One of the greatest perks as a food writer — or a restaurant insider — is the chef’s tasting experience — just throw all your trust in the chef to select what he or she wants to prepare — and bring your appetite.
Nick Smith and Kristel Arabian have introduced WaltzIn, an experiential reservations app, to bring the “I’m BFFs with the chef” thing to LA foodies. “We started in Los Angeles but we think it would be a shoo-in for other cities big on food, like New York, San Francisco, that are adaptable to technology and cutting edge thought — Chicago, Miami, Nashville, Austin down the road to make dining out more adventurous,” says Nick.
WaltzIn allows app users to choose the date and size of their party — and to see options with prices per person for that experience. Users can also take a peek at a sample menu and even invite guests.
I sat down with Nick and Kristel to get the scoop on the WaltzIn story, where the idea came from and where it’s going.
How did the idea generate? Nick recalls he had just come off from Chefs Cycle/No Kids Hungry, an annual fundraising endurance event featuring award-winning chefs and members of the culinary community. “I was out with friends of friends of the chef at a restaurant. They took away the menu and just start serving us food. It was on of the greatest dining experiences I’ve ever had.”
Shortly after, Nick’s neighbor who is a great friend of Kristel’s hosted a barbecue where the two met — just 6-8 months ago. “I was talking about the idea and was excited. We decided to team up and basically honed this concept together,” he adds. “Kristel was experienced as a chef and chef recruiter so she was able to bring the nuances from the hospitality space that I didn’t have; I bring experience in tech and finance, as well as dining out as a diner but it was Kristel’s operations experience that brought the authenticity. Things just crystallized when we paired together and we’ve been a full force since.”
Nick says in the beginning, restaurants didn’t just jump on board but in short time, the restaurants on board understood the concept and saw that “it was magic — diners are taken care of and from the chef’s end, it was very empowering. The ideal diner is someone who trusts you implicitly and puts themselves in your hands.”
Some of the earliest chefs who came on board had worked at Michelin One Star restaurants — with a certain level of respect for the chef. Nick shares that they were used to diners with open minds and open hearts. He adds that the prepay feature takes the “ugliness out of the way so diners can really enjoy the experience.”
Kristel tapped into her network to engage restaurants. “I had a very short list of ones I trusted, all friends, ex-boyfriends, former roommates. One example is Hart and The Hunter. Another was Cannibal. “I went on from there — to Sotto and Alimento. I worked on placing the sous chef,” she says. “We’re all sort of stepsisters of one another in the food community.”
“As we grew, we found that chefs love the platform because it’s light and easy. Diners love it so more restaurants jumped on,” Kristel adds. “We want to keep the quality of the experience and the rest happens naturally. Our tagline is Trust the Chef.”
“We have to makes sure diners can trust our brand,” says Nick. “That’s why the process of choosing the restaurant is an important part for us.” So far, the top restaurant on the app has done over 100 different parties and the restaurants have hosted a couple of 15 to 20 person ticketed dinners. “If someone wants to do a party of 20, for example, the host can sign up and send friends to the app,” he says.
The app now provides users with the ability to list up to two dietary restrictions per party– a hot topic for both diners and restaurants. Nick originally anticipated doing no dietary restrictions but he found that chefs want to know what people want so they can serve something great.
What’s next for the app? Nick says, “It’s a lock-step process; we want to add more restaurants and to make sure we build a strong base of regular diners and the best restaurants in L.A. before we go beyond. We want to have a super high-quality product before we move to another city. Then, we’d like to rapidly expand.”
Within the next few months, WaltzIn will launch web-based and Android versions of the app. “One of the things we are looking at to do with the web-based version is to book directly on the restaurant’s site,” he says. Kristel envisions the app as a seamless way to offer large party bookings and even buy-outs.
“Part of this is to use technology to hack the system with enough options for restaurants to get information ahead of time and for diners to have an experience catered to them,” says Kristel.
Download the app here.
Current restaurant partners in LA include:
Hart & The Hunter
Lost at Sea