Everybody can relate to the hassle of making reservations at an upscale restaurant: the place is booked solid, you have an endless wait for your table, or you show up and your name isn’t on the list. Joshua Stern, founder of I Know the Chef, wants to solve the problem with a little technology.
Founded in 2013, I Know the Chef aims to make reservations at high-end restaurants easy and affordable. The app-based paid membership allows users to make reservations at more than 150 of the hottest restaurants in NYC, Chicago, and Miami.
The dining experience has always been about the customer, says Stern, and modern dining is about the user. Below, the WeWork Gramercy member discusses high-end dining, businesses making the best of bad situations, and starting his own user experience.
WeWork: What led you to start I Know the Chef?
Stern: I started going to restaurants at a young age. After graduating from Boston University, I went to a restaurant where a friend of mine worked as a general manager. It was crazy busy. He saw us and sat us down at a great table, and I realized that experience was not available through websites or apps yet, only through paying thousands of dollars a year in concierge fees. I wanted to create a user experience where within two clicks, you could get a reservation at a great restaurant at a prime-time hour that isn’t available anywhere else.
WeWork: What does your app do better or different than anyone else?
Stern: Whenever anybody signs up on our site, they go through a dining preference selection, all picture-oriented, and tell us their favorite types of liquor, dessert, seating preference, dietary restrictions, and top-five restaurants. We get all that information at once, and when you make a reservation request, these details are sent to the restaurant so they know in advance “I love red wine, and Champagne, and I love to sit near a window, and I’m allergic to shellfish.” Our users love that part. No one besides us is really getting personal yet.
WeWork: So who uses I Know the Chef?
Stern: Our spectrum covers so many different types of diners. We have younger generation, older generation, single, married, girlfriend and boyfriends—everybody who loves to eat out at restaurants can use us. But definitely our bread-and-butter are the young professionals all the way up to executive, investment bankers, and equity guys, because those are the guys dining out every night, taking out clients, and going on dates.
WeWork: What is the most challenging part of your job?
Stern: There are not enough hours in a day. Because we’re a small team, we all have to do so many things. We’re always looking to grow, but that’s been the hardest challenge and we’ve had to run it lean-and-mean. There are so many facets to what we offer and how we want to improve, so it’s not easy to do everything we want to do.
WeWork: Who’s your role model?
Stern: I’m a big fan of Danny Meyer and his book Setting the Table. He stresses that in all restaurants and businesses, making the customer happy is key. Even if the customer has a bad experience, there are ways to turn it around and make them happy. I didn’t really know what that meant until I started this company. We’ve had members who have emailed us, freaking out. After we write them back a great email, and offer them something else and try to amend for it, they’ll say, “This is amazing, I’m telling all my friends.” If somebody has a bad experience, you can turn it into a positive one with the right response.
Photography by Lauren Kallen