Posts Tagged ‘StartupMalaysianMarketplace’

Thinking about online restaurant reservations

Is the next wave restaurant booking applications for Malaysia? For that, the scene has to change much from restaurateurs.

In London, I had lunch at Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental in Hyde Park. This restaurant has one Michelin star, and is generally booked out up to three months in advance. People clearly want to eat there.

But on the off chance something opens up, a service like OpenTable (not just for online restaurant reservations; is a restaurant management system too) can inform you that an opening exists and it could be great to visit. Foodies love this as there’s no wait, and restaurants love this as there’s revenue coming in.

From what I gather, when seasons are low at other OpenTable restaurants, you even snag discounts to eat there. No group buying involved, the restaurant genuinely wants to fill a seat, and everyone should leave the transaction happy.

Malaysia has no Michelin starred restaurants (Mandarin Oriental is the only user of OpenTable so far in Malaysia). That aside (who’s to say the ratings mean much), there isn’t a restaurant I know in Malaysia that has a need for a booking. I can almost always just walk in, leaving a reservation only for a special occasion if I wanted a preferential seat or something on the menu that requires pre-preparation (herbal chicken soup, beggar chicken, etc.).

There are restaurants that require you to queue though. Its culturally acceptable for us to queue and wait for something good (see Line Clear nasi kandar in Penang, the recent myBurgerLab frenzy in PJ, and probably Krispy Kreme doughnuts when it first came to our shores). I’m not saying its culturally unacceptable to queue in Europe (just look at the queues outside Laduree on Champs-Elysees in Paris). Everyone queues everywhere if something is good.

So it comes back to the type of dining. If its fine, you’re likely to take time to eat. Some 1.5-2 hours to get thru an appetizer, main course & desert. Its not fast food. You’re unlikely to queue for 1.5-2 hours under any circumstance just to get food, are you? So a reservation makes sense.

How many such restaurants are there in the Klang Valley, warranting a reservation?

There are times where reservations are invaluable. The whole month of puasa, where Muslims break fast in fancy locations, is probably a good time to make a reservation.

Overall I think the market isn’t ready for something that involves reservations. There just doesn’t seem to be a need for it. We have a foodie culture, but visiting many places almost never requires pre-planning.

I remember in Melbourne, a weekend dimsum (Hong Kong style at a place like Plume) works in 1.5h cycles. You got that much time to eat, and then head off. A reservation system there made sense. A multitude of restaurants could also be booked out for months, so again reservations made sense (try getting a booking at the then hot Fifteen restaurant by Jamie Oliver).

So, what do you make reservations for when casually dining in Malaysia?

Thinking about online food delivery services

I’ve been asked many times if some types of startups can work in the Malaysian marketplace. So here’s a quick braindump on delivery services.

When I lived in Melbourne, a bad day was when you had to call Dominos for pizza delivery. I much rather ordered food from the multiple pizza parlours nearby. I wasn’t limited to them either: delivery of Chinese or Indian food was always available, just a phone call away. It was always useful when you didn’t want to leave the house or fire up the car.

This in turn helped the local economy grow further. Delivery boys were hired, and many were probably studying. Independent retailers were cherished.

In London today, I see an ad on the tube for They claim access to over 3,000 delivery menus. If you get their app, you get 20% off your first order as a new customer who saw their “tube” ad (incidentally the voucher code). Naturally they are on the Apple AppStore & Google Play Store.

Just look at that number: 3,000 delivery menus.

I’m sure you can’t get all that delivered to you no matter where in London you lived, but you probably do have a good chunk to access. I’d say restaurants within a 20 minute driving/riding radius from your location.

London has 6 zones that are covered on a tube line. I never stay out of zone 1 when I come to visit. However friends do live out at zone 3 even and you’ll enjoy seeing a grocery store, restaurants, and banks in every neighbourhood.

This was similar to how Melbourne was planned. Again, I never ventured out of zone 1, though for a period of time I did live at the border of zone 2. Every local area I was at, was served well.

The Klang Valley isn’t planned this way, with a lot more connections reliant on lengthy highways. This is probably why food delivery services that started pre-Web-hype usually focused on areas like Bangsar/PJ, KL, etc. (See Room Service delivery who probably pioneered this in Malaysia). They have their riders, they have their usual restaurants within similar areas, and they service you as a third party.

Suburbia is a lot more prevalent within the Klang Valley. Just venture into Alam Damai (Cheras) or Kota Kemuning and you’ll soon realise that you’ve hit true suburbia with services that are very lacking.

It is there that you will have to order Dominos. Or Pizza Hut. Or McDonalds.

Those are brands that are synonymous with delivery & take out.

Can this change? Will local ‘kedai runcit’ stores (or the milk bars) figure out delivery makes sense? Is it too far fetched to order a garlic & cheese naan, with some tandoori chicken & a Milo with cows milk for delivery? Or a nice claypot fish congee?

Delivery order minimums may play into things but if memory serves, all I had to hit was AUD$10 before I could trigger a complimentary delivery.

So, back to Malaysia and getting food delivered to your home/office, from places that are 20-30 minutes away. What’s available today:

  1. Room Service which pioneered this in Malaysia (I think) wants RM20, with RM12-20 delivery fees (source)
  2. foodpanda from Rocket Internet. 60 minutes delivery time, RM4-6 delivery fee, RM10-15 minimum order value

In the US, there seems to be GrubHub, Eat24, etc. In the UK, there’s Just Eat, niftynosh, etc.

What about payments? Room Service accepts visa/master/amex or cash.

The next time I have some time in Malaysia, I probably will give Room Service or foodpanda a try. Just to see how it works. I do see that their delivery areas are limited, which is naturally sad as it doesn’t cover the whole Klang Valley.

Can this work in Malaysia? Do people eat-in that often? How do you fix the location issue? When do we see more of the middlemen being cut out? Is it a good idea to go into business as a middleman like Room Service/foodpanda? How does this dynamic work when people don’t leave their homes, i.e. staying with their families even after marriage?

I don’t have the answers, and apparently this hasn’t been cracked since 2003 (when roomservice started).