The techno takeover in F&B

How technology is transforming the way traditional F&B is delivered

Maki favours the use of an iPad menu which customers can order through.
Maki favours the use of an iPad menu which customers can order through.
Zaid Jawad and Ali Sinaei.
Zaid Jawad and Ali Sinaei.
RoundMenu App.
RoundMenu App.
Maki favours the use of an iPad menu which customers can order through.
Maki favours the use of an iPad menu which customers can order through.

iPad menus, online table reservations and social media – the face of F&B has rapidly changed in the last few years as customers demand a slicker delivery.

No longer are people willing to spend 15 minutes on hold on the phone to book a table for tonight nor are they willing to flick through endless pages of a directory to try and pick a restaurant to eat at.

And ‘Gen-Y’ is forcing today’s restaurant to adapt if it wants to stay in the game.
In July 2012 entrepreneurs Ali Sinaei and Zaid Jawad founded the RoundMenu application which connects customers with the 300 restaurants currently present on its portfolio.

Each restaurant commits to a year-long promotion which customers can use as many times as they choose to during that year.

The system allows the customer to browse restaurants around Dubai, make reservations and post reviews – all through their phones. At present, the UAE’s number one rated app on iTunes store, RoundMenu is seating over 5000 diners per month.

“If you look at the region, everyone pretty much has a smart phone these days. There’s a huge growth in apps especially in this region now – it is sort of catching up to the West if you like.

People want things easily and quickly and they want to be able to share things with friends and family, so that was our drive to launch in a digital format,” says Sinaei.

Similarly, online booking engine Table4ME connects to the registered restaurant’s reservation system “enabling restaurants to offer instant reservations that are available 24/7/365,” says managing partner Tiina-Maija Bergman.

Launched in the UAE in 2009, the site’s online restaurant reservations have seen a year-on-year increase of 150%.

“There is a strong awareness and understanding that restaurants need to be where their customers are looking for them. It’s still quite new here in the region, but we see a lot of activity in other RestaurantDiary markets for our white label iPhone and Android apps restaurants can deploy. Our booktoeat mobile app is gaining increased attention globally,” says Bergman.

Alexander Rauser, CEO of Prototype, an agency focusing on digital marketing, web design and mobile believes there are significant technological advancements round the corner for the F&B industry, particulary with regard to mobile wallets and payments through Near Field Communication.

“There is an opportunity to differentiate your F&B brand by creating a well-integrated technology solution for your customers. From making a reservation or order, redeeming a voucher and paying your bill, integration into mobile payment solutions will be key.”

If you can’t beat ’EM
And it appears restaurateurs are no strangers to recognising this growth. With the likes of Shangri-La Dubai, Fairmont Dubai and even the Jumeirah Group registering to be part of the RoundMenu programme, the F&B industry is taking the technological revolution very seriously.

“Restaurants love it because it’s a cost effective and efficient marketing channel for them. Restaurants do not have any sort of digital presence. They’re not tech savvy. They don’t understand technology. They know food. They know what ingredients to order. So we kind of give them an online presence, if you like,” says Jawad.

In addition a single technology platform can allow one restaurant multiple forms of exposure. For example Table4ME’s partner restaurants can add an online booking engine on the internet, a social networking site or a closed loyalty customer site – even a mobile site.

“They have the opportunity to reach a wider network of potential customers through our growing network of distribution partners. This strengthens their online marketing activities and gives them the ability to build and manage their customer database much more effectively,” says Bergman.

Dubai casual eatery Burger Rebel introduced an iPad menu on opening and has found that this has made certain aspects of its operation quicker.

Slicker dining
As well as being more “visually enticing,” operationally, prices and menu items can be updated much more quickly says Daniel During, restaurant co-owner and founder Thomas Klein International. In addition there are a number of marketing advantages also.

“It is super easy to feature our menu on line on our website too, as it is the very same application posted in the website.

There are various other advantages such as the Facebook link from our menu, so the client can post a “like” from the menu with no necessity to log into his own profile. Clients can also order directly online using the same menu they use in the restaurant,” says During.

Maki Kuwait also features an iPad menu which it implemented in 2011 but has adapted this with a shopping cart feature “empowering” the customers by allowing them to place their own orders.

“Maki connects with the target audience which centres around the 25-35 years of age group who are all technology-savvy and do appreciate a “gadget” such as the iPad, as opposed to a paper menu,” says group business development manager, Joe Hajjali.

Of course empowering the customer is important, but technology has to empower the F&B outlet too in order to be seen as a successful business model.

Both RoundMenu and Table4ME equip their partner restaurants with a certain amount of demographic information on their customer so they are able to “track customer behaviour such as booking frequency and preferences, for all channels, including their direct or ‘offline’ bookings.”

“This is rich data that restaurants can use to further optimise their service offering, and since the analytics are in real time, they can keep a close tap on how the different channels of distribution are performing for their business on a daily or even hourly basis,” says Bergman.

Jawed adds that the advantage of a technological platform such as RoundMenu, markets an outlet on a much wider scale but still to a specific customer base, more so than an “offline platform” like a paper-based promotional system might do.

“When you list with RoundMenu you are automatically made available on Google search, and you are available on the apps that we have, which is a download of 22,000 so far.

You get channelled through our social media channels and you know whatever PR or marketing campaigns we do you become a part of. The reach is far greater with us than with an offline channel,” says Jawed.

“With offline channels you don’t get the UK guy or Australian family coming over and dining – booking ahead in advance. Being advocates of encouraging loyalty we are also not limited by the time or the number of times you can book – that is actually a major differentiator,” he adds.

Be Green
And of course, with the world consumed with global warming and its effects there are naturally environmental benefits to this paper-free system.

“iPads, allow us to change menus as often as required without having to reprint, thus totally cancelling the use of paper and toxic inks,” says During, who is supported by Hajjali who further adds there is a cost saving when you aren’t reprinting updates all the time.

“Instead of spending thousands of dollars every time you would update the menu – usually on a minimum of a quarterly basis – you simply invest in a one-time expenditure by purchasing a few iPads.”

With RoundMenu having just expanded to include Abu Dhabi restaurants and discussing plans to launch in Lebanon and Saudi, and Table4ME’s latest launch of the managers’ mobile application allowing management to manage availability remotely, it seems there’s no stopping the tech-revolution.

As Bergman says Table4ME was “born out of a frustration with the hospitality industry, where the majority of a hotel’s efforts as well as sales and marketing focus and technology investments were dedicated to its rooms division.”

Our tech-whizzes predict the F&B industry will quickly have to conform to the gadget-craze to stay relevant.

Future dining
But there are still disagreements when it comes to making predictions on the future of technology’s impact on dining. Where Rauser believes iPad menus will not make it on to the fine dining scene at all adding that it will “tick people off” to use an iPad as a menu at a high-end restaurant, During sees the whole world going paperless which will involve scrapping paper menus altogether.

“Wait one more generation and there will be no one on earth without a smart phone,” he says.

“The point will come where the menu will disappear, first in its printed form and then in its iPad hand out form as people will use their own phones,” he concludes.

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