By Christine Hall, Contributing Writer
A Johns Creek-based company is helping corporations gain insight into a key travel expense undefined dining out undefined while also saving money.
Vic Macchio founded Dinova LLC in 2009 to connect restaurants and corporations, with the aim of driving business dining to restaurants while rewarding corporations with rebates for patronizing certain restaurants.
“Our goal is to create high-margin business traveler traffic for restaurants,” he said. “It gives them an ‘unfair advantage’ over their competitors by having travelers in on a regular basis from Monday through Thursday rather than leaving it to random patrons.”
Earlier this month, National Restaurant News reported the first quarter of 2014 ranked as the second-worst quarter in terms of dining in nearly four years. Same-store sales grew just 0.8 percent over the year prior, a statistic that included all consumers and was driven by cold and snowy weather that hit much of the country, including Atlanta.
However just taking into account Dinova’s business dining clients, Macchio said there is a bright side: a 5.2 percent increase in dining spending during the first quarter of 2014 over the same quarter last year, according to company research.
The average check was also 2.7 percent more during the same time period, with the average bill being $52.86. In addition to more spending, there was a 2.4 percent increase in the number of transactions.
In March alone, spending was up 8.6 percent while transactions increased by 6.7 percent over last year, according to Dinova.
Dinova provides a “unique business model that promotes restaurants, fills seats and essentially increases their profits,” said Karen Bremer, executive director of the Georgia Restaurant Association, via email. “Dinova also provides helpful statistics on how often clients dine out, average check and other information related to corporate dining to the restaurant industry,” she said. “This gives us a good indication on how well the industry is thriving.”
Local restaurant partners such as Fifth Group Restaurants and Sedgwick Restaurant Group, who joined Dinova in its infancy, agree.
Robby Kukler, co-founder of Fifth Group, said the company has experienced growth as a result of its association with Dinova, but it is hard to say how much because Dinova itself has grown every year as more corporate clients are added.
“We have felt that hotel business and convention business has increased over the last few years, which in turn has led to us growing in the low double digits year-over-year as a company,” he said. “I can say that a Dinova check average is often double my normal check average.”
For Sedgwick Restaurant Group, a majority of the traffic during the week at Vinny’s on Windward is corporate travelers, said Janet Sedgwick, group owner. Business increased 14 percent during the first two months of 2013, and she is looking at 19 percent for the same period in 2014.
Sedgwick said patrons like being able to get Dinova rebates simply by using their corporate credit cards.
“Dinova is very discreet for business people because they don’t want to plunk down a coupon or call attention to themselves,” she said.
Discretion is a big factor for government contractors like Lockheed Martin Corp., which has a big aeronautics facility in Marietta.
The Bethesda, Md.-based company has roughly 35,000 employees travel each year, Mark Stansbury, Lockheed’s manager of global travel and event services, said. It currently ranks No. 10 on the Business Travel News 100 based on $198 million in U.S.-booked air travel volume in 2012 and overall U.S. travel and entertainment spending of $516.3 million.
More than 80 percent of company travel is in direct support of a contract, so the company aims to leverage its spending to maximize the taxpayer dollar, Stansbury said.
In Atlanta, the company has about 6,500 employees and in just air bookings, is the eighth-highest destination within Lockheed.
It books close to 9,000 room nights per year in the greater Atlanta area.
For security purposes, employees can’t identify themselves as being from Lockheed. Dinova enables them to remain anonymous while also cutting down on entertainment expenses, Stansbury said.
Since joining Dinova in 2010, Lockheed’s rebates have increase 59 percent, he said, with the first quarter of 2014 showing an increase over last year.