Today Cambridge, MA and San Francisco-based Locu announced the public launch of their online platform designed to help restaurant owners manage and publish up-to-date menus and pricing on their website, mobile site, and Facebook page. The company raised $4 million in Series A funding earlier in the year from General Catalyst, Lowercase Capital, and Lightbank along with several angel investors, which followed $600,000 in seed funding in September 2011.
The company was founded in 2011 by two MIT graduates who were part of Tim Berners-Lee’s lab, and actively sought out to create a solution for local merchants after extensive research and conversations. “We got started at MIT and were very passionate about data and local space. We spent a lot of time initially talking to merchants, and we were very passionate about building a better recommendation engine for restaurants, but then after talking to restaurants we really realized there was this really big pain point around managing data and publishing data offline and keeping everything in sync,” co-founder Rene Reinsburg said in an interview.
Restaurant owners sign up the platform online by providing their restaurant name and the platform aggregates their menu data for them. They are then guided through a one-time setup process of installing the Locu menu widgets on their website, mobile site, and Facebook page. Then restaurants owners, managers, and chefs can use Locu’s platform to add items like their daily or seasonal specials, and upon publishing, their menu on all the other web platforms is updated and synced automatically. The platform also comes equipped with menu template designs for online and print use.
“Before a lot of our users had to email their webmaster and say ‘hey, my menu’s changed,’ and then it would take a lot of time until the webmaster would make the change, sometimes it would even cost them, so it’s really taken the pain out of making the updates. And one thing we hope this will change is hopefully bring a lot more information online. Things like daily specials are not published online,” Reinsburg added. “There’s a lot of technology we built to really gather and structure menu data and pricing data, that technology really helps to make the product really simple to use. While there is a lot of going on in the background, under the hood, in terms of UI and the front end, we decided to keep it really simple and very clean.”
The bulk of Locu’s services are free for restaurant owners. Premium features, which include additional support and functionality like managing multiple locations comes at a price tag of $25 per venue per month (or $229 for the year) with additional custom pricing available for larger restaurant chains and franchises.
While restaurant websites are notoriously low-tech, increasingly they’re built on content management systems (CMS) that allow for easy content updating and can range from platforms the likes of WordPress, Wix and SquareSpace. Locu stands apart by being able to push out the updates to all of the restaurants online communication mediums at once, which will be a big plus for less technically-inclined local restaurant owners who would prefer to not spend the resources on a web designer, nor learn how to navigate a CMS to keep their menu updated.
Locu also recognizes that its feature set could be used by service providers other than restaurants, and has already seen other merchant users including nail salons, hairstylists, and other service-based businesses that may have fluctuating offerings and prices. With a strong data background and enough funding to scale the team and platform, the company looks poised to help give offline merchants a better way to get online.