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HungryGoWhere's demise shines spotlight on restaurant reservation industry trying to adapt to stay afloat

SINGAPORE — Some restaurant reservation platforms are trying to ride out the current ban on dining-in by diversifying to takeaways and deliveries but say the strategy has met with mixed success. They hope the June 21 resumption of dining-in will revive business.

Chairs stacked outside shuttered eateries in China Square Central in May 2020.

Chairs stacked outside shuttered eateries in China Square Central in May 2020.

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  • Restaurant reservation platforms said the food-and-beverage industry is not in great shape and they are dependent on how well restaurants fare
  • They are diversifying their business model to provide services such as deliveries and takeaways during dining-in suspensions
  • However, they do not expect these services alone to be sustainable in the long run
  • They are hopeful that they can bounce back once dining-in resumes on June 21

 

SINGAPORE — Some restaurant reservation platforms are trying to ride out the current ban on dining-in by diversifying to do takeaways and deliveries but said that the strategy has met with mixed success. They hope the June 21 resumption of dining-in will revive business.

Some of these platforms, where the business mainstay is directing patrons to restaurants via their portals, have told TODAY that their income has taken a beating during the latest round of restrictions that began on May 16.

The ban on dining at eateries including hawker centres came as part of a heightened alert phase imposed to arrest a rise in Covid-19 cases and several clusters that were forming around that period.

On Thursday, the Government announced that dining-in will resume on June 21 if the situation remains under control as Singapore moves to a less strict phase though still in heightened alert. 

While the latest round of restrictions on activities did not last as long as last year’s circuit breaker from April 7 to June 1, it marked the second round of business disruption for the food-and-beverage (F&B) industry, which in turn affects restaurant reservation platforms.

On Tuesday, the homegrown HungryGoWhere F&B portal said that it will be ceasing operations on July 11. The popular site offers restaurant reservations, dining deals, dining rewards, and articles on food and drinks in Singapore.

Singtel, which acquired HungryGoWhere’s parent company GTW Holdings in May 2012, told CNA that the closure was a result of the "severe challenges" in the industry that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

‘NOT IN GREAT SHAPE’

HungryGoWhere's competitor Eatigo, which provides restaurant reservations with discounts, told TODAY that the industry is not in a great shape.

Mr Filip Rakita, Eatigo's cluster general manager for Singapore and Indonesia, said: “Even if we look outside of the current dine-in ban, restaurants are under a great amount of pressure. On one hand, they need a lot of incentivisation to get the customers in, and on the other, they have greater pressures on their cost structure.” 

He cited as an example the increasing cost of supplies and human resources, stemming from a lack of migrant workers due to border control measures.

“Our business is very dependent on our partner restaurants. They are a crucial ingredient and when they're not doing well, Eatigo's business obviously doesn't flourish,” Mr Rakita added. 

Still, he said that the company’s business model provides it with more opportunities to hedge against risk.

For instance, he said that “certain countries take on the load when other countries enter a dine-in lockdown”, as is now the case with Singapore. The firm also has a presence in Hong Kong, Malaysia and Thailand, among other countries.

Furthermore, it has also expanded to offer delivery or pick-up services in the first quarter of this year.

“Having the delivery and pickup product ready and fully functional has greatly helped our Singapore business during this time of heightened alert,” Mr Rakita said.

He said that the firm is working with courier companies Lalamove and Grab Express to deliver food to its customers.

While he was unable to disclose in detail how much commission Eatigo takes from their merchants, for contractual reasons, he said that it charges a success-based fee for every customer they send to merchants under the table reservation model.

As for food deliveries and pick-ups, Mr Rakita said that as the fees are borne by the customer, the unit economics are very similar to its dine-in product.

"Except that here, we control the flow of money. We take our cut and pass the rest to the restaurant."

Chope is another restaurant reservation platform that has diversified to offer food deliveries — not something that the company had envisioned itself doing.

The firm’s general manager Jean Wee said: “Once the circuit breaker was announced (last year), we quickly pivoted to address the situation and provide diversification for our business.

“This allowed us to quickly ramp deliveries back up once (this heightened alert phase) was announced.”

Ms Wee disclosed that the company’s commission on deliveries is up to 18 per cent, a rate she describes as competitive and fair for restaurants.

However, Chope does not carry out the deliveries.

"We do not manage our own drivers and riders. Instead we work with a combination of third-party logistics providers that include Lion City Rentals and Lalamove among others," she added.

Burpple, a food discovery platform, similarly launched a takeaway initiative that featured its signature one-for-one promotions with its merchants during the circuit breaker last year.

The company made a decision to extend the initiative even after dining-in restrictions were lifted, to bump up revenue for restaurants that have suffered reduced capacity and sales due to safe distancing rules affecting their table arrangements.

This move continued to attract consumers and merchants when the heightened alert phase was announced, its chief strategy officer Theodora Lai said.

However, Quandoo, another restaurant reservation platform, said that it had no plans to change its business strategy. It was “fortunate enough to be in a stable financial position” with a business model centred on supporting the needs of both restaurants and diners, it added.

It opted not to look into delivery service capabilities, saying that its priority is still on providing the "best possible" dine-out experience for both restaurants and diners once it is safe to do so.

“While Quandoo is an online reservation platform, we don’t just provide a reservation system; we offer partners additional services (such as online marketing) to assist their business growth and support revenue streams.”

BOUNCING BACK

As long as the pandemic continues, platforms such as Chope and Eatigo believe that delivery will continue to be an important part of a restaurant’s ability to diversify its revenue streams.

“However, deliveries on its own, will not be sustainable in the long run,” Ms Wee from Chope said, adding that the service only makes up a small proportion of what restaurants would earn from dining in.

“For us at Chope, our base of delivery restaurants is significantly smaller than our base of (dining-in) restaurants and as such, losses from dining-in suspensions would outpace any revenue from delivery we make.”

Eatigo’s Mr Rakita said that offering deliveries and pick-up services is still very new to the platform.

“So it's a bit unrealistic to expect it to shoulder the entire load of the market, but it has covered a decent chunk of it already.” 

All in all, the companies said that they are looking forward to the lifting of dining-in restrictions.

“Generally, our business bounces back very quickly when the restrictions are lifted,” Mr Rakita said. “Out of all our countries, Singapore had the steadiest path out of Covid, and our business followed suit.”

He said that by the time the heightened alert phase was announced last month, Eatigo had “almost fully recovered” to its pre-pandemic numbers, and he expects that it will take less time to recover this time around.

While Ms Wee anticipates periodic dining-in suspensions whenever a new Covid-19 outbreak occurs, she said that the company has made strides in handling the volatility.

“That said, we must remember that restaurants were shut down for two months in 2020 and now, possibly one month in 2021. Any uplift after suspensions may not be sufficient to make up for those losses (during those periods).”

Related topics

Covid-19 restaurants F&B reservations delivery HungryGoWhere

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