Sooner or later, someone was going to use the Internet to let diners make restaurants reservations instantly.
Such an idea isn’t new: US-based OpenTable has been doing it since 1998, and they’ve expanded their services into eight countries.
In Singapore, the concept is just beginning to take off. Within the past couple of years, at least four such websites have already sprung up.
Chope is a Singaporean slang that means ‘to reserve’ — and tissue packets have become the standard item used to ‘chope’ seats in Singapore coffee shops and hawker centers.
Funnily enough, I bumped into Chope’s co-founder and head of sales Clowie Tan at the recent Techventure conference — I blithely took her seat during lunch because I didn’t see a stack of tissue packets with the word ‘Chope’ in big, bold font that she had left at her seat.
Thankfully, the kind soul next to us gave up his, so Clowie and I could both have our lunch. And talk about her business.
The first question I asked was how Chope is differentiating itself from the other offerings out there, given that they’re all providing essentially the same service.
Clowie said that her website has write-ups for every restaurant they include, highlighting their plus points and unique features. They’re also selective about who they include, picking only restaurants with great food, nice ambiance, and outstanding service.
Co-founder and CEO Arrif Ziaudeen adds that Chope takes great care to ensure the security of the restaurant’s data.
“We sign explicit confidentiality agreements, we don’t share with third parties and we never, ever share with other restaurants. We keep physically separate databases. We don’t put sensitive or unencrypted data on the cloud.”
Chope is also different in that they imported a proven Table Management System from a technology partner. A tested system ensures that they are able to hit the ground running, without having to resort to trial-and-error.
“These systems are mission critical so they have to work,” said Arrif, adding that their technology has already been tested ”at some of the worlds best and busiest restaurants.”
Taking a slightly different tack is Dennis Goh, co-founder and managing director of HungryGoWhere.com. TableDB, which just went live a few weeks ago, uses an in-house system which they are still fine-tuning.
“While it’s easier to license a system from elsewhere, we want full control. This allows us to modify our system according to our customer’s needs and changes in the market,” he says.
“It’s a very controlled process. We’re testing it to make sure it works. But so far, there’s a large expression of interest from restaurants.”
While TableDB may be late to the game, it does have a lot going for it. It is poised to benefit from HungryGoWhere.com’s traffic and database. Already, users who visit the Lawry’s page on HungryGoWhere.com will see a big orange button that deep links into the reservation page on TableDB.
As more restaurants enter the fold, TableDB would certainly benefit from the sister site’s popularity.
Currently, Dennis is offering the service for free to restaurants. They’re still exploring possible revenue models for the site, and have not reached a decision yet.
“We could either charge transaction fees or subscription fees,” he says. Right now, Chope is currently using the subscription model while keeping the service free for diners.
The adoption of such table management solutions, however, could be delayed by the fact that SMEs haven’t quite caught up on the technological front yet. Arrif explains that many restaurants lack high-speed internet access and a reliable wireless router.
That explains why online reservation services are just beginning to gain steam, which also means that it’s too early to determine who’ll succeed or tank.
Several factors that can influence their success. Having a table management system and site user interface that provides a painless experience for both restaurateurs and foodies are certainly important (check out TableDB’s system, which works on the iPad).
A nice mobile site or app wouldn’t hurt either. Reservations.SG is ahead in this arena right now — since they have an optimized mobile site, while TableDB is already developing their mobile app.
I’ll also be interested to see who is the first to integrate their services with another app (like Shownearby, for example), either by licensing their technology or releasing an API.
Finally, having a buffet spread of restaurants to choose from matters too, but it’s not just about quantity. With so many F&B establishments out there, it helps if these services curate the best restaurants either through an in-house editorial team (like Chope) or via community moderation (like HungryGoWhere.com).
Ultimately, all of them should aim to scale beyond Singapore, as Asia is ripe for such services to grow.
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