IT IS your wedding anniversary and because you have been bogged down with work, you have yet to make any reservations for dinner.
To make matters worse, it is Valentine’s Day and trying to secure a table at an A-list restaurant in Kuala Lumpur is harder than cooking the meal yourself.
To avoid hearing how you messed up your anniversary plans for the next 12 months, you frantically start calling restaurants but it is lunch time.
You immediately face two issues; nobody is answering the phone and the ones that pick up are unable to give you a confirmation as they are still processing email reservations.
Wouldn’t it be easier if you could make a reservation any time of the day and immediately find out if you have a table? With TableApp, you can.
TableApp Sdn Bhd founder and chief executive Benson Chang comes from a family of restaurateurs. He spent his whole life in the family business and he has done it all.
From waiting tables to working in hot kitchens, Chang knows the ins and outs of running a restaurant.
“My family had five restaurants and I used to help my parents run one of it. I worked in operations and I had to perform every role there is to it — a cashier, a waiter, and even answering phones,” said Chang.
It was then when he realised he could not answer the phone all the time. Checking emails or the restaurant’s Facebook page was completely out of the question as he had to attend to other matters.
“When you’re a restaurant manager, you are really pressed for time. You need to look at many things. If the phone rings while you are serving customers, you just don’t have time to answer it. It is a manpower issue and you can’t hire someone just to answer phones,” Chang added.
Every missed phone call is a missed customer and Chang started thinking about ways to avoid this.
“Instead of having to physically answer the phone and replying emails, wouldn’t it be easier if everything was done online and the manager only has to check the system to find out how many tables have been reserved? That’s TableApp,” Chang explains.
“For customers, they get a reply immediately if they have a table. Everything is in real time,” he added.
Executing the idea was no easy task. There were other app providers in the market that were already offering similar functions.
Trying to compete with bigger players such as OpenRice and HungryGoWhere would have been risky so Chang shelved his idea temporarily.
Chang left the family business and headed to Taiwan to further his studies at the National Cheng Kung University.
During his time there, Chang came across Eztable, a Taiwan-based online restaurant reservation site.
“Their model was simple — restaurants pay based on results. I thought to myself why not bring the concept back to Malaysia and give it go,” said Chang.
It was an immediate hit among restaurateurs despite Chang only presenting a concept. The app was still in its development stage when he first presented the idea.
“It was only a Powerpoint presentation, but much to my surprise most restaurant operators that I met were keen to get on board. I guess years of experience working at my family restaurant finally paid-off. I spoke the same language as the restaurateurs,” Chang quips.
Working overtime and burning the midnight oil, Chang was able to launch the app in June 2013 after three months of research and development. Since then, it has been nothing but solid growth.
“Securing our first 20 clients was tough, but now we have approximately 115 restaurants with us — most of which are in the Klang Valley,” Chang reveals.
TableApp’s business model is straightforward. Restaurants are charged a monthly fee of RM300 to use its services to manage reservations and RM1 per person for eachsuccessful booking.
Approximately 50,000 diners have used their services and Chang hopes that he can expand beyond Malaysia.
Having already received RM250,000 in seed funding from Singapore-based Crystal Horse Investments and angel investor Hanson Toh, Chang hopes to launch TableApp in Bangkok by end of next month.
“We have found a partner in Bangkok and we will be launching in February. We are also looking to expand our team,” said Chang.
“I am also looking to raise more funds so that we can launch in several other cities by the end of the year. Our main focus will be Malaysia and Thailand,” he adds.
“The market is still very huge and there is plenty of room for growth,” he added.
While the business of online booking has emerged in several industries including airlines and hospitality but online restaurant bookings is set to explode.
TripAdvisor, the world’s largest online travel research company, recently acquired France’s LaFourchette, an online restaurant booking site with a network of more than 12,000 restaurants in Europe.
This was followed by the acquisition of Dutch online restaurant booking websites — IENS.nl and Seatme.nl.
Booking tables online will not only help customers beat the lines and the pain of waiting confirmation, but it will also help restaurants gather data.
In addition to sorting out the task of handling reservations, TableApp is also useful for targeted marketing initiatives.