When we set out four months ago to build the Hotkhana.com online dining guide, we were seriously challenged about why F&B companies will choose us. After all Zomato has a huge presence with hundreds of thousands of reviews and millions of visitors to the Zomato site.
Thank You, But We're Already Listed on Zomato
"We're already on Zomato" is the response that our team gets from various restaurateurs and F&B managers. And, this has really helped us fine-tune our value proposition. But, before I start telling you about why our online dining guide is different, let me share with you something about the F&B market.
The Future of the F&B Market
The F&B business is likely to grow at 36% annually and reach US$ 142 billion by 2020. About 70% of the customers will be between 21 years to 40 years of age. The biggest segment 46% will be fine dining category and 32% will be casual dining. QSRs come in at 12% (source). Based on this, it is safe to assume that the market is dominated by customers for whom the internet and smartphone is second nature. The majority of players in the market is mostly stand-alone F&B businesses in the fine dining or casual dining segment - maybe 6 out of 10 will be stand-alone. Also, operational costs are likely to increase leading to higher real estate and salary costs as competition increases.
So, a big chunk of the customer base is searching for dining experiences online. And a majority of the F&B businesses are stand-alone which do not have the capability of creating online assets or have the resources for expensive marketing programs. With rising costs, operational efficiency and managing lean periods is crucial for the survival of F&B businesses. And, this is where the need for online dining guides comes in. Online dining guides provide consumers information so that they can decide on what to eat, where to eat and what kind of experiences they are likely to get.
What Does a Customer Look for in a Dining Guide?
Firstly, let us understand the difference between a dining guide and a directory. A directory is a collation of data and it provides basic information about the services available. The best examples of a directory are Google and Justdial. These companies have probably every business listed. However, directory services do not give insights about what to expect.
A dining guide, on the other hand, provides perspective and insights. For example, a low-cost restaurant can price its dishes very low but the portions could be large. Or, a restaurant can be air-conditioned but perhaps the air-conditioning may not be effective.
A customer is interested in getting this perspective so that he can make an informed decision. "Will I get my money's worth?" - I believe that this is the most important aspect of a dining guide. And, it is the most complex. A college-going customer's requirements are very different from those of a corporate executive. Similarly, someone who is looking out for a romantic dinner has different requirements. Someone else could be looking for Happy Hours, some for Food Festivals or at specials like Retro Nights etc. A good dining guide should be able to provide this.
The Vicious Circle
Dining guides like Yelp and Zomato have based their model on customer reviews. Yelp has often been accused of manipulating reviews. The issue with uncurated reviews is that anyone can write anything. Many reviews can be damaging to businesses. We ran a poll for restaurateurs on user reviews and 69% responded negatively. Do User Reviews Help Your Restaurant Business? A restaurant with bad reviews will continue to suffer, maybe, in bottomless spiral. Also, the voice of reviewers drowns out the specialties of the F&B business. You may get great reviews but still not be able to sell high-value, high-margin items or managing lean periods.
Hotkhana.com Design - What we are doing differently?
First, we started off with identifying our customer. We are clear that our customers are F&B businesses - if their business grows because of Hotkhana.com, our success will follow. Our objectives are to provide a platform on which F&B businesses can achieve the following:
Build brand value - Our online dining guide has the capabilities of creating a mini website for any F&B business with rich publishing features.
Manage Lean Periods - Our online dining guide carries sections on food festivals, discounts, specials etc by which a F&B business can attract customers and better manage lean periods.
Promote high-margin and high-value items - A F&B business can create sections on our dining guide to promote high-value/high-margin items.
But customers like user reviews!
Yes, they do. However, I guess that most of them want to learn more about what they can get. They want information quickly and accurately. Remember, that a customer in his twenties is getting bombarded with Whatsapp messages, Twitter feeds and updates on Facebook and Instagram. I don't think he has time to go through multiple reviews which can be confusing. Three reviews state that X is a great restaurant and four reviews rate it poorly (this is not as uncommon as you think).
Hotkhana.com's dining guide will be detailed and represent the voice of the F&B businesses and help increase revenues and profitability.