F&W Game Changers: BentoBox

The restaurant website platform that has revolutionized digital hospitality.

Krystle Mobayeni
Photo: Evan Sung

Krystle Mobayeni has always loved restaurants. They provided Mobayeni, a first-generation American, and her parents, immigrants from Iran, with a welcoming space to connect. She was working as a web-design consultant with a handful of restaurant clients when she noticed a big problem: Her customers were ceding control of their online image and business to third parties like review sites and delivery apps. Worse, they were losing control of guest relationships as well as income — and needed to reclaim both.

READ MORE: Food & Wine Game Changers: 16 People and Companies Changing the Way We Eat and Drink

"I started learning about how technology was becoming much more important in dining experiences," Mobayeni says. "When I felt like I knew exactly how to solve the problems restaurants were facing, I wanted to give back to this industry that had given me such important experiences throughout my life."

Frustrated with existing web tools that didn't support restaurants' needs, Mobayeni and her cofounder, Pierre Drescher, launched BentoBox in 2013, offering restaurants personalized website design and simple, industry-friendly tools. For example, staff could make easy site updates — like adjust hours or modify the online menu — without worrying about learning complicated code or calling a developer.

Restaurants saw their website as one of the only places they could provide the experience they wanted.

"Restaurants saw their website as one of the only places they could provide the experience they wanted," Mobayeni says. A restaurant's online property — its website — should feel just as welcoming as its physical location, Mobayeni realized. And it should make money, too.

A few years after its launch, BentoBox started the transformation from web-design platform to online restaurant storefront. It launched gift-card sales first, then support for catering, private events, ticketing, and, of course, online ordering and delivery. Later, it added automated marketing tools to help small restaurants — most without dedicated marketing teams — keep customers engaged after ordering.

It was all in service of helping restaurants build their businesses while competing against what Mobayeni refers to as "behemoth marketplaces," or, more specifically, third-party apps acting as a middleman between restaurant and guest, often keeping valuable customer data just out of a restaurant's reach.

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic, upending the industry and sending restaurants scrambling for ways to stay in business as life moved online. Mobayeni had spent many years helping to preserve the direct relationship between restaurant and diner online; she knew this was the company's moment — and it showed up.

Restaurants responded. At the start of the pandemic, about 4,800 restaurants used BentoBox. Today, the company has more than 8,400 restaurants on its platform, representing 16,000 individual locations. In its time as a start-up, BentoBox raised over $50 million from investors, including restaurateurs Danny Meyer and Will Guidara.

Two years into the pandemic, the benefits of ordering directly from a restaurant on BentoBox, instead of a marketplace app like DoorDash, are clear: Restaurants don't pay costly commissions, and they get access to valuable customer data. At the end of 2021, BentoBox reported a 54% increase in direct online order volume over the previous year. By the company's estimation, direct orders on BentoBox saved restaurants close to $40 million in commission fees. (BentoBox charges restaurants a monthly subscription fee for its services; it charges the diner 99 cents per online order.)

Late last year, BentoBox was acquired by Fiserv, a payments company that's also parent to the Clover point-of-sale system for restaurants. It's opened the door for future growth. "We've definitely had a niche, which has scaled a little more high-end, a little more brand-conscious," Mobayeni says. "We had to be so focused because we were smaller."

BentoBox plans to expand under its new parent, offering services to support every type of restaurant, from counter service to fine dining. Its next challenge is connecting online guest behavior to offline guest behavior.

"Restaurants still don't have the visibility to be able to provide the experience they want across all of those different ways that diners can interact with them," Mobayeni says, referring to all the ways restaurants serve customers now, from online orders to gift cards and cookbooks. "Being able to fill those gaps now that we're part of Clover is something that we're really focused on — all in the spirit of helping restaurants provide the diner with an experience that is very much akin to walking inside a restaurant and getting that next level of hospitality everyone gets really excited about."

BentoBox is modern hospitality for a digital age, translating what makes restaurants so great into online services and experiences.

"Even though the world has changed so much, and technology has changed, and restaurants have evolved, the spirit of what restaurants want to do, whether they're a small mom-and-pop or a food truck or a Michelin-starred restaurant, is just to take care of people and provide a great experience," says Mobayeni. "That hasn't changed."

Meet the 2022 Food & Wine Game Changers

Alexis Nikole Nelson | Bento Box | Chintan Pandya and Roni Mazumdar | Dwyane Wade | Ghetto Gastro | Jenny Dorsey | Momofuku Packaged Goods | No & Low | OXO | Prime Roots | Patagonia Provisions | Sanzo | Stephen Satterfield | World Central Kitchen | Yannick Benjamin

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