Some friends are coming over for brunch. They want to move to our neighborhood so spent hours online researching listings, school districts and brokers. They have apps that tell them the walking distance from any address to the subway and joined a community message board to get a feel for the neighborhood.  They looked at price per square foot trends by block, found school performance metrics, reviews of local brokers…all online. 

This morning I Googled ‘buy house” and got 5.9M hits.  Then I Googled “buy dinner”.  Care to guess?  Let’s make it interesting, give a little background.  Last year there were about 60M residential real estate transactions and 70 Billion restaurant meals.  More than 200 for every man, woman and child in the U.S.  So how many websites for “buy dinner”?  562 thousand.

It is not that real estate is more relevant- it is not.  It is that in real estate someone did the grunt work of acquiring and organizing the underlying data.  This is nasty work.  Tracking details of every house for sale listed by every broker?  School districts, square feet, type of heat…That is the job of the multiple listing service.  MLS gives realtors instant access to this critical data, and gives us virtually the same access through millions of sites, apps and systems that tap that the MLS data set.  There is nothing like the multiple listing service in restaurants.

Imagine you had to call every realtor in town to find out what was for sale. That is more or less what the restaurant industry is like now.  A couple kids hacking in a dorm room, what juicy problem will they work on?  One where there are comprehensive, dynamic data sets available or one where they have to fight just to gather a fraction of the relevant information?  No contest.  Innovation flows toward opportunity and restaurants haven’t presented opportunity.  The result- it is easier to pick your next apartment than order dinner.