Started as a small side project, Bistro is the best way for restaurant owners to discover reviews, articles, and photos of their restaurant online.
NO 1 Overview
I grew up in a family of restaurant owners and have always maintained a love of small, locally-owned restaurants. For many years, simple newspaper articles or “best of” awards would help drive the success of a restaurant, but that time has passed. Now, between social networks, amateur review sites, and a stream of blogs, restaurants owners can easily miss important reviews that are helping or hurting their business. In the Fall of 2013, I started a little project called Bistro with my two friends, Zach Flower and Ken Caron. We wanted to make a simple service that allowed restaurant owners to discover every photo or post about them online in one place.
NO 2 The Process
Brand & Identity
Building out Bistro was an exercise in lean startup methodology. We wanted to build a dead-simple version one product and launch it within weeks. This meant that everything related to the brand identity should be very purpose built, but that the brand and logo could evolve as the product grew and shaped itself over the following months.
We came up with the name to represent both the industry and to evoke the idea of a small and reliable establishment that would feel at home in any neighborhood.
Our business cards are customized for every interaction we have with a restaurant owner. Instead of just handing out cards that owners would forget about, we wanted to remind them with where we met or put any additional notes on the cards. This ended up working really well when talking with a restaurant owner at their restaurant because Bistro is often one thought out of thousands that owners have to worry about every day of running their business.
Marketing Site Design
More than just the logo and type, we worked to come up with a particular voice in all of our messaging and photography used across the marketing site and inside of the web app. Knowing that our core audience was not as tech-savvy as other industries, we created our customer-facing site with education and simplicity in mind. Every element on the page either describes Bistro to someone seeing it for the first time, or directs the user towards the next action. While we did not have a large base to test every decision with in the beginning, we did user interviews with a few local restaurant owners to see how they used and understood the site.
Working with Zach & Ken, the first version of Bistro crawls more than twenty sites for reviews, articles, photos, and social mentions. Many of the sites are crawled using the provided APIs, but a few are page scrapes or more manual entry. The big differentiator between Bistro and any other review-related product out there is how we discover photos for our users: instead of having to mention the restaurant or business, we grab photos posted online from the restaurant’s latitude-and-longitude.
Bistro was first imagined as a product for small mom-and-pop restaurants, but we’re starting to see growth in the market of small restaurant groups with five to ten restaurants in a particular city or region. After understanding that it would be difficult to sort through a high volume of reviews and photos for many restaurants mingled together, we introduced the ability to sort any of the reviews by highest/lowest, oldest/newest, and by an restaurant in particular. More than any other product that I’ve worked on in the last few years, building Bistro with such a small team has meant that we build the things that customers actually need to use and that we get to iterate on an extremely-condensed timeline.
Along with viewing individual posts and articles, we also give owners a dashboard view so they can see how their restaurant’s presence online has grown over the last few months. Our hope is that the number of positive reviews and mentions grows as they learn to utilize Bistro more and more for their business.
NO 3 The Core Product
Right now, restaurant owners pay a one-tier pricing of $24.99 per restaurant in the system. We launched the product locally by talking to a number of restaurants in Boulder and Denver and have continued to move the product forward based on their retention and feedback. Along with learning about the joys and difficulties of building up a new product from just an idea, we love working together and see Bistro as our small passion project. Out of our core product, one of the biggest unknowns for us is why our product is more popular in Eastern Europe than anywhere else in the world.
NO 4 The Impact & Next Steps
While Bistro is still very small as we continue to experiment, we’ve discovered more than three-hundred thousand posts and photos for our customers. As someone who grew up in the restaurant industry and knows how important reviews can be to the success or failure of a restaurant, I’m extremely happy to see how Bistro has helped the restaurants it serves.
Over the last few months, we’ve interviewed customers and made notes of things that bother us or we want to see improved. We’re currently working on the new Bistro 2.0 and cannot wait to share it with everyone. Be sure to check back here as I’ll update this case study as soon as it launches.
If you enjoyed this project and would like to work together, get in touch.