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Cakeaf aims to put butts in seats on restaurants39 slow nights
<p>Cake.af aims to put butts in seats on restaurants&#39; slow nights.</p>

Trendinista: Free Uber rides, the next-gen restaurant promo tool

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Restaurant operators can’t ignore the red flags tech newcomer www.cake.af sends up. The online service—it provides customers with reservations at, and free Uber door-to-door rides to, full-service restaurants—has a goofy name, a revenue model that looks to be still under construction and a 16-year-old founder, Daniel Singer, who is “taking a year off” from high school to get the project going. Teen dropout or not, this kid seems to have hit on an idea that could become an effective marketing tactic.

Here’s the pitch:

“With Cake.af, consumers can feel like a VIP with a car showing up at their door to take them out for a great meal,” the young tech entrepreneur says. “While they do still have to pay for the food, Cake.af makes the evening easier and less stressful. Restaurants that sign up now have a new way to help fill tables during slow times of the week and consumers are exposed to new dining establishments.”

Hard to argue with the logic here. Many restaurants struggle to fill tables early in the week or during certain times of the year. They try to fill them with promotions that range from wine dinners and special tasting menus to Groupon deals and buy-one-get-one specials. In this context, a service that delivers carloads of customers who pay full price for their food and drink is definitely worth a look.

Cake.af holds appeal for any diner who has a modest sense of adventure. Customers begin its registration process by simply tapping the service’s strawberry shortcake  emoji on their smartphone. Once signup is complete, the offers roll in.

“We’ll send you a text after we find an open table at a great restaurant, send an Uber to pick you up, and the best part: It’s completely free,” Cake.af promises.

“Yes, you still have to pay for the food. But choosing the perfect restaurant? We got it.

Haggling with the restaurant for the perfect reservation? Done. And the entire process of driving to the restaurant, figuring out new neighborhoods, and finding a place to park? Forget about it.”

So who lays out the cash to the Uber driver?

"The rides are free to the user as the rides are paid for by the restaurant as we drive traffic to it," Singer tells Eater. "Cake pays the Uber and drives the customer, and the restaurant treats Cake as a paid customer acquisition channel and pays a per-head fee."

Reservations are made by Cake via OpenTable, but Cake says it does not have an “official relationship” with OpenTable.

Nor does it have one with Uber, for that matter. The on-demand car service company is itself in the restaurant food delivery business via its UberEats operation. Uber pulled the plug on its NYC food delivery effort in mid-April of this year. But Uber still offers the service in 11 other cities. Dinner delivery is available in just one of them, Los Angeles. The rest are lunch-only operations.

Cake says it currently operates in L.A., San Francisco and NYC. L.A. restaurants participating include Venice Ale House, Gjelina, Bludso’s and “some more local favorites.”

Will other restaurants sign up? Operators will have to weigh the hard-to-know cost of providing free Uber rides for groups of customers versus the cost of other traffic-boosting promotions they might use on slow nights. One saving grace: the Cake.af deal tells customers up front that their ride back home is not free.

It’s very early in the first iteration of Cake.af’s service, too soon to tell if it could one day scale up to become a reliable seat-filler for restaurants. But the core idea seems solid. Operators may wish to keep an eye on this venture as it expands beyond its home base in L.A.

Contact Bob Krummert: [email protected]

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