Jonathan Chu

Jonathan Chu, owner of The Independence gastropub and Lanea restaurant, created OhWaiter because he says in the hospitality industry you either ‘innovate or evaporate’.

OhWaiter is the first text-to-order service platform to market and eliminates most people’s least favorite aspect of dining: the desperate hand-waving flag down a server dance. Now anytime diners have a request—be it the check, extra ketchup, or a dropped fork—they can shoot off a text message and have it resolved.

“OhWaiter provides efficiency from the operator side and convenience from the guest side, maintaining and enhancing the tip potential for the staff and reducing negative Yelp reviews because people hate to wait,” said Chu.

The digital solution preserves the service aspect of having a waiter, while optimizing servers’ ability to anticipate and respond to requests. It also provides restaurants with a treasure trove of data regarding service response times, customer needs, and areas for improvement.

Chu was first inspired to develop the product in 2016, when he realized the pressure statewide minimum wage raises would exert on restaurants’ margins and brainstormed ways to increase efficiency. The platform went through many stages of development in the following years, such as moving from a downloadable app to an ‘app-less app model’.

When it launched in Aug, OhWaiter received an immediate pandemic related popularity boost as restaurants are looking to save costs and reduce waiter customer contact. It also offers a way for waiters to see to requests from customers seated far from the kitchen or around the street corner, as expanded outdoor dining has shifted traditional seating plans.

OhWaiter is used in a dozen spots, including Westside classics like Gladstones and Hotel Erwin. The platform is currently on pause in L.A. County due to the closure in outdoor dining, but Chu feels OhWaiter has a long life ahead of itself.

The platform recently expanded to the Grand Bohemian Hotel in Asheville, NC, and Chu believes its applicability is vast, stretching to bars, pools, stadiums, and more.

“There are other people now crowding into the marketplace because of COVID and the need for contactless service and mobile payments,” said Chu. “How we differentiate ourselves is we are restaurant operators in the tech space so we have the kind of unique advantage of being able to have boots on the ground using the technology and know how to evolve it.”

Chu has always been an intrepid creator ready to jump into different fields. After college he spent three and a half years in South East Asia where he taught english, worked for a finance company, opened an aerobics school, imported Harley Davidson motorcycles, and helped open a hotel. Since his return to the US he has launched and adapted numerous restaurants.

Although Chu has no background in technology he had no fear entering the industry and set about learning everything he could.

“If you asked me a year ago what’s GTM or what’s TAM vs SAM, I’d be like what the hell are you talking about, is that some kind of drug?” said Chu. “But now I know what a go to market strategy is and what’s a total available market vs served available market. It’s been an interesting road with lots of learning.”

So far OhWaiter has expanded at a rapid rate and has become an essential tool for many local restaurants. Chu hopes his service will continue to spread and help restaurants weather the challenges of the pandemic.

“There is going to be carnage and we are already seeing it happen. The popular belief is we are going to lose around half the restaurants,” said Chu. “As a restaurant owner and operator I know how much blood sweat and tears goes into opening a restaurant and I only want success for all of my fellow restaurant operators.”

Clara@smdp.com