In 2011, when Cornell Hotel School graduate Pawan Marwaha launched Tablegrabber, all he wanted was to get some additional business for restaurants by booking tables on the website.
But India was not ready. Within 18 months, Marwaha packed up and moved to New York– after all New York alone has more restaurants than India.
Six years later, he still can’t believe in the India story.
A bunch of restaurant reservation apps such as DineOut, EazyDiner and Tablewalla have mushroomed, offering attractive deals and discounts.
“The unit economics doesn’t make sense,” Marwaha said. “While there is a surge in eating out, people who go online to book a table are looking for deals and discounts.”
And the market is growing.
DineOut, which started during the same time as Tablegrabber, has 2,500 restaurants on its platform. But, unlike Marwaha, Ankit Mehrotra, CEO and co-founder of DineOut, feels that booking seats in advance makes for 25% of dining in India. About 400 million people dine out every year, excluding food courts and quick-service restaurants.
“For some restaurants we drive about 15-20% additional footfalls,” says Mehrotra. “On an average we get 7% more business for the ones that are listed on our app.”
In 2012, 70% of the bookings were done four hours in advance, but now 60% are booked an hour in advance. What’s more, every meal booked from one of these apps has a freebie or discount.
For EasyDiner, an app started by a bunch of former hoteliers, in addition to discounts, a free dish is also on the house. For example, if a booking is done at Baluchi in Hotel Lalit, every diner gets a cup of coffee or tea and an additional 10% discount. EazyDiner has 1,000 restaurants on its platform.
Then there also the ‘concierge service’, where someone can call, enquire about a restaurant based on requirement, and even book a table.
“We have helped restaurants get 10-15% additional business,” said Rohit Dasgupta, chief operating officer (COO) and co-founder at EazyDiner, which sees 20% of its booking volumes coming from restaurants in luxury hotels.
DineOut, which is just venturing into the luxury dinning space, wants to manage the entire front desk — from customer service to enquiry and booking. And of course, there are discounts — A DineOut member gets 25% off on every meal, for unlimited period.