Today’s restaurant industry faces manpower shortage; can technology alleviate understaffing issues?
Waitrr app interface
Imagine scoring a date with your biggest crush. You want to make a stellar impression on them, so you book a table at one of the city’s most frequented upper-class restaurants.
On the day of the date, however, you notice that the restaurant is packed to the brim. Nervously, you look around the establishment and realise there are only three staff waiting 40 tables. They shuffle around the place in a constant frantic rush. One of them hurriedly brings you a menu, a basket of bread and a glass of water and tells you he will be back to take your order.
“It’s ok,” you think. “I’ll just make small talk and munch on some bread.” But time goes by and the waiter has not returned. Your date is getting noticeably irritable and keeps calling for the waiter. An hour later, the bread basket is left with crumbs, the water bottle is depleted, and still, no order has been taken. Looks like there would not be a second date.
This frustrating scenario is one many diners have had to face. The restaurant industry is facing a labour crunch. Restaurateurs burden with these problems need to look away from quick fixes such as simply bringing on more hires to more efficient and permanent solutions.
Tim Wekezer is a Singapore-based entrepreneur who is developing such a product. It is, in his own words, an “application-based platform for users to take the dining experience into their own hands.”
Optimising eating out
The platform, called Waitrr, essentially allows diners to take their orders, get their bills, and make their payments all on a single app. This is, in turn, allows restaurateurs to optimize their operational efficiency by automating most of the ordering process.
“The staff only needs to prepare and serve the food, thus saving them a lot of time; time that can be better focussed on providing good customer service,” he says.
Deploying such a platform also allows restaurants to cater to customers who prefer the take-out option.
“In the first few months of our operations, we found that many restaurants were missing out on potential customers who want to order takeaway from the restaurant. Since the staff are generally too busy to pick up the phone, these customers take their business elsewhere. As such, Waitrr developed a new Takeaway function that allows the restaurant to capture these potential customers,” says Wekezer.
Additionally, restaurants without an existing loyalty programme can latch on to Waitrr’s own initiative.
“Restaurants can choose to adopt the programme with us, whereby their customers get to win a stamp for every certain amount spent in their restaurant. Customers who earn up to 5 stamps get to redeem their rewards from their favourite restaurant,” says Wekezer.
“Waitrr has also recently launched an in-app credit system —— this feature allows users to collect points every time they order at any
restaurant. These points will go straight to the users ‘Waitrr Wallet’ in the app. Once they hit a target number of points, they can redeem a discount,” he adds.
Waitrr is free for users who order from the restaurants, the company monetises by charging the restaurants. “We have a pretty standardized pricing which depends on the volume of orders that the restaurant processes,” says Wekezer.
Growing up in the restaurant business
Although Wekezer’s prior career was in the corporate finance industry, working as an analyst handling M&A for private equity firm Apollo Management for five years, he is no stranger to the restaurant industry. His family managed 5 small traditional restaurants across Germany, Poland and Ireland.
“I was participating in the business since I was 12 years old, starting with serving
tables at my parents’ restaurant,” he says.
“At 15 I’d be managing the bar and being a team leader to many of the newcomers in the business. With 8 years of F&B operations experience when I was 20 years old, I was
actually managing an entire 300-seat restaurant for my parents.”
“This is when I had a glimpse into the management and strategy side of the F&B industry. I’ve now worked in F&B in 8 different countries and staffing is the number 1 problem in all the countries I’ve worked in, which we are now solving with Waitrr,” says Wekezer.
Wekezer started working on the concept of Waitrr while pursuing his MBA at INSEAD in Singapore. He showcased his idea at the INSEAD Venture Competition in June 2015 and beat 58 other teams to win the top prize of €10,000 (US$11,600), which went in the building the Waitrr app prototype.
Waitrr also raised funding from crowdfunding platform FundedHere. Its campaign was funded by 12 registered FundedHere investors including Singaporean investors Andy Lim,
Founder and Chairman of private equity firm Tembusu Partners, and Steve Kek, CEO of OMG Venture.
“We have also received fundings from early-stage investors in Dubai from Jisr Venture Partners. Their investment in us was in line with their strategic intent to improve automation in F&B businesses,” says Wekezer.
Waitrr isn’t the first tech solution built for the FnB industry, for sure. There are perhaps dozens of restaurant manager platforms, such as FoodZaps, that offer a myriad of similar features such as self-ordering stations. But many of these platforms are built solely as enterprise tools, with no consumer-facing apps.
“The common solution found at most restaurants would be iPads or other tablets, which
are used to take orders. These tablets can’t be used to take payments, so customers still have to flag a staff member down to make payments,” says Wekezer.
He also cites the platform’s advantages, including a quick integration process that can be as short as 24 hours; ability to manage fully customisable menu items, like salad bowls; no start-up cost for the restaurant, unlike other solutions such as ordering kiosks.
Waitrr’s target market is mostly office workers who are aged 25-34, working in the CBD area where most of our restaurants are located, Wekezer explains. A check through the app also revealed locations in non-CBD areas such as Changi and Tampines.
The platform has already signed up over 200 clients in Singapore including Guzman y Gomez, Fun Toast, A Poke Theory, Urban Mix, The Daily Cut, and Paul Bakery. For now, Waitrr is focussed on working with middle-ranged restaurants, which Wekezer says are the best fit.
“Those [eateries] having a thin margin would not immediately see how Waitrr could support their revenues,” Wekezer explains.
Since Waitrr’s official launch in 2017, “tens of thousands” of diners have signed up and used the app, Wekezer says this figure represents a 40 per cent Month-over-Month (MoM) growth since January 2018. With regards to the company’s revenue, it has been growing at a rate of 50 per cent over the same period.
By 2019, Waitrr is looking bringing the platform to overseas markets in the region and beyond.
“By 2019, Waitrr will be hoping to expand our operations overseas. Namely to Dubai, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Australia and in the Philippines … Our model is very lean and designed to be easy to expand to other markets. We’re already in talks with local partners around the region,” concludes Wekezer.
Image Credit: Waitrr
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