Hongkongers tend to browse online restaurant directories for information or reviews on intended eateries before heading to a meal. Afterwards, they may write comments or share photos of their dining experience.
Following the popularity of social media tools and the falling cost of mobile applications, quite a number of startups working on mobile platform of food and drinks guides have been emerging, challenging the business of traditional online restaurant directories.
Christopher Francisco, who once worked in investment banking, came up with the idea of building a platform for booking restaurants. Partnering with his high school classmate, Francisco launched mobile app Bid N Eat in April.
Bid N Eat is a platform for restaurants to offer limited-time discounts. Its operating principle resembles a “last-minute promotion deal” found in travel fare aggregators and metasearch engines.
Francisco said internet ghostwriters have surfaced in online food and drinks guides recent years, hurting their credibility.
He said operating these online restaurant reservation platforms requires an impartial role while catering to user experience. These online platforms cannot favor certain restaurants, or even directly asking for advertising fees.
How it works
With only a few taps on a smartphone to enter preferences including preferred district, cuisine type and number of diners, member restaurants can receive notification and respond immediately to customers with different limited-time offers. For example, customers can get a discount if they arrive at the restaurant within 30 minutes.
Once the customer accepts the offer through the app, the restaurant will reserve the seats. If the customer can reach the booked restaurant by the designated duration, and “check in” to verify the deal using the app, the eatery will be charged by Bid N Eat a commission.
Jostling for customers
More than 400 restaurants are currently in cooperation with his mobile platform, according to Francisco.
The startup has not managed to break even yet. It is also confronted with several operational challenges. For instance, it is difficult to guarantee customers who reserved seats will definitely go to their reserved restaurant.
Since last July, Bid N Eat has become a startup under the Incu-App progam launched by the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks. This month, it received a capital injection of HK$3.3 million from three investors.
The fresh funds will be used for operating and development purposes. The startup aims to raise the number of restaurants registered on Bid N Eat to 2,000.
Bid N Eat is doing research and development pertaining to a chatbot, expecting to roll out a computerized “food and drinks assistant” to help users arrange dates and book restaurants in one go.
As far as Hong Kong’s small to medium restaurants are concerned, Francisco said a large number are busy with everyday operation and lack information technology to collect useful data.
He is using data and statistics obtained from the mobile platform to help restaurants tailor-make better promotion deals to boost customer satisfaction.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 24
Translation by Jonathan Chong
[Chinese version 中文版]
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