Ali Sinaei, managing partner at RoundMenu, discusses how the restaurant booking website saw business value by building a mobile app.
When we first started discussing the concept of launching a service to help diners find and book restaurants in the Middle East, we very quickly realised that the epicentre for everything that we did had to focus around convenience and accessibility. Our rationale was that we could bring the best promotions to diners at hundreds of restaurants, but if we didn’t make it easy for them to find, book and very importantly to receive their promotion vouchers, then we would be missing a unique opportunity.
That is why we built our business around a very simple model – the diner uses RoundMenu to find a restaurant, books it through the interface and receive the promotion voucher as an SMS on their phone. The last part of this process is in many ways the key – we cut out the need for paper or cards. Think about it – what is the only item that most people have with them at all times? That’s right, it’s their mobile phone. By delivering the voucher as an SMS we make sure that we cut out the inconvenience of having to carry paper, a book or a card with you everywhere you go.
So once we decided that the method of delivery of the voucher to the diner was to be SMS, the next step for us was a logical one – we needed to build sleek, elegant and easy to use mobile applications that would allow diners to book, dine and save… on the go. The Middle East, and the GCC in particular has one of the fastest growing smartphone penetration rates globally, with figures estimated at around 50% in the UAE.
The first thing we had to do was to decide on the basic functionality the app absolutely had to have. This process was critical as each operating system has a different set of capabilities and has to be built for independently. The basic functionalities had to be consistent on each device, and then we could customise for each operating system individually after that.
So what features are absolutely critical for someone using our service? Well, we figured there are two: hyper locality and search (including category search)
So why is hyper locality important? Our research helped us to understand that the dining decision is one that can often be difficult and last minute for diners. Furthermore, a large percentage of decisions are made based on the question: “what options do I have near me?” There is no other device in popular use in today’s consumer market other than a mobile phone that allows for location based services, so to build the “find restaurants near me” functionality was a no brainer – in theory at least!
And search by categories – why is that important? Well, the other way that diners like to make dining decisions is by narrowing down by cuisine or theme. Maybe tonight I want Indian or Italian food, or maybe I’m looking for a romantic restaurant to visit with my loved one. This functionality has proved to be equally as useful on the apps as the location based service.
In fact, we are seeing almost 50% of all of our bookings coming from the apps. That is an incredible number for us considering our site is effectively our shop window.
The RoundMenu app has been the top free app in the UAE Food & Drink category on the Apple appstore for a month and a half now, and that is proof that consumption is increasing, so maybe we’ll even see that percentage rise soon.
We will continue to leverage technology as much as we possibly can in order to drive convenience into the dining experience, and for the near future it seems that improving our mobile apps will be the main method of doing this.