BlackboardEats.com, a free email newsletter and website, launched in Los Angeles about six weeks ago. The site, which was founded by former Yahoo! Food editor Maggie Nemser, is based out of Venice (Yahoo! is headquartered in Santa Monica) and provides subscribers with discounts on meals, bonus freebies, and restaurant reviews. Nemser plans to launch next in New York, in early January, and then in additional cities. Since the site launched, there have been about 60 local restaurants that have signed up to participate.
We thought we'd check in with her and see how things are going, particularly as the success of venues catering to bargain-shoppers seems to be a bellweather of the current economic climate–remember Cash For Clunkers? Read our interview with Nemser after the jump, and check out current deals on the website, including a whopping 40% off your bill at The Foundry and a 30% discounted dinner at Larkin's. No coupon clipping required.
Squid Ink: What kind of response have you gotten since you launched?
Maggie Nemser:It's been overwhelmingly positive from both the consumers and the restaurateurs. BlackboardEats was designed to be a win-win tool for everyone and that seems to be the case per our feedback. I've received a ton of “thank you” emails along with the honest “It's crazy that this hasn't been done before!” I consider those to be compliments as well and group them in the same folder as the “thank you” emails.
SI: How many people have signed up?
MN: That's confidential for now, but I can say we are very happy with our numbers for being only 6 weeks old.
SI: What do you think that the popularity of the site says about the way people are dining?
MN: It's cool to be conscious these days. Active diners are no longer motivated to try a new restaurant based on a great review alone. We now expect and hope for more. BlackboardEats is a good equalizer.
SI: You're launching in NY soon; how will your experience in LA determine the NY site? Will you tailor it differently?
MN: We put a lot of time and effort into creating a super functional and fool-proof template for our brand launch and are looking forward to providing the same user-friendly experience in New York this January. What will vary is the way we lineup and sequence of the types of restaurants featured which will be fun to play with given how saturated the scene is there. NY is my hometown and we don't jump on just any bandwagon that rolls in — it needs to really resonate in a local manner. We'll be announcing our NY editor soon.
SI: What's been the most popular restaurant, or menu or bargain, so far?
MN: I'm surprised by how many people rally for a gratis bottle of vino. And the 30% off the bill specials really seem to be the most well-received. For the first time since launching, we offered a 40% off the dinner bill (at The Foundry) and that's received a tremendous response.
SI: Could one say that your site kind of a litmus test, maybe even a Rorschach test, of how consumers approach the food scene? Or at least how they bargain shop?
MN: Absolutely. But I think it's much more than bargain shopping. I think of BlackboardEats like a super connected pal who calls you up and says “Hey, I've got a ridiculous hook up for you at Cafe Stella!” And it's that simple, with all the leg work done for you. We all want to be a VIP (or in the case of restaurants, PPX), like we're friends of the owner. Regardless of much or little money you have, everyone likes perks.
SI: What's the strangest deal you've offered so far? Free salumi was pretty odd.
MN: I wouldn't say 'strange,' as the special was specific to that restaurant — Cube has a celebrated salumi program and the offer reflected its popularity. We're inspired by the gamut of great dishes LA restaurants feature and what better way to entice diners to come back and visit these places than with one of their signature items? We will be getting a little creative with some of our upcoming Delicious Deals. Here's a hint: Breakfast for dinner at one of the city's beloved brunch spots.