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Thursday, May 30, 2024

Table Ready?

TECHNOLOGY: Startup LineDrop offers a system for standalone restaurants to organize the waiting queue.

LineDrop is a startup trying to help restaurants manage their reservations and waiting lists.

The Santa Clarita company produces an app, also called LineDrop. The company was founded last year by Paul Otrokov, a former software engineer who studied queuing theory while working toward his master’s degree at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. 

Currently, LineDrop has five customers and only one is a paying customer – Yunomi Handroll in the Arts District of Los Angeles. The other four are all in Santa Clarita and got the software for free to test it out and provide feedback. 

Ben Law, co-owner and brew master at Brewery Draconum in Old Town Newhall, said that his brewpub, which he runs with his sister Caroline Law, uses LineDrop to handle wait lists.

“It automatically sends out a text to the right people when their table is available,” Ben Law said. “It comes in handy.”

Caroline Law, the general manager, said she was approached by Otrokov in late September when he asked if the brewpub was willing to help test drive the software and give feedback. 

“He has been very responsive; very great with taking feedback and adjusting,” Caroline Law said. “As the customer, I feel like I am heard and that he takes into consideration what my needs are.” 

Other local customers include Achita Sushi and Life Thai Fusion, both on Soledad Canyon Road in Santa Clarita, and Nealie’s Skillet, off the freeway in Valencia.
“LineDrop has been a great help to navigate our wait times in our busy days,” wrote Nealie’s owner, Neal Scott, in a testimonial on the LineDrop website. 

For his part, Otrokov has a clear idea of where he fits into the food service ecosystem.

“My customers are restaurants that are one-offs, that are not chains,” Otrokov said. “They are not big places; they are small places. They are so good at what they do they have people waiting for 30 to 40 minutes.”

Nealie’s Skillet epitomizes that description. Otrokov called it a little place open only until 1:30 p.m. serving breakfast, brunch and lunch. The restaurant at 25858 Tournament Drive gets a lot of customers driving on the freeway who want to stop to eat but don’t want to go to a bigger place. “They want something local,” Otrokov said.

Monthly subscriptions

After getting his master’s degree from SMU, Otrokov went to work for Lavi Industries, a Valencia company that is a provider of queue management and crowd control products.

“Some of the projects this company did was on queue practices,” Otrokov said. “I took that idea and applied it to restaurants.”

He started developing the LineDrop software in 2019 and two years later was ready to make it available to area restaurants. Covid-19 came during that time but that didn’t deter him, Otrokov added. 

“Since Covid, restaurants started seeing value in this product,” he said. 

For a $30 monthly subscription, restaurants can get the basic smart waitlist version of LineDrop, which comes with a free tablet to manage the waiting list and the ability to link to the business’s menu and send it out in the text messages to customers. 

For $50 a month, a subscriber can get all the features of the smart waitlist plus the ability to take reservations. 

As a business that takes customers on a first-come, first-served basis, Brewery Draconum was not interested in taking reservations and just uses the software for the waiting list functions, Caroline Law said. 

“What is great about it is we have a way with the push of a button to text my customers when their table is ready,” she added. 

It is nice for both the brewpub and its customers because if there is, say, a 30-minute wait, they can walk around Old Town Newhall, go window shopping, hang out and do other things instead of just sitting there, Caroline Law continued. 

LineDrop also helps in keeping customers because before using the software there was no way to contact a group or party of guests if there was a long wait and they would end up going elsewhere, she said. 

“Being able to contact them when their table is ready is able to keep them around instead of going someplace else,” Caroline Law explained. 

Extra features

One new feature of the software is an app that allows customers to get on the waiting list before even leaving home. 

The app will check the wait time and calculate driving distance and notify the party when it is time to leave for the restaurant, Otrokov said, adding that the days of waiting 45 to 50 minutes are over. 

“You’ll wait 10 minutes or five minutes,” he said.

While he thinks that is a great feature, the customer app is not gaining much traction so far, Otrokov said. 

More popular is the ability for a restaurant to send out a link to its menu.

“The customers can have a chance to figure out what they want to eat before they even sit down,” Otrokov continued. “So, the ordering process become shorter.”

Through feedback from customers including Scott of Nealie’s Skillet and Caroline Law from the brewpub, the product is always being improved. 

When she first started using LineDrop, Caroline Law said that her feedback was primarily interfaced-based. 

“I would ask (Otrokov), ‘Can you add a way for me to delete this group?’ or ‘Can you add a way for me to adjust this group?’” she said, adding that she would get groups of people who say there are four in their party and them suddenly it would go up to six or eight. 

“I wanted to be able to adjust that in the app as well,” Caroline Law said. “It was finetuning and making adjustments that made it more user-friendly on our end.”

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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