The journey of table reservation apps is a narrative of how digital technology is enabling hotels to reach out to new consumers, boosting both footfalls and revenues

Stretching the technology driving dining experiences are reservation apps such as Dineout, EazyDiner, Clicktable and Table Grabber, who are encouraging people to step out of homes and dine in a restaurant

Table reservation apps help serious diners get a table even in the busiest of restaurants
Table reservation apps help serious diners get a table even in the busiest of restaurants

Are you among those who wonder why we need a separate app to reserve tables at restaurants? Or, how do make payments using these apps? Or even, do they have a subscription service? Table reservation apps are a sign that the digital era has matured significantly, impacting our buying behaviour. You don’t just shop online or book cabs now; you also can book a table at the restaurant of your choice, and, in the bargain, land some great deals. Over the past decade, the restaurant industry in India has witnessed immense growth. Food delivery apps such as Zomato and Swiggy have brought the dining experience right at our doorstep.

Fairmont Jaipur

Stretching the technology driving dining experiences are reservation apps such as Dineout, EazyDiner, Clicktable and Table Grabber, who are encouraging people to step out of homes and dine in a restaurant, without going through the hassle of wondering if a table will be available when you arrive. But what they offer is beyond just a reservation. These intuitive platforms provide real-time status on availability of seats, rating and reviews, exclusive deals and discounts to diners at the best restaurants in their city. The buzzing food service market offers terrific opportunities for players.

The change makers

Eating at speciality restaurants is emerging as a key trend amongst Millennials. Approximately 440 million millennials, who account for 34% of the total population, are changing the dynamics of the business. Armed with twice the amount of spending power on food and entertainment than the previous generations, millennials account for 54% of all online transactions. Eating at a popular restaurant is a habit with millennials; almost 79% are likely to pay four times for a good dining experience and 49% spend more on eating out than they save for the future. These statistics define how big the table reservation market is in India.

In a bid to tap the potential of this emerging market and cater to the changing consumer behaviour, dining trendsetter EazyDiner was founded in January 2015. The startup was the result of a brilliant idea — on how friction between diners and restaurants can be reduced, and they could be brought together. The app ensures a guaranteed reservation within 18 seconds of placing a request at any of the 7000+ restaurants in 91 cities in India, as well as in Dubai. Since its launch, the table reservation solution provider has grown from 365 diners a month, to more than half-a-million diners a month. Another app revolutionizing the dining out segment is Noida-based Dineout. Founded in 2012 by a group of four friends — Ankit Mehrotra, Vivek Kapoor, Sahil Jain and Nikhil Bakshi, the table booking provider is not just making online reservations seamless for Indian consumers, but also enhancing their overall dining experience.

Ankit Mehrotra, founder and ceo, Dineout

Besides, they have launched a payments platform. A diner can use the Dineout app to increase their savings by availing discounts at no extra charge, using Dineout Pay for making quick payments, with an additional cashback and exclusive 1+1 offers using their premium member subscription program, Gourmet Passport. This helps an average user save up to 60% of their bill amount. When asked about what sets Dineout apart from other platforms, co-founder and ceo Ankit Mehrotra, says, “We have over 20 million active users. Dineout helps restaurants to estimate the number of diners who will come from our app in the day and can be fully prepared even during peak business hours. But here’s a twist. We’ve experienced a changing trend in user behaviour. The availability of offers and cashbacks are changing their restaurant selection preferences. During peak hours at restaurants, especially on weekends, while a table may be on waitlist, a consumer can still walk in with an offer and pay the bill to avail cashbacks, which results in savings for them and increases the footfall at the restaurants.”

Rohit Dasgupta, ceo, EazyDiner

Pre-booking a table in restaurants was never a habit in a country like India, but owing to hassle-free services offered, reservation apps are finding more takers. Rohit Dasgupta, ceo, EazyDiner says, “On an average, Indians once ate out twice a month, while in countries such as China people eat out at an average 60 times a month. Even in countries with a lower GDP such as Indonesia had people eating out 15 times a month. The number in India has now grown to six times a month. While this trend is largely seen in metros, we have also witnessed changes in Tier-2 and Tier-3 markets. We launched in 78 cities in February this year and have experienced a 100% growth, month-on-month, in the number of reservations.” Retaining customers is the major challenge table reservation apps face. Mehrotra contends that at Dineout, they offer customer loyalty programs. “We’re seeing a growing acceptance to not just Dineout but also InResto to manage and automate operations on customer loyalty, inventory management, operations management, POS and more. From a customer’s point of view, it helps in increasing visibility and the discovery of restaurants.”

