Until a few years ago, finding new and exciting places to dine, even in one’s own city used to be quite a stressful affair. You had to consult friends and family, look online for the type of dining experience you craved and had to reserve seats with much hassle. Thanks to applications like Dineout, booking tables, getting recommendations, and finding the right restaurants has become easier than ever.
Additionally, you can see photos of restaurants and dishes, read reviews, and to avail discounts and special offers through memberships. Dineout has carved out a distinct niche for itself in offering exceptional fine-dining experiences and helped many users discover food and ambiances that they loved.
We are fortunate to have interviewed Mr. Ankit Mehrotra, the CEO & Co-Founder of Dineout, and know about his and Dineout’s journey henceforth.
In Conversation with Mr. Ankit Mehrotra, the CEO & Co-Founder of Dineout
Here’s an excerpt from the interview:
Dear Ankit, firstly a warm welcome from SoftwareSuggest. Our readers are eager to know about your journey so far.
How did the idea of Dineout originate? What was the driving force behind the inception of Dineout?
The idea of Dineout originates from our personal dining out experiences. Before we sowed this idea, my co-founders Vivek, Nikhil, Sahil, and I lived on different continents and had world-class dining experiences. We would often use online reservation platforms to book tables at pubs and restaurants abroad. That way, we could discover new eateries and never had to wait to be seated. It was amazing how a little could do so much to elevate our dining experience.
However, each time we came back to India, we struggled to find new places and would often end up calling friends and family for recommendations. We noticed this gap in the user experience and wanted to bring in our expertise to bring about a major shift in India. So, in 2012 Dineout came to life to make online reservations seamless for Indian consumers.
The journey that started with being a reservation app has now transformed into a multifaceted business that caters to both diners and restaurateurs. Our B2C arm provides a very unique overall savings solution through discounts and cashback offers to the diners. And our B2B arm, inresto by Dineout, offers end-to-end contactless dining technology. Our product suite helps our partner restaurants across 20 cities in India and 12 countries worldwide.
And our constant resilience to offer only the best to the diners and restaurateurs alike has made Dineout India’s largest dining out and restaurant tech solutions platform. We process more than 100M diners and $900M worth of transactions for our partner restaurants across a network of 50,000 restaurants in 20 cities, providing a collective savings of more than $100M on restaurant bills annually.
What is your success mantra? Something you have followed personally that has helped you in your journey
I believe being successful is a constant journey. You don’t just achieve it one day and stop. Also, it is not achieved overnight. Unrelenting passion and perseverance are two essential elements that make it possible for any individual. On a personal note, I look up to Richard Branson as a business visionary and entrepreneur.
His success story, passion, discipline, and unique approach towards experimenting with new business ideas are what I aim to inculcate in myself. Additionally, having a team that shares its knowledge, expertise, and rigor for the same ideas has helped me in my journey so far.
How has Covid-19 impacted your business, and what is your strategy moving forward in the new normal?
The year 2020 served as the biggest test for businesses worldwide. Business pulled down shutters and revenues hit zero, which wasn’t something anyone had anticipated ever. From processing a monthly transaction of $100Mn we went to NIL.
While initially most of life had come to a screeching halt, almost a year down the lane, people have released the pressure from the brake. The most significant change that is being witnessed is an increase in social gatherings and dining out. Whether seated in sections/compartments/pods or next to a teddy bear, people are coming to terms with the new normal dining out.
Right from the beginning of the lockdown, Dineout invested in initiatives like restaurant vouchers to support restaurants monetarily. And to come to terms with the new normal and adapt fast, we helped our restaurant partners with cutting-edge Contactless Dining technology which has helped them reopen their doors with confidence. Our array of restaurant technology ranging from Point of Sale, Supply Chain Management to Digital Menu (Dine-In), Digital Valet, Digital Feedback, Loyalty, Campaign, Reservation management, and Restaurant owned website has helped us arm our partners with enough ammunition to take on any challenge.
