A closer look at the online ‘dineout’ market with Ankit Mehrotra, CEO at Dineout

Online services to provide fine dining experience to foodies are slowly gaining traction, as more and more people are opting to do an online reservation prior visiting a restaurant.

The online table booking portals are trying to solve the problem of long waiting times for consumers whereas providing a new channel of sales to restaurants.

But with the entry of a number of table booking sites such as BookYourTable, DineOut and TableWalla, these players are trying to share a pie in the millions of dollars of this market in India. So what scope does the market offers to new players and the existing ones?

Talking to Iamwire – Ankit Mehrotra, CEO of Dineout, highlights the best practices for such businesses and the effort/challenges the company has faced during its journey.

Dineout is an online and on the go mobile app service helping users to book table at their favorite restaurants in town and provides them various offers. It also plan & organize parties, corporate lunches and dinners, anniversaries etc as another feature among its services. The company was also among one of the runner ups in Microsoft Bizspark regional challenge and has raised Rs 60 Lakhs last year, in angel funding from Ankush Nijhawan and Gaurav Bhatnagar – the founders of a B2B online travel agency – Travel Boutique.

If an individual restaurant wants to tie up with multiple sites, what is the option?

When a restaurant ties up with us, they are absolutely free to do delivery on their own. We only work as a booking partner for them. Our software is designed in a way that once its in place, we can offer booking from any part of the world. We have restaurants like Olives, Striker (in Delhi-NCR) for which we update the real time minute to minute status of the available tables. Best way to put this is, we are the bookmyshow in dining space. Like they integrate with cinema booking, we are with the restaurant table management inventory.

So does that mean you handle all their inventory?

Potentially we can fill all the tables for a particular restaurant. Restaurants play the primary part in the process of booking their tables. Now if the booking for a table is available but another customers reserves either by calling at the restaurant or a walk-in, the restaurant manager has to update it in the system for us to know that the table has been now occupied as we are virtually not available in the restaurant. So it’s always the restaurant’s team who plays the major role in managing the inventory themselves and partners with platforms like us to increase their business.

What is your monetization model?

Our partners pay us a fixed fee per diner. That is, if it’s a table of 4, we get 4 times of the predefined commission. So its based on customers not the table. On top of commission however, the restaurant pays us a monthly subscription fees. But as of now we are not taking any subscription amount, given the fact that we are in the process of development and market our business, so once we become an established player, or I should say, come out of beta, we might consider it.

Can a user also select menu online ?

We don’t provide the complete menu online. But what we do is ask the restaurants management to tell us what according to them are the restaurants signature dishes which distinguishes them from their competition. So typically, we provide information on a few must have starters, main course & deserts. We believe that this is much more useful to the consumer today as most restaurants are multi-cuisine and it is very difficult to separate between the restaurants just based on their menu.

Is it a particular kind restaurants or brands that you deal in?

Yes, as of now we are only dealing in premium restaurants where average spent of a customer is between 400 to 500 Rupees. So you won’t find a Nirula or any other fast food restaurant on Dineout. We have premium restaurants like Berco’s, The Claridges, Smoke House Deli etc.

How difficult was it for you to tie up with such restaurants, as they are quite big brands in themselves.

Well quite honestly, it was a nightmare. As in India there was no established player in this sector when we launched and the idea was quite new for the customers as well as for the businesses. The market was very unsure about this kind of business model. But one of the advantages we had over Zomato or any other such player is that we have always provided 100% authentic customer reviews. On Dine Out, only those who actually have eaten in a restaurant can leave a review about that particular place. Moreover we always try to call our customers and take their reviews over phone, we record them and make those recordings available to the restaurants on their dashboards. This acts as a valuable resource for restaurants to improve their services by feedback from actual customers.

Who are you competing with?

There are a few sites who have come recently like Tablegrabber, for one. But today we are seating the maximum number of people across the country.

Earlier when Zomato entered, they started with a similar table booking feature, but eventually dropped it because of some reasons, so can you please tell us what were the challenges they fought, that forced them to do so ?

Well different businesses approach differently to a problem. Moreover its next to impossible to manage booking for a large number of restaurants. We have narrowed down the number of restaurants we deal in. Once we strengthen our roots bit more, we will deal into few smaller restaurants as we do not believe to work on a ‘mass market model’.

Another problem we faced that I would like to share is that we earlier had a desktop software. Given the fact that the desktops are placed in one corner of your workplace, which is very hard to approach for each single entry of table availability, as everyone is busy running back and forth. The solution we came up with was a web based software, that works on any smartphone device and runs parallel with desktops, making the process more approachable and handy. So from a desktops we have gone to cloud.

‘Open table’ is one such popular software, which is being used internationally – in North America and across Europe, but is unavailable in India at the moment.

So how many restaurant do you currently deal in? And are you looking to raise any outside funding as well?

We provide our services for around 400 restaurants in Delhi & Mumbai, and are planning to increase the numbers to 750 by the end of this year. We will also be launching in Bangalore by August. As far as funding is concerned, we are looking to raise series A round, and are already in talks with a few investors. We have reached a milestone of 15k diners in June and launched in Mumbai as well in the same month . We have also hired an experienced CTO who comes with an entrepreneurial and startup experience and was part of the founding team at Gungroo, a secure web space and online activity hub for kids.

How do you encourage diners to book online?

Well, we aren’t solely responsible for that. It’s a mix effort of both – the restaurants and us. We have a mobile app, a mobile website and a normal website – which provide customers with multiple options to book, as per their comfort. Moreover we have tied up with several third party websites, like ‘burp’ and ‘times city’, which was a huge push for us. We are doing revenue share with them, as services like those help us to divert their traffic. We are also live with three to four similar mobile players,  like ‘delight circle’, to strengthen our position in the app space. On some restaurant’s listed on burp and times city you can find the review and actually book the table through Dine Out button.

Moreover we offer best solutions to organize a party or an official lunch. For example if you want to organize an official dinner for which you want a space in a restaurant with certain kind of theme or lighting, you can call us and we will help you choose out of hundreds of places – with our expertise. Guys from Accenture and IBM sometimes call us and we organize the best seating place for them. That is also another boost for us.

Can a user also get to know about the seating plan or the table map in a particular restaurant and choose the particular seat to dine ?

No we don’t provide that facility on our websites. The restaurants we have partnered with, can indeed update their table layout and make it available to our system but because of the fact that it doesn’t make much of a difference and would just make the booking process comparatively lengthy and complicated, we decided not to introduce it.

So can a business like yours charge restaurants to provide them a visibility on their website?

As a matter of fact Yes. We also do it. But apart from offering a booking service to them, we also do a lot of marketing for our partners, which include e-mailer campaigns, SMS campaign and much more. So its always a win-win deal for any restaurant.

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