Whether it is a quiet smile shared by two people across an intimate table or rambunctious laughter from a group gathered around a larger one, some of life’s best memories are made around food. The experience of dining out, in particular, is a fertile ground for moments that stay with us for a lifetime.
Despite innovations like credit card payments, the fundamentals of dining out did not change very significantly in the twentieth century. It was the perfect time to bring dining and technology together and one company has done exactly that. Meet the aptly-named Dineout platform.
A Stellar Start
Dineout was launched in 2012 as a restaurant table reservation service based in New Delhi, India. Today, it is much more, including a curated restaurant guide and aggregated payment gateway. Over 1 million people across 8 metropolitan Indian cities use Dineout every month.
They have a choice from the Dineout partner network of over 4,000 restaurants that is growing daily. The company gives them a holistic experience across a single platform, from discovery to booking to payments and even includes discounts.
As is so often the case with the most compelling success stories, Dineout began as a simple but elegant solution to a frustrating problem.
Ankit Mehrotra, the Co-Founder and CEO of Dineout had been living in the U.K. since 2002. He found it exasperating that it was so difficult to find decent restaurants whenever he returned to India. The same difficulty was shared by the other friends and now Co-Founders Sahil Jain, Vivek Kapoor and Nikhil Bakshi as well. Then they all took the initiative to make a difference and left their stable reputed jobs with the commitment to create Dineout and take the company forward.
The founders were familiar with online platforms that addressed the issue in the U.S. and U.K. and were convinced that India’s increasingly sophisticated diners would appreciate a similar solution. They all quit their jobs in 2010, and the two of them Ankit and Sahil returned to India, and all started working on their innovation in 2011.
Dineout began operations in 2012 as an online table reservation platform. Within a month, they realized that the country wasn’t ready for an online-only solution and added a call center to cater to as wide an audience as possible.
There was no turning back, in a little while Dineout raised a round of angel investment in the same year and got acquired by Times Internet in 2014. Further fine-tuning its prowess, Dineout strengthened its robust portfolio by acquiring Bangalore based company, inResto, India’s leading restaurant technology solution nestling the largest number of happy restaurant partners.
In 2014, a digital revolution swept India and Dineout launched its mobile app. Within a year, 20% of all the bookings they handled came through the app. Today, that figure stands at 95%.
There is no shortage of online platforms that cater to dining but Dineout has succeeded in the arena while countless others have fallen by the wayside. Indeed, it is rare to find a company that is still growing from strength to strength after 8 years in the industry.
When asked what the differentiator is, Ankit reveals, “Businesses have to realize that today’s fluid customer service environment, coupled with the wealth of choice for consumers, gives you very narrow windows of opportunity. It means that if you aren’t nimble or if you lack the capacity to respond quickly, you will lose your audience.”
“Our initial idea was very different from where we are today. Based on the Western model, we hadn’t anticipated the need for a call center. However, when the situation called for it, we established one within a month of launching Dineout. The overwhelming majority of our traffic came through that; if we hadn’t adapted, we would have failed.”
Ankit goes on to explain that no startup can predict exactly how the customer will react. His initial idea was to provide multiple products to restaurants apart from the reservation service. In 2012, that pitch did not work and Dineout directed its focus to the B2C model.
Now, the environment has changed and many of their partners specifically ask for products like table and customer management systems. In response, Dineout seamlessly integrated those capabilities when the market created itself.
The company applies the same philosophy to its dining customers. When they asked for a phone booking service, Dineout obliged. When there was an explosion in digital and mobile access, Dineout launched their app which is now responsible for almost all their traffic.
As consumers constantly scout for various offers and discounts, catering to that market also became imperative for Dineout. Dineout’s B2C product, Gourmet Passport, is an annual fine dining membership programme that offers 1+1 on main course, drinks and buffets at 450+ restaurants across Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad. Members can avail up to 3 coupons at a restaurant which enables them to 3 complimentary dishes and drinks at a restaurant.
“Always listen to the customer and evolve with them,” advises Ankit.
However, he also cautions aspiring entrepreneurs to not overcompensate and try to change too much at once. “There is a tendency to change models when something does not work; just be wary of losing traction while trying to cater to every client’s every whim.”
“Perseverance is the key. Solve the problem instead of changing the entire model.”
Another important factor in Dineout’s success is their holistic approach to the dining experience. In contrast to most competitors who are content to concentrate solely on the booking phase, Dineout extends the interaction to the entire dining journey.
