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Surobhi Das, Zomato: We’re the first ones to know when a restaurant shuts or opens

Surobhi Das

At the Zomato Summit which took place in Pune day before yesterday, we spoke with Surobhi Das, Zomato’s COO, to know about Zomato’s workings, the recent last mile delivery tie ups and more.

MediaNama: What kind of challenges have you faced in tying up with restaurants who don’t have their own home delivery? And what made you think of launching last mile deliveries?

Surobhi Das: Interestingly, we haven’t yet faced a challenge in trying to bring these non delivery restaurants onto our online ordering platform. We’re in the nascent stages of conversations but we’ve been talking to a lot of people. This kind of innovation hasn’t been executed in the food industry yet, so tomorrow if you wanna eat from a really high-cost-for-two restaurant which does not do delivery or takeaway, how do you access their food? With this kind of a last mile logistics player tying up with them, it will actually help us expanding the delivery market and bringing more options available to the user. These restaurants are also keen to expand their clientele and see where they can access more customers.

MediaNama: Previously, you were supplying iPads to restaurants to manage their systems. How is it now?

Surobhi Das: We have a merchant app which works on an iPad or an Android phone.

All the higher volume restaurants who get 25-30 orders a day have the iPads because it’s easier for them to manage the orders and it’s a very elegant solution. You can switch off when you want to: when you think you have too many orders pending, you can switch off delivery on Zomato.

If you run out of a particular item on your menu, you can switch that off so that people don’t see that item while ordering. As other restaurants start getting more and more orders, we keep moving them to an iPad.

MediaNama: Do you also provide these solutions for places which don’t have their own deliveries?

Surobhi Das: That’s one set of the audience. The other is people who, till date, have had their own delivery boys, and are looking to consolidate with a player where they don’t have to keep delivery boys on their payroll and deal with issues around that. So some restaurants are keen to try this out with a third party delivery player and we’re seeing traction from both sets of players.

MediaNama: What kind of solutions do you offer them? Do you offer a delivery fleet?

Surobhi Das: We’re not providing anything, we’ve just tied up with Grab and Pickingo on delivery. They have their fleet servicing these restaurants. It’s helping us getting all the technology onto our platform so we can track where the delivery boy actually is, or how delayed your order was. We’re trying to get more data and analytics and make it a better experience for the user.

MediaNama: Have you faced issues with table reservations where its operational?

Surobhi Das: We’re calling it table management because it’s two pronged: one is table reservations from a user perspective and the other is managing the inventory and tables from the merchant perspective. We haven’t launched it yet and are experimenting with about 50 merchants in India. They have it live on their systems and they’re giving us feedback: what’s working for them, what can be made better, and we’re working on live feedback. In about 3 weeks, we’ll have more number of merchants on this product. We want to make sure that we have the right product-market fit before we go live in a crazy way.

MediaNama: What prompted you to launch the whitelabel platform?

Surobhi Das: We talked to a lot of merchants on a daily basis globally. A big need in the industry right now is having your own app.

People wanted websites 3 years back, today they want their apps. And these apps are for their loyal customers. So if you ask me why you want to move people away from Zomato to an app, we’re not really moving them away. If people have 2-3 favourite restaurants, they will want to have that app on their phone.

It was a very natural next step because we have a good tech team and we can actually help all the restaurant owners, who are our partners, leverage our tech team and get on the platform. Eventually when you look at it, we can also bring online ordering, table management etc. to the merchants app. So it ties all of it back to Zomato and it’s seamless for them. They don’t have to jump between platforms to do different things.

MediaNama: If you open that particular restaurant in Zomato, will it take you to the merchant’s app?

Surobhi Das: Not currently. You’ll have to keep the merchant app as a separate download. We’re not redirecting people from that app, but let’s say you like a particular restaurant and you don’t want to search on Zomato and take 60 seconds to get to the restaurant page, you’ll have that app. It’ll also allow the restaurant owner to send you one notification a day and this is your loyal customer base we’re talking about. Everybody else discovering your restaurant can always come to Zomato. You want to keep your loyal customer base abreast of what’s happening at your restaurant, what’s new on the menu, when do you have a certain offer going on..

MediaNama: Do you look at localising content on the platform differently in different regions?

Surobhi Das: Absolutely. We build our content by having feet on the street people collecting restaurant data on a daily basis. When we enter a new market, or refresh data on a regular basis, it’s very important for us to know what is important in a particular city Vs what is not. So I can’t take the same set of 20 attributes from Pune to Istanbul, user needs will be different. A case in point is Europe, which has daily menus. Every restaurant puts up a daily menu outside their restaurant and that’s tough. That’s when we customise the product. We have an app called Zomato for Business with which merchants can upload their daily menus. Users will see your regular ongoing menu as well, but also the daily menus.

MediaNama: What is your approach to tweaking content in India?

