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App Creators Hope To End Restaurant Wait Guessing Game

By Paul Biasco | December 18, 2014 5:24am
 James (l.) and John Yi, founders of NextME.
James (l.) and John Yi, founders of NextME.
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DNAinfo/Paul Biasco

LINCOLN PARK — Simply finding the host at some of the city's most popular brunch spots can be a challenge on the weekends for "hangry" guests packed like sardines near the front door.

Two brothers want to end to the madness through an app that will take the guesswork out of restaurant waits.

NextME, which already is used by nearly a dozen restaurants, allows guests to put their name down and leave with the assurance that they can check in on their place in line at any time via text and get an estimate on their remaining wait time.

"Everyone is a diner. Everyone eats out. We just hated waiting in line, especially at the front of the restaurant," said 26-year-old John Yi. "Why waste your time?"

 A screenshot of the restaurant's app (l.) and a screenshot of what a diner sees on the phone.
A screenshot of the restaurant's app (l.) and a screenshot of what a diner sees on the phone.
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Paul Biasco says restaurants are signing up fast:

Unlike a costly pager system, NextME utilizes cellphones and an automated system that the restaurants download on either an iPhone or iPad. The app's website said average wait times are determined by data analytics.

So far, Oiistar, Southport Grocery, Wishbone, Edge Bar & Grill and Clarke's Bar & Grill are a few of the early adopters. Kuma's Too in Lincoln Park is launching the app Friday.

The founders, Yi and his 28-year-old brother James, said they view brunch restaurants, mom-and-pop shops and restaurants with no reservations as the likely users of the app.

"A lot of diners, when they see a long line, they immediately turn around and leave," John Yi said. "Now, we are retaining customers for the restaurants."

An estimated hourlong wait means customers can head to the bar down the block and be comfortable ordering another drink because they can check their place in line without calling the restaurant.

When their table is ready, the service will automatically send the guest a text. It's free for diners to use.

NextME is also free for restaurants to download in the App Store, but relies on a monthly fee depending on the number of uses.

The service is free for up to 200 parties per month, $49.99 for up to 500 parties per month and $79.99 for unlimited parties per month.

There are no contracts, and the first month trial is free.

John and James, who share an apartment in Lakeview, are the sons of a South Korean immigrant who they say instilled an entrepreneurial spirit in them from a young age.

The Yis' mother started her own cleaners after immigrating to Chicago when she was 22 and later achieved her dream of opening her own hair salon.

The Yi brothers' first company was a dog-walking business they founded out of their mom's cleaners when they were about 10 years old.

"We just come from an enterprising family in spirit," James Yi said.

While their app is in the early stages of being rolled out, the brothers admit they have high hopes following the success of Chicago restaurant-related startups Open Table and GrubHub.

Both companies focused on the Chicago market, fine-tuning their apps before expanding nationally.

"That's really how we are trying to grow sustainably," John Yi said. "We aren't trying to spread ourselves too thin across too many markets at once."

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