It’s only been live for two weeks, but LSA sophomores Matt Lerner and Nick Farinella expect their new website, EatBlue.com, to reap big sales.
They said they anticipate close to $1 million in food sales in the first year.
The website, which had handled more than 200 orders as of last night, lists dine-in and takeout menus as well as nightly bar specials at almost 50 local restaurants, and provides online ordering for 18 popular establishments.
Neither Lerner nor Farinella have extensive business experience, but they said they were inspired to delve into the area of online sales and advertising after listening to their friends complain about the difficulties of ordering takeout and delivery meals by phone. Some of their friends said they could not get through to restaurants during busy times, while others had their orders misheard and the wrong food delivered.
To solve these problems, Lerner and Farinella partnered with YNot Advertising, a company based in State College, Penn., which runs several other campus-based dining websites. YNot bought out U-Grub six months ago.
Before the buyout, U-Grub was a website listing information about restaurants located near various college campuses.
Lerner’s previous business experience was limited to a marketing internship with Spin magazine last summer. Farinella had dabbled in web design.
But over the past eight months, the two have had a crash course in entrepreneurship. Both Lerner, an English major, and Farinella, who plans to concentrate in organizational studies, said they would definitely consider continuing Eat Blue as a career if it goes well.
“I love walking into restaurants, talking to the owners, giving them our sales pitch,” Lerner said.
The founders said they are particularly excited about the online ordering function of their site, which was not available on U-Grub, and which they say will eliminate order mix-ups.
“(The U-Grub website) had ‘No online ordering. No hassle,’ as if that was, like, a good thing,” Lerner said. “It should be ‘Online ordering, no hassle.'”
Any local restaurant can post a menu on the website for free. Eat Blue’s revenues come from ad sales, Lerner said.
Although sales are still slow, the students said they expect them to increase as the website gains popularity.
They hope to make about $100,000 in ad sales by the end of the spring.
In the first two weeks of operation, Eat Blue has received about 1,200 hits, Farinella said. Advertising online is better for businesses than advertising in a newspaper or magazine, Lerner said, because it targets students who are hungry and looking for food at that moment.
Tim Wojcik, owner of Mr. Spots on South State Street, said his restaurant has received a large response since online ordering became available last week. Mr. Spots gets about 15 orders a night from the website.
The founders each spend about 20 to 25 hours a week building the website, advertising to students and talking to restaurateurs.
“Our whole job is to be in constant contact with our restaurants,” Lerner said. “Every restaurant owner has my personal cell phone number.”
The next goal is expanding Eat Blue to encompass all of Ann Arbor’s more than 300 restaurants.
“We don’t want people to come to the site just to order online,” said Lerner. “We want to be the premier restaurant website.”
Business School senior Denise Wang said she prefers ordering online because the website displays the entire menu and it is easy to choose.
Not everyone agrees.
Online delivery ordering sites are useful for looking up menus, LSA senior Kari Mar said, but she would still prefer to call in her order by phone.
“I think it’s easier. I’m used to doing it,” Mar said. “You actually get to talk to the person, so if you want you can emphasize things like no mushrooms or something.”