The integrated payment option rewards users with discounts for booking and for paying through the app. In addition, diners receive in-app earnings that can be used for subsequent payments. In all, a Dineout user can save up to 50% on every single bill, every time they dine out.
Not only does this keep users returning to the app, it foments loyalty to Dineout’s partner restaurants.
Geared to an Evolving Landscape
“India is huge and its demographics and cuisines vary widely,” says Ankit, “but we all share a common close bond with food.”
While this provides ample room for Dineout to grow, the company also has to contend with how the social structure continues to evolve.
“In the past, eating out was an occasion, usually a celebration. Today, as more people move to large cities away from their joint families, there has been a sharp increase in single-person households and nuclear family households where both parents work.”
“The net result is that people have more disposable income but less time – going out to eat has become the norm. It is a recreational pursuit fueled by a desire to discover new cuisines and explore new cultures.”
The world was far less connected in 2012 when Dineout was launched than it is today. In India, the growth in the sheer number of people with access to digital options in every aspect of their lives far outstrips most of the rest of the world. This shift presents huge opportunities to the food technology industry.
“As a country of over a billion people, India has approximately only one hundred thousand affiliated organized restaurants. Compare that to the U.K. which has less than ten percent of the population but seventy thousand such restaurants,” Ankit says.
“The potential is immensely promising and we are on track to realize it.”
Ethics are Always in Fashion
Dineout is one of the oldest players in the Indian food technology space. Ankit is very candid when asked why Dineout continues to prevail where so many have come and gone.
“Ethics,” he says, simply, “Dineout has built a sustainable model that does not manipulate or exploit its investors.”
“Many of our old competitors did not respect their investors. Their approach was to use invested money to fund discounts. Unfortunately, that business model cannot be maintained perpetually. When the funds dried out or when the discounts stopped, their customers abandoned them.”
“Conversely, Dineout emphasizes on customer loyalty and also does not use investors’ funds to provide discounts. Instead, restaurants themselves give the discounts because they know that it builds customer loyalty. We support them with a great platform and experience, and resolve every customer issue in a timely fashion.”
Continued efforts led to Dineout finding an end to end solution through its B2B arm, inResto, which holds expertise in bestowing simple tools that help F&B businesses to capture & analyze diner data on a daily basis. inResto stitches together restaurant side to the diner side by streamlining the restaurant operations from valet to valet i.e. from the time the diner reaches the restaurant to the time when he leaves the restaurant at the end of his dining experience. The inResto interface has been painstakingly designed to speak the language of the Indian restaurant manager. From helping them manage waitlists during peak hours, to capturing feedback for actionable insights to aggregating the numerous delivery orders and many more, inResto takes care of and addresses every hurdle faced by a regular restaurant.
Dineout’s innovative approach has been recognized not just in the food tech industry but also in the business and startup world.
It was named an Influential Startup in 2013 and was awarded the Entrepreneur of the Year award by the U.K. government in 2016. Ankit’s cherry on the cake moment remains “The Pitch” season 3 on Bloomberg TV where he got positioned second amongst numerous interesting entrepreneurs.
This year, Dineout has been named one of India’s emerging global companies “India Emerging 20” (IE20), selected by a London-based initiative which aims to help innovative Indian brands expand into the U.K. market. Interestingly, Dineout has also been awarded by The Department of International Trade, UK, as one of the best tech companies from India and will be assisted by the UK govt. to expand.
Amidst the accolades, Dineout has not lost sight of its ideals. It is active with Corporate Social Responsibility, working with food-based charities to organize food drives. The company partnered with celebrity chef Kunal Kapur and the India Food Banking Network (IFBN) on the #FeedASmile initiative, donating money for every booking made through their platform.
When pressed on the future, Ankit is pensive.
“Five years ago, it would have been impossible for me to have predicted where we are today or to anticipate the journey we would take to get here. Similarly, it is hard to visualize where we will be five years in the future.”
However, he does have a vision to expand the number of partner restaurants from 4,000 to 25,000. The company is also considering widening its customer and restaurant base outside India. There are plans currently underway to give their partners the ability to maximize revenue and profit by using technology.
Dineout has always had its ear close to the ground when it comes to food trends in India. Japanese cuisine has soared in popularity of late and they have been quick to partner with the best establishments to give Dineout patrons the flavors they crave.
These trends may come and go but one thing is certain – Dineout will always be there to help you carry on your love affair with food.
Source :-The 10 Best Customer Friendly Food Startups in India