Zurvu Breaks Through: Disrupting the Restaurant Industry with David Levin
Alabama native and self-proclaimed “reformed agency guy,” David Levin graduated from Northwestern University in 1994 and immediately embarked on a career in advertising, running the media site of Advertising Age magazine in Manhattan. The entrepreneurial bug bit soon after, and within a few short years he was running his own digital agency and working with the world’s top brands — including food and beverage powerhouses Oreo, Smirnoff, Guinness and Kraft.
Eventually, his passion for tech products and small businesses led him to jump into the world of food and dining out. In 2008 he launched zurvu, a tech platform where guests could request tables at top restaurants and book publicly available or exclusively held tables using the company’s patent-pending waitlist technology. Zurvu was acquired by Reserve a few months ago, and David now serves as the company’s Head of Special Projects. I sat down with him recently to chat about tech, hospitality and the secret to a great dining experience.
How have you seen technology impact the way restaurant owners manage their businesses?
If you look first and foremost, tech is at its best when it provides convenience. From the consumer side, people just want to get seated and have a great dining experience. From the restaurant side, tech provides amazing opportunities to not just enhance hospitality but also help the restaurant provide better service at all touchpoints with their diners. For instance, we’ve seen this work well with technologies that help take the data from POS [point-of-sale] systems and provide intel to the restaurants about what’s happening in their dining rooms.
In what ways can technology enhance hospitality?
We can help restaurants from a front-of-house perspective to get to know and welcome guests, seat them faster and easier, and treat them with knowledge and foresight about who they are and what they need. People want to go to places where they feel like they’re special. If we can help restaurants do that — provide better hospitality — we’ll be helping them know the guests and understand their needs, turn tables faster and and improve diner touch points. If we can do all those things with tech, we can create a better dining experience, which is very special.
How did the opportunity to join Reserve arise and why did you decide to be acquired?
We saw that Reserve was a demand-side platform, like zurvu. Restaurants didn’t have to give Reserve inventory; it was all in good faith, a true partnership with restaurants. I was enamored with the way the brand and product were executed. We happened to have a shared investor, First Round, a venture capitalist. A First Round partner was a zurvu seed investor through a family fund, and First Round was an institutional investor in Reserve. I knew it would be hard to grow zurvu as quickly as we wanted given our limited funding. I met with Greg [Hong, Reserve CEO], and it was a perfect fit. We helped grow Reserve’s presence in New York and Philadelphia. We’ve also been able to share our collective learning together to build something greater.
Can you describe your most memorable dining experience?
One of my favorite dining experiences I’ve had in the last couple of years was at Torrisi. There were so many aspects of the dining experience that made it special. First, it’s got one of the best music playlists in a restaurant in NYC. They were exclusively playing songs that have been sampled into hip hop hits. It was small in its original incarnation, just 10 tables. You’re right there watching the food being prepared. It’s this elevated version of Italian, completely surprising though and not for the faint of heart. There were four of us. We drank four bottles of wine. It was absolutely just the most fun meal I’ve had in a while, and with a couple I hardly knew. Everything — the service, the conversation with the staff and the food was just amazing. It’s the camaraderie with every element — the food, the vibe, getting surprised. It was really special.