The growth markets

EazyDiner reported highest reservations from Delhi NCR, followed by Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai, Kolkata and Pune. Cities such as Hyderabad, Chandigarh, Jaipur and Ahmedabad are likely to be the next growth markets for reservation services. Lucknow, which was launched just a few months back, has picked up pace and is doubling numbers month-on-month.“In total, we have seated 15 million diners. When we launched in 2015, only 8 to 12% of reservations came digitally through the website and app. Now, 85 to 90% of all bookings are through the digital mediums of app and the mobile platforms,” says Dasgupta. 

On the other hand, 30% of Dineout user base preferred reserving in advance, clubbed with discounts, and walk out with a seamless Dineout Pay experience. “Table reservation is no longer a ‘metro-only’phenomenon. We have already expanded to five new cities this year, and plan to be in 20 cities by the end of 2019 to cater to the rising demand from Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities. Chandigarh has showcased a growth of 3x month-on-month. Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru are our top three performing cities,” claims Mehrotra.

Hefty discounts and several bespoke dining experiences have helped the apps gain ground. Photo Courtesy: Anjum Tea Lounge, Fairmont Jaipur 

Attractive discounts help restaurant reservation solution providers to create a niche for themselves in the market. “Ranging from 1+1 offers on buffets and 25% to 50% discounts on tactical campaigns, the offers given by hotels are dynamic. The most lucrative is the EazyDiner Prime offer which guarantees a minimum of 25% discount on the bill. This is exclusive to EazyDiner Prime members only, and this membership is the most expensive in the market. People buying this membership are serious diners who look for good restaurants and as per our analysis, spend four times higher than normal users. We know this as we incentivize all customers to upload their bills in lieu of additional loyalty points,” states Dasgupta.

An array of discounts rolled out by Dineout spans food, buffet, drinks, going up to even the total bill amount. Gourmet Passport members can also avail exclusive 1+1 offers on food, buffets and drinks offerings at the finest restaurants in India. “Our key focus is on enabling users to try new experiences and explore more cuisines. Through Dineout Plus, restaurants in luxury hotels offer a flat 25% discount to customers at no extra cost. It has been introduced to drive loyalty and retention for premium restaurants,” adds Mehrotra. Apart from regular offers, Dineout consumers excitedly wait for “the Great Indian Restaurant Festival (GIRF) where we offer flat 50% off deals across 6000+ restaurants,” contends Mehrotra.

Working with hotels 

Landing reservations for restaurants within hotels requires a fair bit of marketing prowess, against that for a standalone. Dasgupta contends, “Restaurants within hotels are considered to be more expensive. To break this misnomer, we are educating users through various campaigns and promotions, as there isn’t much of a difference in pricing. Several hotels have embraced the EazyDiner platform; many chains have even offered pan-India contracts.” In a bid to reach more people, EazyDiner has exclusive tie-ups with ‘Reserve with Google’ and Trip Advisor in India, which allow their users to book their favourite restaurants and get a guaranteed table reservation. Besides, EazyDiner collaborates with all banks in India, many of them in exclusive partnerships, for their dining concierge programmes which offer a superlative experience to the bank’s cardholders in the form of EazyDiner Prime.

Reservation apps help restaurants in five star hotels to attract diners from popular standalone restaurants. Photo Courtesy: Sofitel Mumbai BKC

Dasgupta claims that several new initiatives are on the horizon and will be launched in upcoming months in order to revolutionise the eating out space. “For instance, making EazyDiner a seamless app, on which customers can also place their order while making a reservation, and then pay through the app once the meal is complete. We also connect the app with the POS of the restaurant. This will help restaurants store them in one place, where they can be accessed easily. It is like making an Opera-like software (used for rooms inventory and management) available at the restaurant level.” EazyDiner is enabling F&B managers to market their restaurants to guests using their platform as a tool, or even directly through digital emailers and SMS. They can control the communication, customise it as per their needs and send it whenever they like, without having to wait for other support departments to help them. Dineout, on the other hand, is focusing on their latest offering, Dine-In, which allows customers to view digital menus with images directly on their phone and place their order right away, with just a tap. This will enhance user experience, as customers will be able to see what a dish looks like before ordering it. The revenues earned by table reservation apps speak volumes about their success. Last year, EazyDiner had drawn INR170 crores of diner revenues and this year, they are looking at increasing it by three times. Dineout draws 10% revenue from discovery and reservations alone.

