Web Exclusives: More

March 21 , 2001:

Table for two.com
Joe Gawronski '91's on-line reservation site, ireserve.com, lets you plan an evening out 24/7

By Rob MacKay

You and your date walk into a fancy restaurant, and the maitre d' greets you both by name. The three of you then proceed to your favorite table -- the one in the corner with the river view -- and find a bouquet of roses lying gently next to a chilled bottle of your favorite wine. You sit down, but within a few minutes, you get back on your feet to provide a chorus to the guitar players singing "Happy Birthday" to your date.

The Twilight Zone? No, you've just been using ireserve.com, an Internet reservation service presided over by Joe Gawronski, '91.

"Trying to make a reservation at a good restaurant on a busy night can be impossible. The phone's always busy or you never can get what you want," says Gawronski. "We've created the world's first real-time, Web-based system that can book any type of appointment, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It's impossible to get a busy signal."

Presently, a consumer can visit ireserve.com and make an unlimited amount of reservations at participating restaurants. This can be done anywhere from hours to years in advance. Soon customers will be able to make doctors' appointments, set up workouts with personal trainers, and even schedule trips to beauty parlors, spas, or tanning salons.

Meanwhile, merchants (mostly restaurant owners at this juncture) buy ireserve's software to expand their on-line presence. In addition to filling up their tables, they can create maps, attract on-line traffic, and build up client databases with such information as wine and table preferences or birthdays. The philosophy is that this will turn occasional eaters into regular customers.

"We also partnered with zagat.com and citysearch.com. That means that an Internet surfer can check out their sites, stop at a restaurant he likes, press on an icon and make a reservation without talking to anyone," says Gawronski, a Woodrow Wilson School major who wrote his thesis on post Cold War security issues in Europe. "Basically, we're taking what already happened with airlines and moving it into different realms."

Seeking more interesting work than he was getting as a vice president in Salomon Smith Barney's equity division, Gawronski became president of ireserve in January 2000, when the company was less than a year old. So far, there are 85 restaurants using the fledgling company's software, mostly on the East Coast with a large Washington D.C. contingent. The list includes hot Miami eateries such as Tantra, which features grass floors, hookahs, "aphrodisiac shots," and super handsome chefs, and the ultra-chic Halo in Manhattan. "All our clients are high-end so far, but the only real rule we have is that the place must take reservations," he says.

Gawronski is quick to admit that this is a startup, meaning long hours with not much financial compensation yet. But the job does have some perks. The Manhattan resident estimates that he dines at a client restaurant once a week on average. Says he: "In essence, I'm there for business, to find out how everything is going. But I definitely enjoy the food as well."

Rob MacKay, is an editor at Timesnewsweekly, a weekly newspaper in Queens, New York. He can be reached at robertazo@hotmail.com.