American Express Buys Japanese Startup Providing Restaurant Reservations

Booking a fancy restaurant in Japan just became easier

A hand with a pair of chopsticks is hovering over the delicious and diverse food served on the beautiful plates

Among many reasons to visit Japan food tourism is probably making it to any traveler’s bucket list in this country. If you ever considered cutting waiting times at the entrance or bypassing reservation systems by going to more expensive places, the chances of being put on a waiting list for several months are still very high. The widespread use of reservations through the Internet makes the task even more difficult.

One start-up was determined to solve the problem. And within 5 years it has not only become popular with the users and grew its network of cooperating restaurants, but also secured a major deal with American Express. We would like to present you Pocket Concierge.

Pocket Concierge Hits Two Birds With One Stone

Pocket Concierge is a Tokyo-based startup founded by Kei Tokado in 2013. Back then it was named Pocket Menu. Having experience in restaurant industry and being a chef, he designed a service to make reservations for popular and highly-rated restaurant easier, included Michelin appraised ones. Tokado has personally chosen restaurant for the platform based on the concept of a place and its menu. Currently platform cooperates with more than 800 restaurants in Tokyo area.

The idea was to offer the vacant time slots in the restaurants that became free due to booking cancellations to the Pocket Concierge users. The subscriber could make a list of want-to-go places on the website and as soon as there was an opening in one of the chose restaurants the user would get an e-mail invitation. After providing information about the desired date and the number of visitors, the user would get the confirmation.

But not only the visitors benefit from this system, the restaurant themselves do too. The food is prepared for the whole day, and cancellation often means that all the food must be thrown away, unless tables are booked again by other visitors. Moreover, the system allows restaurants to obtain more information about guests’ preferences in food and make sure they avoid using ingredients that visitors dislike or are allergic to. Thus, Pocket Concierge add more value to their services also offline. The customers seem to be highly appreciating these additional perks.

One can make a reservation free of charge within 3 days before the preferred dining date. Reservations with a longer span come with a fee. Currently the service works only in Tokyo with the local restaurants, but quite soon they might be expanding to Osaka, Kyoto, Fukuoka, and Nagoya.

In 2013, Pocket Concierge was able to secure JPY 60 million.

Going Cross-Border

There is no exact data about how much investments the company has aggravate up till now. In 2013, Pocket Concierge was able to secure JPY 60 million from Fuji Startup Ventures, Nippon Venture Capital, and other investors.The list of contributors include Adways, Monex Ventures, iMercury Capital, Line, Isetan Mitsukoshi Innovations, and 500 Startup Japan.

The head of the later one, James Riney, has announced the acquisition on his website saying: “When we were just getting started, we talked about the opportunity for cross-border M&A in Japan. For foreign companies, acquiring locally is a viable way to unlock value in this country. A lot of people rightfully doubted that possibility, as it is so uncommon. Pocket Concierge not only proved that it is possible, but they also found a home at one of the world’s most well-respected companies.”

The acquisition will make it easier for holders of the American Express cards to gain access to Japanese top-restaurants. However, the platform will continue to accommodate any existing or new users regardless of their involvement with American Express. The service is available in Japanese, Chinese, and English.

Today’s “otsumami” – a bite size snack:

This acquisition may help other Japanese businesses to become more open towards non-Japanese customers.

What do you think?

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