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What's a Mobo? (and why you should know ...)


New York-based Mobo Systems Inc. offers a service at that enables restaurant, coffee-bar and juice-joint customers to order and pay in advance for takeout foods using a Web browser or text message-capable cell phone or personal digital assistant, or PDA.

Mobo's tale was told by several media organizations late last year, including the ABC television network's national evening news and "Good Morning America" programs. Those pieces touched on Mobo's potential to help time-starved New Yorkers reclaim precious minutes of their day previously lost to waiting on the phone or in line, waiting for food preparation and waiting to pay for takeout orders.

Overlooked in most of that coverage was what Mobo means to participating businesses, which recently numbered 30.

(For some perspective on the size of other current mobile-commerce initiatives, note that offers Internet and text message order-and-pay-in-advance support for 10 restaurants and coffee bars in California's Silicon Valley region. Another mobile commerce player, FEED Tribes, is supporting text message based payments for 11 foodservice outlets in Broomfield, Colo., and in Denver and San Francisco.)

When I talked with Marc Meisel of Tossed Franchised Corp., which has two Manhattan salad restaurants working with Mobo's, he sounded satisfied with the execution of the concept, even though it required a standalone computer and printer. The lack of integration between Mobo's service and point-of-sale-systems might be a deal killer for some operators, but Meisel indicated that Tossed would focus on the increased convenience for guests represented by, pending an integration solution.

Aco-founder and the executive chef of Tossed, Meisel did not disclose how many of his customers use Mobo. He characterized as "a reasonable deal" the 10 percent of food and beverage sales collected as a fee by management. Apart from initially conveying menu and pricing information to staffers, the order pipeline has required little attention by Tossed employees, according to the operator.

"Mobo is growing. We're growing. This is a little partnership that we might be able to take to other cities," Meisel remarked.

Mobo does have plans to grow. Founder Noah Glass has said that by year's end he would like to extend operations to Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco and London.

Mobo users go online to to enter personal profiles, including their cell-phone numbers, credit card information and favorite foods and combinations of foods, or "Faves," sold at participating merchants. Later that information is tied to ordering sessions using a Web browser or text-message-capable mobile device. Participating foodservice outlets initiate a return text message acknowledging the order and providing an estimated time at which the order will be ready.

The sales split with Mobo is softened a bit on the operator side by the elimination of credit card fees on takeout orders processed by the service. Obviously, participating businesses believe there also is some marketing value derived from associating with Mobo's

Monica Schaffer, a Mobo representative, recently briefed me on the state of the Mobo union:

"Mobo has been holding steady at about 100 users per restaurant. We're between 2,500 and 3,000 users right now and just launched our 30th restaurant. Our restaurants are [each] doing between 10 and 20 orders a day," she told me.

Franchised outlets of Dunkin' Donuts, Papa John's and Subway are among the restaurants aligned with

Schaffer continued, "Order values [of Mobo users] have been 37 percent larger than orders placed at the restaurant. [Mobo] customers report that they are ordering [higher-priced] items that take a longer time to prepare, like breakfast sandwiches, etc., because [they] know they'll be ready when they arrive."

Finally, she noted that participating restaurants are "reporting faster transactions times and value the security of being guaranteed payment for advanced orders."

It's tough to say if the relatively small number of restaurants now using, and FEED Tribes is a reflection of the typical operator's current disinterest in mobile commerce or reflects questions about the business models or delivery systems of those ventures. Keep in mind, however, that tens of millions of cellular phone subscribers have been added annually in the United States in recent years, and that such users now number in excess of 200 million, making mobile commerce strategies, in general, increasingly worthy of consideration.

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