A win-win for consumers and hoteliers

Several hoteliers are signing up with table reservation apps in a bid to drive footfalls and earn their share of revenues. Almost 36% of daily reservations at The Westin Mumbai Garden City are from online apps and booking engines and most of them are for their Indian restaurant Kangan. Akshay Sood the f&b manager says, “In my opinion, out of the above percentage, a major chunk are first timers or deal seekers looking to celebrate occasions. Also, with an increasing number of high-quality stand-alone outlets opening in close vicinity, we need to be mindful of every segment that maximizes our revenues and footfall.” In terms of reservation, Hilton Bangalore Embassy GolfLinks, on an average, receives eight to ten covers on a weekday from online portals. On weekends, the share increases to 10-14 and per week amounts to 40-70 covers. The overall revenue generation from table reservation and online apps, on an average, is about 1.5-2% of their entire F&B revenue. Pradeep Sharma, the hotel’s f&b manager says, “Table reservation apps are a decent source of business for us. For many reasons, they help us reach a greater audience and the products are listed well. However, I strongly feel it could get better; the deals generally requested are at times not revenue efficient. Also, with so many players in the market, I think it becomes confusing for the consumers too.” Hilton Bangalore Embassy GolfLinks tries to keep discounts to a minimum. “We believe in offering a quality product, which is difficult to achieve with huge discounts. But to make ourselves competitive, we usually offer about 10-15% on average. Also, different deals are offered for weekdays and weekends, which depends on the business generated, the visibility achieved and the requirement,” he adds. Hyatt Regency Gurgaon reports 33% reservations from online channels and app-based ventures, while 20% of their revenue generation is driven through socially connected apps and app-based ventures. In term of offering deals and discounts, the hotel brand provides complete food and beverage package meals, family combos and corporate discount rates. Recently, they have begun doorstep delivery through Swiggy without surplus charges. F&B manager Sudhir Kumar says, “We are visible to a larger audience through their network and have a direct reach to their database.

Sumit Sinha, director of food & beverage, Crowne Plaza Today New Delhi Okhla 

Also, these channels have an inbuilt feedback system and it has helped us understand customer feedback in real time.” Crowne Plaza Today New Delhi Okhla earns about 5-7 percent of the total revenue through online apps. Sumit Sinha, the director of food & beverage says, “A major reason for this association is visibility. This is extremely important since the media consumption pattern has gone digital. Interestingly, such applications and platforms help us to keep tabs on who’s dining with us, which helps us recognize who are our most frequent guests are. It also helps us gauge their preferences for certain tables or a favourite wine. The platforms help in encouraging footfalls to a certain extent as guests compare prices, reviews, etc. before finalizing the restaurant or hotel.”Some hotels, however, like to strike out on their own. Due to cut cutthroat competition, Accor, which manages over 52 restaurants and bars within its hotels in the country, has set up its own table reservation platform called Resdiary.

Prashanth Kumar, VP - Accor Plus - India & South Asia

Through their widget Table Plus, 41,000 covers have been achieved at the hotel. Accor's subscription base loyalty program, Accor Plus contributes over 30% of F&B covers. Accor Plus members often use the Table Plus platform. Other restaurant aggregators/ online F&B apps/ portals (like OTAs in the restaurant space) account for approximately another 3% of Accor’s restaurant covers. Their in-house program Accor Plus program contributed about 200,000 covers to their Indian hotels, totalling about USD 2.8 million in F&B revenue. Many of the Accor Plus members use the Table Plus platform to make restaurant reservations. Across Asia Pacific, 380,000 members contribute over USD 100 million in F&B revenue. Prashanth Kumar, VP, Accor Plus - India & South Asia says, “We are fortunate to have a membership program with over 26,000 members in India and over 380,000 members in Asia Pacific. Online players/apps/ platforms are useful to help gain attention for a new restaurant at times, but do not really help in increasing footfalls. Since we have our own member database, we are able to reach out to them. We often put together ‘money can't buy’ experiences for our members. However, online players and apps do help to offer visibility with guests of stand-alone restaurants, who are direct competitors. Some online players like Zomato are playing an important role in the search and discovery journey of our guests.” Really, there is no getting away from either the convenience or the visibility that table reservation apps offer to hoteliers and restauranteurs. The future is millennial and they are the ones who drive the popularity of digital mediums in general, and the table reservation apps in particular.

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