Surobhi Das: The best approach is to be on ground and talk to merchants. For example, in Bangalore or Pune, you’d definitely have a filter which says outdoor seating because the weather is fantastic. In Delhi, maybe you’ll have a filter which says AC in the restaurant. Similarly, in a lot of cities you’ll have a filter for vegetarian restaurants, while in some you’ll have a filter for non-veg food. Depending on what city you’re in, we have to customise our attributes, filters, features and collections. Gurgaon and Delhi will have a collection of microbreweries, which Chennai might not have. Depends on what people are looking for.

MediaNama: The AMA which took place with Deepinder Goyal earlier this year indicated that Zomato might go the e-commerce way. Any thoughts on that?

Surobhi Das: I think for us, the transaction business is what, to some extent is what ecommerce in food can be. We’re already onto the online ordering business, we’ll launch table reservations. Things have worked out well for us because we have a set of users who are already engaged on the Zomato platform. They come every day to discover restaurants they want to go to, they upload pictures and reviews, comment share and like. It’s sort of gotten built into a social network in that vertical.

Now the moment we launch online ordering, it doesn’t take us too long to send that one notification or tell people to try out our new product. And because of Zomato’s credibility, people automatically start trying it out. Our cost of acquisition of a customer has been very low, almost zero. On a couple of weekends we’ve tried discounts just to see what does and doesn’t work, but our cost of acquisition of a user to try online ordering on Zomato has been almost zero. Having that search and discovery platform in every city and every country actually helps us quite a bit.

MediaNama: How do you really compete with food ordering apps like Foodpanda and TinyOwl which give massive discounts everyday? Why would somebody go to Zomato Order as opposed to Foodpanda, where they can get food for say 50% off?

Surobhi Das: There are a couple of things: we’ve tried discounting and we know it’s not sustainable, you have to go back to not discounting some day. What’s worked for us is having a very good product. The app is very seamless. You’re able to come to a decision by looking at reviews, pictures, reading the menu, looking at what people have selected and then go and order. Once you go to the Order platform you can pay online. The merchants also have a very elegant solution to reject and accept an order and tell the user when the order is reaching them. I think we’ve been able to close the cycle very well. There’s no scope of a restaurant not existing or a user not existing or an order not reaching for 2 hours. We have a small call centre. What we want to get to is a tech enabled solution where there is no human interface in between. You place an order, the merchant accepts it, delivers it, you give feedback and you’re done. And that’s where we want to get to. For us, having that set of users and merchants already on board has helped us quite a bit, along with our tech.

MediaNama: Will you consider offering discounts in the future?

Surobhi Das: Discounts are not a business model for us. They’re ‘once in a while’ experiments that we do sometimes when we want to see whats working, whats not working. Sometimes we do discounts, referral codes, sometimes it’s about a festival. It’s not something we’ve built onto our business model and we hope our leverage now, and in the future, is going to be that you order your food seamlessly and your order reaches on time. And that you, as a user, are not troubled through this entire process. You don’t have to call the restaurant thrice, we don’t call you twice and you don’t get 10 messages after that. So the least amount of inertia and problems in the entire cycle is how can you order efficiently. We don’t think of discounts as something we should be doing at all.

MediaNama: How many users do you have on the Order app monthly and what is the average ticket size?

Surobhi Das: The average orders on the weekend is 10,000 in India. We’re currently present in 14 cities here and are available for over 12,000 restaurant partners. The business is growing exponentially; 20% week-on-week. Our ticket size currently averages Rs 600-650.

MediaNama: How do you verify restaurants and make sure that there aren’t any fake orders?

Surobhi Das: Because we have a database of the most comprehensive reach of restaurants on the Zomato app already. Let’s say I have a team which collects data on a daily basis at every restaurant, which means that our people have physically been inside the restaurants, spoken to the people, gotten a menu, taken a picture, gotten a Google Map coordinate, so we know that the restaurant exists. If it shuts down, we’re the first ones to know, if something opens, we’re the first ones to know. Our verification tool is actually our people on the streets. We do it in every city of ours, every country and we refresh data every 3 months, if not sooner. Even if somebody wants to tie up with us for online ordering, we’ll send a collection guy to the restaurant to take pictures, see the location and know the coordinates. Without that, there’s no tying up. Pune probably has about 6,500 restaurants listed on Zomato and it’s very easy for us to verify who’s present and who’s not.

MediaNama: What is Zomato Credits and how can one use it? Is it like an in-app wallet?

Surobhi Das: Zomato Credits are virtual currency that can be redeemed by a user on Zomato Order when making online payments. Users can earn credits either by converting their refunds/ cash-back amount into credits or through incentives provided by Zomato at its sole discretion from time to time. Each credit is valued at Re 1 and can be used to pay for online food orders via the Zomato platform. We don’t intend to go the wallet way anytime soon, we’ve already tied up with Paytm.

MediaNama: You have the Cashless option in Dubai..

Surobhi Das: Cashless is different. Cashless is where you actually go out to a restaurant and open a tab and just pay online without even asking the waiter to come in and give you the bill. But Dubai works different because it has different regulations. India has the 2 factor authentication.

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