Our strong partnership with our clients is a testament to our efforts with over 15,000 leading F&B restaurants and casual dining or quick-service chains including Azure hospitality, Plum by Bent Chair, Farzi cafe, Subway, Hard Rock Cafe, Mad Over Donuts, Mainland China, Giani, Baskin Robbins and others who have partnered with Dineout to provide a contactless and safe dining-out experience to their customers.
And as the dining out life resumed and the restaurant industry thrived again, Dineout bounced back and recovered 70% of its usual business.Our strategy going forward is to continue this streak of innovation. 2020 taught us an important lesson to expect the unexpected and reaffirmed our need to stay ahead of the curve. We strive to be the pioneers of restaurant technology that helps our partners offer the best dining experience to their diners.
How has your sales & marketing strategy evolved during the shift from normal to new-normal?
It is for certain that what worked before is not going to work any longer. The requirements have changed, customer behavior has changed, the dynamic of sales and marketing has been overhauled. Our business strategy relies heavily on close interaction with people. In the initial phase, it was tough rebuilding our relationship with our partner restaurants.
In order to keep our partnership, we kept them updated with market insights and our innovations that were directed towards helping them function in a contactless world. In order to support our partners we also launched the Restaurant Voucher initiative where we encouraged users to buy pre-paid vouchers at a discounted price and help keep their favorite restaurants afloat during the crisis.
From a B2C perspective, we understood our users were bored and constantly scrolling through Instagram. Taking that aspect into account we launched various campaigns, where we engaged with our users even when most restaurants were shut. One such campaign was the country’s first virtual cookoff with celebrity chefs. The contest encouraged viewers to upload home-cooked dishes and recipes to stand a chance to win exciting prizes every week. Home Masterchef was an initiative focused on keeping our 5M user base active on the app and giving them a platform to flaunt their culinary skills via their unique feature – Dineout Stories.
Staying true to our promise of a restaurant first approach, we had also extended the validity of our product keeping no usage during the lockdown in view. As businesses reopened their doors we realized one of the challenges they faced was a cash-flow shortage. So to help our partners sail through the hard time to better days, we also revised our payment plans and worked out a way that worked best for the business.
Would you like to share some interesting stats/ numbers for our readers — pre-pandemic versus current times?
The beginning of 2020 was perfect for us before it came to a sudden halt and revenue plummeted. In Feb we successfully celebrated The Great Indian Restaurant Festival that generated 550Cr of revenue for our restaurant partners. We also celebrated our 8th anniversary, which only a few handfuls of startups have been able to achieve in the Indian ecosystem. However, the year was unprecedented for the restaurant industry as it suffered a severe downfall like never before.
But, the industry has emerged from months of shutdown by fundamentally altering its operations and by setting new standards. We’ve recovered 70% of our business compared to pre-COVID times. Delhi, Bangalore, and Ahmedabad are moving fastest towards normalcy with an 80% recovery rate. In December alone we’ve clocked 100 Crore worth of transactions and that shows how promising 2021 is going to be.
2021 is set to be a year of redemption and we anticipate the market to revive at the earliest as the vaccines have started being administered and people begin getting more and more confident about dining out.
What motivates and strengthens you to keep up with the competition?
We are driven by our partner restaurants, their needs, and our resolve to help solve their challenges. When we get to the drawing board to chalk out our product roadmap and sales strategy we put our partners’ wants as the number one priority. We understand that if the product takes care of the client’s expectations, then one doesn’t need to look at what the competition is up to. And so far our approach has managed to keep the competition at bay for us.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs starting out in this field?
My advice to young entrepreneurs would be to do more listening than talking. Using slice-of-life instances to provide customers new solutions and addressing the elephant in the room to improve existing flaws is our biggest learning. I believe that the journey to being an entrepreneur is not a linear curve. It is full of ups and downs but it teaches us to believe in our ideas and business mantra.
Additionally, as entrepreneurs, it is important to be cognizant of your team member’s expertise and cultivate an environment for growth. Cause an amalgamation of creative freedom and courage to bring your ideas into life are the things that help your team grow. And a company only grows if the people who make it one grow exponentially. Another important attribute for an entrepreneur is being agile. One needs to understand that market and market requirements change every day. So it is important to keep up with market trends and keep innovating.