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Screenshot of the Blackbird app.jpeg Blackbird
A mockup of what the Blackbird app looks like on a diner's phone.

Eater and Resy cofounder Ben Leventhal launches digital loyalty startup Blackbird Labs

Blackbird Labs just raised $24 million in Series A funding to expand its Web3-backed digital loyalty platform designed for independent restaurants

As the digital horizons for hospitality loyalty continue to expand, a new tech startup has thrown its hat into the ring: Blackbird Labs is a blockchain-backed loyalty platform developed by Eater and Resy founder Ben Leventhal, who aims to use digital loyalty to shake up the restaurant business model.

Blackbird Labs — which just raised $24 million in series A funding led by a16z, with participation from Amex Ventures and Bolt by QED — is free to use for customers, who can sign up inside a participating restaurant and begin earning points to cash in for restaurant-specific perks on the platform. Customers can also earn $FLY, Blackbird’s original digital token to unlock perks and rewards like special events, off-menu items, friends and family discounts, and skip the line features.

While Leventhal said that there will be opportunities for membership pricing in the future, the program is really built for restaurant operators, who are charged for use of the software in a pricing model that fluctuates based on how often they use it and to what extent. Operators will also be able to gather guest insights from the platform, including guest frequency, likes and dislikes, and seating preferences. With these capabilities, Blackbird hopes to build a digital database of customer regulars, so operators can surprise and delight their frequent flyer guests.

“We're laser-focused on connecting restaurants to customers and giving restaurants scalable ways of better understanding and making good use of their best and most loyal customers,” Leventhal told Nation’s Restaurant News. “[Blackbird] provides a platform that restaurants can make their own and use as an extension of their individual brands.”

Since launching over the summer, Blackbird Labs has expanded to 80 restaurants (22 of which have gone live on the platform), including many New York City-based independent casual-dining and fine-dining restaurants, as well as eateries in other cities, like Estela, Hanoi House, Momofuku, Jon & Vinny’s (Los Angeles), The Daily (Charleston), and more.

Examples of Blackbird-exclusive perks include a free fountain soda for first time check-ins at New York’s Upside Pizza (and a free slice for second-time check-ins), free ice cream toppings every fifth check-in at Morgenstern’s Bananas, and complimentary drinks and appetizers at check-ins other participating restaurants.

With this round of funding, Blackbird hopes to scale operations and add new restaurants across the country. In the long-term, Leventhal said he wants Blackbird Labs to go global, but for now they’re focusing on major U.S. metropolitan markets like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago.  

 “Over the past 20 years, there has been a decline of profitability across the restaurant industry, and if we don't change course… there will be even tougher times ahead,” he said. “In our view, the opportunity is to think about connectivity with customers as a key driver of future success and economic sustainability for restaurants… Five years from now, we hope for a much healthier restaurant industry where restaurants and guests are tightly connected through really good software and restaurants know who their best customers are.”

Contact Joanna at [email protected]

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