Lifestyle

Melba is redefining the dining experience one Michelin star at time (exclusive)

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Image Credit: Melba Facebook

Menus suck.

They either have too many options or too few, not enough information (what the hell is amadai?), and they turn meals into a transaction where multiple purchasing decisions are made during the course of the meal.

Melba wants to bring dining at a restaurant back to the old days, when dishes and prices weren’t negotiable and diners could lose themselves in the experience.

The New York City-based food startup is currently in beta, but is already building a network of fine dining restaurants where diners pay for fixed price meals in advance. When they arrive, the restaurant will be waiting with their table — no negotiation, question-asking, hemming and hawing over what to get, or wrangling for the bill.

“Melba allows diners to experiences an ‘Uber-like’ experience without the fuss of the check at the end,” cofounder Duncan Coleman told VentureBeat.

Coleman said restaurants appreciate this model because it addresses some of their pain points. Restaurants, particularly fine dining establishments, take a hit from reservation no-shows because tables can be hard to fill at the last minute. Chefs can also budget and allocate resources more efficiently when they know ahead of time how many people will be ordering what.

Furthermore participating restaurants curate their menus “they’re most proud of.” Melba’s approach gives chefs greater opportunities to offer unique menu items, without worrying about purchasing too much inventory for something people may not order.

Many elite chefs choose to only offer tasting menus because it gives them more creative control and they can better showcase their skills.

The demand for high-end restaurant experiences is also going up. Thanks to reality television and a foodie revolution in America, the mainstream population is interested in patronizing fine dining establishments and eating the food of renowned chefs.

Melba aims to translate these lifestyle trends into an Internet marketplace. Each restaurant has a profile with images, descriptions of the cuisine and atmosphere, and the story of the restaurant and chef. Everything is tightly curated.

The startup is currently working with four Michelin-starred restaurants during these early days, including the famed Le Cirque. Options range from the “classic 3 courser” at $104 to a $465 Chef’s tasting with wine pairing, but other restaurants have less expensive offerings.

There are some interesting things happening in the food/restaurant space right now. Cover is a NYC-based app that lets you pay your restaurant bill with your phone and Chefs Feed is building a social network for chefs where you can learn about their favorite dishes. Nara and Ness use data analytics to make personalized restaurant recommendations and Groupon recently released an ‘upscale’ restaurant booking service. And E la carte powers lets you place orders from a tablet.

As Dave McClure put it — “food should be awesome.” 

All of these companies are taking their own approach to improving restaurant experiences, whether its through simplifying discovery, payment, or in Melba’s case, the whole shebang.

The company’s name is inspired by the peach melba dessert, which was invented by legendary French chef August Escoffier.