaurant.

Eugene: Each table has a unique QR code, so a group of patrons would all check in at their table and use the application to earn rewards. This way, if somebody at the table places an order or requests the server’s attention, the server can see that it is coming from a table they are responsible for. Also, once everyone is checked in, the server could actually click on that table and see a list of who is there, including their previous dining history at the restaurant, their taste preferences, and even their Facebook profile photo (if they’ve set that up in their app). As a consumer, you get a great experience from a waiter who knows your name and can provide you with some informed suggestions, while the restaurant gets more feedback, more customers earning rewards point, and more valuable data to learn from.

Nick: [You also can] give restaurants feedback directly on your phone. Restaurants get ordering data and demographics and are able to improve your dining experience knowing what works for you and what doesn’t.

Our goal is to use the SilvrSpoon platform to help drive new customers excited to use technology at our participating restaurants. From our marketing research, there are quite a lot of these customers out there. We also want to encourage loyal customers to come back by rewarding them with points for each dollar spent and every review they post (which they can automatically push to Facebook and Twitter if they want to). Ultimately we feel that with the untapped data captured in the platform, unlike other online review sites, restaurants will now be able to promote better service with technology, knowing more about who their customers are and what they like to have.

What did you envision when you first thought of it, and how has it changed since then?

Nick: When it was first envisioned, we had really seen the highlights of the platform being it best utilized as a mobile ordering and payments system. We were given some great advice from the managing director at Lightbank, Paul Lee. (Lightbank is the Chicago seed/venture-capital firm behind Groupon). He pretty much told us we were biting off more than we could chew with mobile payments and that with all of the things that we were bringing to the table (no pun intended) to focus on those and go get restaurants on board. We’d still like to jump into this space some day, but for now we’re focusing on the interactive mobile ordering and customer loyalty components.

About how many restaurants have contacted you?

Nick: [As of early July] we’ve been meeting with restaurant owners and managers for about three weeks now evaluating which restaurants we’d like to launch with. With how customizable we’ve made the SilvrSpoon platform for any type of restaurant, we want to make sure they really understand the technology to increase the chances of its success. We’ll be doing a controlled launch in the Chicago land area in July, launching four restaurants to start, with four or five at a time weeks after.

How did you create the app?

Patrick: Nick is the main developer but we’ve also got an iPhone team, web-dev team, and a design team. We’ll be launching with both an iPhone version and Android version in July, as well as a web user portal. Down the road we’ll include more mobile platforms. The app has been through many prototypes over the past year. We’ve finally honed in on what users and restaurants want, and our product is ready to enter the wild.

How does the app make money?

Apps are free for users (and there’s no advertisements mucking up your experience). We monetize the platform by charging participating restaurants a small setup fee for tablets and a small monthly recurring fee for the service, which comes with customer analytics and support… We feel our price point makes restaurant owners very happy for all that it offers.

What are you plans for expanding outside of Chicago?

We’ve been evaluating other markets for some time now, and quick but controlled expansion will be keys to SilvrSpoon’s success. Population isn’t necessarily the most important fact to consider, as cities that are more tech friendly and have independent restaurateurs with one to 15 locations fit the platform better. Our plan as of now is to be in at least two other cities by the end of 2011.

What’s been the most exciting SilvrSpoon-related moment for you all so far?

Eugene: We recently attended an event where we got to show the platform for the first time. Building this has been a big undertaking, so it’s only recently that we’ve been able to unveil it. The response was great, and we got feedback from several people who brought to light a few areas where this would provide so much value in a way we hadn’t actually even intended. It was great to have people pick up the app, grasp the concept quickly, and start bouncing around ideas and possibilities. We’ve been doing that for quite some time, but it was great to see.

What is your ideal goal for SilvrSpoon?

Peace on earth, one meal at a time.