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Example of Utility: How Blackbird Wants to Make Eating at Restaurants Fun Again

It’s easy to get disillusioned in crypto when the projects being launched are either hype machines or use cases that just don’t matter to the average consumer. Projects like Blackbird want to change that.

There was a time not long ago, maybe you remember it, when you had a connection with your local barista, bartender, or server.

A connection that allowed you to be a “regular” or a “local.” Maybe the joint would give you a drink or appetizer on the house. Maybe they’d slip you in ahead of the waitlist. Or, maybe they would just simply shake your hand and recognize you as you walked in.

For many, that magic is gone.

We could point to Covid as the catalyst for the change, but honestly it was happening before then. The distance between people created by the pandemic simply exasperated it.

Trying to find the exact cause is a foolish effort, but one reason, without a doubt, is the introduction of technology.

You see, technology and hospitality have a complicated relationship. On one hand, technology makes dining easier and quicker; on the other it removes the interpersonal relationship while at times causing frustration.

Think about it…

There are POS systems that make ordering food much easier… but also force you into a complicated and embarrassing situation where you are asked to tip 30% on a cup of coffee.

Or, there is the delivery company that allows you to order and eat food from the comfort of your home… but also takes a huge percentage of the order from the restaurant or inflates the actual cost of the food for you.

Not only that, but when every restaurant fights to satisfy the godlike algorithm that is Uber Eats, they end up all having the same menu and having to deliver… fries.

We could go on, but you get the point.

The magic of restaurants is the friction. Most restaurants aren’t conglomerates commoditizing food. They are creating interesting menus because they are passionate – whether about the ingredients or serving people who enjoy their creation.

But maybe, just maybe, better technology could bring back some of the magic.

Enter Blackbird, a platform that aims to better connect restaurants and their patrons and just last week raised $24 million to do so.

Here’s how it works:

Restaurants are able to track repeat customers and reward them for their loyalty. Customers simply need to download the Blackbird app and use it at participating restaurants. When they do, they unlock perks decided by the associated restaurant.

For example, at Gertie in Williamsburg, regulars with the Blackbird app can unlock “coffee and bagels on the house, access to quarterly members-only events, personalized mug.”

Or at Principe in SoHo, diners can unlock “off-the-cuff cocktails, off-menu seafood bites, select merch.”

Okay, but why does this matter?

Because Blackbird is built using crypto technology. It even has its own digital currency (FLY) that food enthusiasts can earn and spend on at other restaurants in the Blackbird network. Blackbird and $FLY currently run on Coinbase’s BASE blockchain.

People can simply walk up to a restaurant’s host stand, tap their phone on an NFC reader, and begin accumulating $FLY.

Not only that, but the company was founded by Ben Leventhal, who also founded Eater, a platform to find where to eat in a city (acquired by Vox), and Resy, a restaurant reservation service (acquired by Amex). In short, Ben knows how to build consumer apps people want to use.

Fred Wilson, who is on the board of Blackbird put it best:

The Blackbird platform is a great example of what can be built on a web3 stack when most of the web3 stuff is under the hood, invisible to the users but powering things that can’t happen on a web2 stack. Some people call this “web 2.5” but I just call it awesome.

We agree. Blackbird is an idea that would work on web2 but will be able to do far greater things on web3. The customer doesn’t even need to know how it’s being done. It speaks volumes that The New York Times was able to write an entire piece on Blackbird’s fundraise and not once mention anything about crypto.

Blackbird’s mission for restaurants is to support them in the acquisition of regulars. “The interesting opportunity for Blackbird,” according to Ben, “is to discover whether there is actually a way of scaling the acquiring of regulars.”

Marguerite Mariscal, the CEO of Momofuku and Blackbird Labs board director (which is badass, by the way), put it well in an interview with Ben:

I think the thing that Blackbird can potentially provide is this broader network of people who love dining out and love hospitality but that maybe have never been to our restaurant yet. So it's the ability to not just hope to recognize relatively frequent diners who can become regulars, but also these first-time guests who dine out a lot. If, for example, a restaurant knows that a new guest dines out seven nights a week— because they see a huge $FLY balance and a crazy dining history—but has maybe never been to that restaurant before, then he should be treated the same way that someone who's always been dining at your place because he's a great guest.

It’s easy to get disillusioned in crypto when the projects that are being launched are either hype machines or use cases that just don’t matter to the average consumer.

Projects like Blackbird may be able to change that.