Restaurant booking is likely to evolve like online travel, say EazyDiner founders
Based out of Delhi, EazyDiner is India's first restaurant reservation platform that offers expert reviews, curated content, recommendations, special deals, insiders' tips and reservation services. The platform, started by Vir Sanghvi along with friends in the hotel industry, offers concierge service to customers and features 8,000 restaurants, 200 bars and 600 critic reviews. It also provides over 100 EazyTrends and dining invitations for regular users. VCCircle caught up with Vir Sanghvi; Sue Reitz, managing director, EazyDiner; and Deepak Shahdadpuri, managing director, DSG Consumer Partners, which is backing the venture, to understand the firm's expansion plans.
Don't you think it is a late start when the space has seen huge VC interest already?
Vir Sanghvi: Actually no one is in this space and it's a completely virgin space. We are a restaurant reservation site with curated content. As far as I know, there is no site in India with curated content, though there are many people with user generated content. There is no one who can get you table at over 300 restaurants all over Delhi NCR. EazyDiner can not only get you tables with an online click in terms of booking but it can serve as a concierge. You can call and we will also give you deals on every single booking. So in that sense, we are opposite of the over-crowded space.
How would you ensure you are capitalised adequately so that you can take on competitors?
Sanghvi: We started off with an initial seed capital and there has been considerable investor interest in terms of further funding. Though we have done a soft launch over 10 weeks, our revenues have exceeded our expectations with nothing but word-of-mouth publicity. We are quite comfortably financed at the moment even to go to 10 cities; we are going to Mumbai in July and after that in the second half of the year we hope to look at more funding. But funding is not our biggest priority at the moment.
How do you plan to enhance your capabilities as far as technology is concerned?
Sanghvi: I am not exactly a tech virgin—I was the first Indian journalist to have his own website, one of the first to go on twitter and I have my own video channel. I have embraced new media and tech much quicker than most people; so I don't think tech is necessarily an alien territory.
Tell us more about the kind of response EazyDiner has had after the soft launch...
Sue Reitz: We have listed about 8,000 restaurants on our site and we have signed up with 300 restaurants for reservations and special deals. In the first three months of operations we have had about 4,000 diners without publicity or an app.
What are your hiring plans?
Sanghvi: We have 30 people working with us at the moment. We already have a critic who works on a well known food blog in Mumbai, who has been working for us for many months building up an archive of restaurant reviews for us. We will be hiring another critic in addition to sales and administrative teams.
Zomato has been growing strong on back of acquisitions. What gives you confidence given that they have expanded themselves to be a global play?
Sanghvi: We have enormous respect for Zomato. What Zomato has achieved makes any Indian proud and shows you what Indian tech and enterprise can achieve. But what Zomato is doing is offering a directory of restaurants with huge amounts of user generated content. They are doing this extremely well and we admire them for that but that is only a part of what we aim to do.
What are your expansion plans? Will EazyDiner be India centric or a global play?
Sanghvi: At the moment we are focused on India. Our plans for world domination are still at a nascent stage.
You have been an active investor in the food space and have had success with some of your investments including Sula. What is your game plan for EazyDiner?
Deepak Shahdadpuri: The food and beverage industry is about $50 billion and has been growing at about 15-20 per cent a year. It is one of the few industries that have been the least impacted by tech innovation. Ten years ago, you would have called a travel agent and booked a flight; nine years ago I invested in Cleartrip. Today almost no one calls a travel agent. Same thing is happening to restaurants. Booking a table at a restaurant is a cumbersome process and the young Indian generation is attuned to online sites. What we are offering the consumer is ability to search, find and make a reservation through an app or a website. It's something that has played out very well in the west. The market leader OpenTable was sold for $2.6 billion to Priceline last year. You see exponential growth in the space in Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand and Indonesia. Now it is happening in India and we are leading it.
Do you have any global model in mind that you seem to be replicating with EazyDiner?
Shahdadpuri: India is different. When we did Sula there was no global model and India is a unique market. Customer behavior and preferences are unique—something that works in the US may not work in the UK and probably will not work in India. So what we did with EazyDiner was speak to the restaurant industry and we have an advisory board of senior hoteliers and restaurateurs. We then spoke to diners. Not every diner is the same— some dinners want to find, search and book online; others would like to speak to someone. If you go to our app or web-page, you have the choice of making an instant reservation or you can call someone and she will recommend a restaurant, make a booking and call you back. We are offering our service to a broad spectrum of customers. It's a very Indian model.
What are the trends that you see emerging in the food tech space?
Shahdadpuri: You will see more pervasive use of technology. You will see a lot of adoption of technology by the industry. Right now almost no restaurant has a table management system. Labour costs are going up and service levels are dropping. We have a map of the value chain and we are trying to see where technology will impact the most. Zomato has done a great deal in one place—other people are chasing payments and we are targeting reservations. So it's a big industry— let's gain the trust of the industry and then we will take it from there.
Noted chef Sanjeev Kapoor is also entering the food tech space...
Sanghvi: I know what Sanjiv is doing—he understands the internet; he has got his recipes online. What he is doing is different and it doesn't impact our business.
(Edited by Joby Puthuparampil Johnson)