Queenstown tech entrepreneur Mat Weir has seen more than 10,000 diners and 134 restaurants sign up to his start-up in just over a year.
Weir launched First Table back in September 2014.
The website enables diners to eat for half-price if they book the first table of the evening at participating restaurants.
He’s already expanded into Australia, with an Australian website launched last month, and now has the USA in his sights.
“The vision is for First Table to be a key marketing platform used by restaurants across the world,” he says.
“Restaurants are able to leverage quiet times of the night to their marketing benefit.
“Diners use First Table to try out new restaurants, are treated to an amazing experience and come back at later times happily paying full price.”
Diners pay a $10 booking fee to the website to secure the discount - for a group of two to four people.
Weir had the idea after noticing a rise in restaurants offering early bird specials.
“I saw an opportunity to offer those specials on a scale that only the web can offer, and in a way that provides
marketing benefits to restaurants and incentives, savings and new experiences to customers,” he says.
Since starting out, 85,000 people have visited the website and 10,000 people have signed up. Weir’s been living out of a suitcase travelling the two countries in the past year.
“I don’t count the hours – it’s all day every day, but I’ve enjoyed it.
“I bootstrapped the whole thing, so couldn’t employ staff at the start. I answered the phones, fixed the website if there was a problem, visited the restaurants - you do everything off your own back at the start.”
Now he’s employed a business development manager in Auckland, one in Wellington, two in Sydney and an account manager in Queenstown.
He is also looking to raise capital overseas, while keeping the head office in Queenstown.
“Now the model’s been proven in New Zealand I can approach potential investors and use that to grow further and faster.
“There’s a conscious push to expand as quickly as possible because it is a simple concept that someone else could do.
“But it’s not nerve-wracking - what I’ve built so far is pretty amazing to me.”
Hayden Davison, general manager at Queenstown’s Jervois Steak House, says: “It has definitely been a great marketing tool for us.
“Early dining is always a quiet time of night in Queenstown so it’s great being able to create some real atmosphere in the restaurant at an early stage of the evening.
“We get a lot of return customers as a result.”