Chope Founder Arrif Ziaudeen On Why Dining Out Will Look Very Different In A Decade
Tech transforms every industry it touches. It expands some and contracts others, and in its aim to make life more streamlined, changes human behaviour. When it comes to the restaurant industry, tech has already simplified our busy lives by giving us easier, better access to everything from food by award-winning chefs to the last table at the packed pizzeria near your home.
Technology has been embraced by the restaurant industry to an extent. Chefs and restauranteurs want to deliver a flawless, convenient and enjoyable experience to their customers, but they also want to keep their focus on the food, wine and design. Technology offers a means to speed up processes and improve the customer experience, although some experts say development hasn't been as rapid as it should have been.
Arrif Ziaudeen is one of them. The founder and CEO of Asia's premiere online restaurant reservation service, Chope, he ensures diners can make reservations 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from anywhere in the world. Chope helps restaurants use online booking channels, improve yield and keep better track of their clients' preferences. With over 900 restaurants on its books and 20 million diners seated, Chope may well have booked your dinner last night.
The group currently operates in Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing and Bangkok, but they are aiming for global domination. “We’ve always envisioned the business to be regional,” Arrif says. “Our technology has been built to be scalable since the beginning. We've even incorporated it into our core values, one of which is to think bigger. We intend to constantly expand our list of great restaurants, with ChopeDeals [an innovative discount service] being a big focal point.”
In a relatively conventional industry such as this one, expanding people’s horizons while simplifying the booking process are the most significant changes technology has implemented to date. “The restaurant industry is ultimately a traditional one,” says Arrif. “Customer service and the quality of food presented has always been at the forefront. Understandably, tech has taken a backseat without specialists educating the restaurants and guiding implementation.”
Although given how much their customers have changed in the last decade, restaurants will be outpaced if they don’t follow suit. Tech has not only transformed the way we book and pay when we dine out, but also our relationship with food. We all demand more information on details such as the provenance of what we’re eating, as well as ever-more scenic locations and beautifully decorated plates to placate the Instagram beast.
“Diners do still decide where to eat based largely on recommendations from friends, and they still enjoy restaurants because of ambiance and good food—there’s not much tech can do to change that,” says Arrif. “But yes, new dining trends like farm-to-table or the organic food movement have spread faster now, because social media means that opinions spread faster. Diners also have a total expectation of finding information and capabilities like reservations online. For Chope that means we are just serving a need that already exists.”
The restaurant industry is ultimately a traditional one. Tech has taken a backseat without specialists educating the restaurants and guiding implementation.
— Arrif Ziaudeen
One marked effect tech has had is to give every industry a global reach. We stream television shows from Germany, read newspapers from the US, and order alpaca sweaters from Peru, or wine from South Africa. And the restaurant industry is no different. Social media and global restaurant awards and reviews have added up to create a very international food culture, which tempts people to go to Bangkok, Hong Kong or Singapore for the weekend with a focus on eating out.
Another change is the arrival of hugely efficient delivery apps, which, in certain global hubs, can promise purchase to door in under 15 minutes. Does that affect restaurant culture? “I don’t actually believe restaurants are under threat from these apps,” says Arrif. “They compete with home-cooked meals, whereas eating out occupies a different dining use case. The former is about nutrition and hunger, whereas the latter is about social connection and experiences.”
And while no algorithm can beat the pleasure of dinner out with old college friends or a new crush, Arrif believes restaurants shouldn’t rest on their laurels. “Over the next decade, I expect the restaurant industry will grow faster to be even more competitive, because malls will need more restaurants than retail, now people are buying clothes and other products online,” he says. “Secondly, I suspect ordering and payment will be digitally improved, so customers will be able to dine and leave without calling for the bill. Thirdly, restaurants will start dynamic pricing based on how busy they are, much like hotels, airlines and taxis already do.”
And if getting an Uber-like surge on your spaghetti carbonara, dim sum dinner or steak tartare feels a little too dystopian for your liking, you had better get used to it. This is the future—and it’s coming fast.