Before the world as we knew it changed in March 2020, areas like Thane, Vashi or Colaba were almost out of bounds for deliveries for Bandra-based Thai-Japanese restaurant Seefah. Recalling those early days of the lockdown, chef-restaurateur Seefah Ketchaiyo shares that once food deliveries were permitted, requests for orders started pouring in from far-off corners. Up until then, Ketchaiyo’s famous katsu burger, tenderloin salad and honey toast had only been ferried by food aggregator apps like Zomato or Swiggy inside a fixed delivery radius. “With delivery apps such as WeFast, ShadowFax or Dunzo coming into the picture, we realised we could send our food to far-flung locations and literally everywhere. It became a big market for a small business,” she says, adding it nudged her to explore direct order and delivery as a viable alternative.
As dining-in kept hitting pause and play amid waves of pandemic-induced restrictions, delivery became the norm. But facing the heat of losses, increased competition and a slew of steep charges levied by food aggregator apps, F&B players have been answering the call of #orderdirect, including The Table, Woodside Inn, The Bombay Canteen, Social, along with neighbourhood joints such as Cafe IDlish, Jimmy Boy and The Bagel Shop, cloud kitchens like Nair on Fire, and bakeries like Knead by Moshe Shek and Ode to Gaia. Last year, the National Restaurant Association of India even organised a boot camp to help restaurants set up their own order and delivery systems to break the duopoly of Swiggy and Zomato.
Dotpe and Thrive are among the personalised direct ordering systems that restaurants have been using
Pocket pinch To respond to the crisis, the past two years have witnessed the birth and evolution of personalised ordering systems such as Thrive or Dotpe, which charge lower commissions, and offer ownership of customer data and delivery integration. Some eateries have found an alternative in them, while others like Seefah have dialled back to a time when food could be ordered home with just a call. Several others, meanwhile, have seized the opportunity to direct traffic to their own ordering platforms, such as 1441 Pizzeria, which has an app. Co-founder Vandini Gupta explains, “Zomato and Swiggy didn’t make for a profitable proposition in the pandemic. We got leeway from even our landlords on rentals but there was no change in commission and other costs on the part of the aggregators.”
Like Gupta, Sankar Kasirajan, who runs Cafe IDlish, admits feeling the pinch of a bundle of charges — including commission, listing and discovery fees, forced discounts and more — levied by Swiggy and Zomato. “When these aggregator apps entered the field, they would enrol you at zero cost and take three to five per cent commission. Today that is anywhere between 30 to 46 per cent, including commission, discovery fee, and accounting for the discounts that you’re compelled to give although they are capped,” elaborates Kasirajan, whose Udupi eatery is listed on Thrive and Dotpe. The eatery now gets 20 to 30 per cent of its orders via these direct ordering platforms and uses aggregator apps to direct loyal customers to Thrive or Dotpe. “Including delivery charges and the commission of two to three per cent that we pay Thrive or Dotpe, it’s a win-win for customers and us. We offer a 30 per cent discount on these platforms too. We end up saving at least 10 per cent and the customer saves a net 15 to 20 per cent extra as opposed to aggregator apps as on them, discounts are capped.”
Seefah Ketchaiyo, chef and co-owner, Seefah
Data to delivery Customers’ data, which is key information for restaurateurs, is not shared by Swiggy and Zomato while Thrive or Dotpe enable the same. With direct orders, businesses can use the customer information to offer loyalty points and build a rapport, like dessert brand The Tiny Tub does. “We provide a loyalty programme, they get a cashback and little benefits,” shares co-founder Karan Alimchandani. Ketchaiyo, meanwhile, likes to throw in an extra salad or a small dessert as a token of gratitude when it comes to direct orders.
Delivery apps such as Dunzo or WeFast also offer restaurateurs greater control over last-mile delivery, points out Gupta. It allows them to manage delivery fees, too; Cafe IDLish, for instance, subsidises the delivery cost for customers while Ketchaiyo takes care of delivery costs for orders that are in the Bandra-Santacruz-Khar belt.
Sankar Kasirajan, Vandini Gupta and Karan Alimchandani
Strike a balance Restaurateurs, however, admit that Swiggy and Zomato are here to stay. “When people are hungry or craving something, they seldom think of a brand. They go straight to Swiggy or Zomato to order,” points out Alimchandani. Today, businesses which are toying with direct ordering systems continue to use aggregator apps. Meanwhile, they are engaged in active conversations with their patrons to explain the benefits of direct ordering. “The damage is more for new players who can only market themselves via Zomato or Swiggy. How will you engage diners to place direct orders unless you’re established? That loyalty takes time. So, many new players perish. Restaurants need to survive. Direct ordering helps to strike a balance in the ecosystem,” Kasirajan signs off.
29 July,2022 10:50 AM IST
| Sukanya Datta