If you’ve ever brought home a souvenir menu or ashtray from your favorite restaurant, you’ll understand the role NFTs play in the hospitality industry. The same goes for attending a themed party at the local restaurant or pop-up of a new dining establishment. As Front of House (FOH) co-founder Phil Toronto eloquently puts it, a restaurant establishing a successful NFT strategy is “a beautiful fusion of the digital and physical experience.”
Launched May 18, Front of House (FOH) is a marketplace for NFTs of digital collectibles and experiences for independent restaurants. Co-founders Phil Toronto (VaynerFund), Colin Camac (former restaurateur) and Alex Ostroff (Saint Urbain) represent a mix of people with a background in digital technology, advertising and hospitality. Initial customers include Wildair and Dame, with future partners such as Rosella, Niche Niche and Tokyo Record Bar.
The company’s business model is that the restaurant retains 80% of the sale of digital collectibles. If an establishment uses a collectible as an invitation to a unique dining experience, the restaurant will keep all of the money from the dining event.
Toronto points out that FOH’s digital collectibles will be the digital equivalent of buying loot (like a sweatshirt or tote bag) at your favorite dining establishment. Over time, he adds, digital representations can become interactive experiences that can be shared and/or enjoyed as a personal keepsake. “It’s kind of a passport to your favorite restaurant,” the FOH co-founder told The Spoon in a recent interview.
Early adopters of using NFT as a marketing and sales tool are “junkyard contractors”, Toronto added, who have had to get creative to stay afloat during the pandemic. “The commonality is that every restaurant owner interested in our program is entrepreneurial and seeks to think outside the box,” he said.
Marketing and being on the cutting edge is just part of that. The impetus to jump on board the growing NFT trend is all about the money. In addition to their usual restaurant business, an owner can earn revenue from digital collectibles, but the most beneficial aspect is creating memorable dining experiences. The key to all possibilities is to simplify customer engagement. One of the keys to FOH’s success will be what the co-founder calls creating a frictionless experience, making it a bit more than a typical online checkout experience.
“One of the avenues we’d like to explore is paid experiences where Front of House will work with a restaurant to purchase it for the night and have a special ticketed experience,” Toronto said. “This experience is sold via a digital collectible that endures as a keepsake and a digital ticket stub you can take home.”
Toronto said it was surprised that 65% of customers it contacts get the idea and understand its value, but they might have a wait-and-see attitude. Once pioneers prove the success of NFTs and more than a “get-rich-quick” concept, he believes any reluctance will disappear. Additionally, Toronto noted that the NFT opportunity for restaurants is not limited to New York, Los Angeles and other coastal cities. Given the everyday issues in the hospitality industry, the concept will work just as well for Des Moines or any restaurant wishing to explore a new business opportunity.