Image Credit/ Source: Ankit Mehrotra (Co-founder: Dineout)
It all began with a phone call and today it has resulted in India’s leading restaurant reservation destination called Dineout. The phone call that started the journey of Dineout was done by Co-founder Ankit Mehrotra and resulted in taking the three other founders Sahil Jain, Nikhil Bakshi and Vivek Kapoor on a journey that would revolutionize the restaurant business operations.
Dineout was founded in 2012 when Ankit, Nikhil, Vivek, and Sahil came together with an idea to try to change the Dining experience in India. Having just returned back from a holiday in Delhi, Ankit was sitting at his desk, at a top Investment Bank in London, staring at the Bloomberg screens and looking at countless charts and graphs. Looking back at his trip, he realized that every time he went out with his friends in Delhi, it was to the same places he had already been to previously and did not actually visit any new place. Sharing this with Sahil, Ankit figured this was due to a number of reasons, mainly; the lack of information about any new place which might have recently opened, reluctance of friends to try a different place for the fear of being let down and probably the most important, lack of a truly unique, independent platform that offers all of this.
When Sahil, Vivek, and Nikhil also agreed they had also faced similar problems during his trip to Delhi and Ankit just blurted out, “why don’t we try to change this?” And thus, began the long and arduous journey.
Pioneering table reservation in India wasn’t as easy as starting a table reservation culture had its own challenges. The consumer wasn’t as savvy with the online world as they are now and nobody would look at reserving tables online in India. Restaurants weren’t as tech-savvy as they are now. Also, popular restaurants didn’t sense the need, as they already had many patrons. On the other hand, newer restaurants felt that they wanted to explore the solution only when they became financially strong.
“Used to professional working environments, I was in for a rude awakening. For me, the decision to quit my job and return to India was a big decision and a huge risk at that time (eventually it paid off) as I had just got my CFA charter and was 9 months away from getting my British citizenship. In the land of opportunities, I quickly realized that not everything was what it seemed. I could never trust someone to do the work until and unless it was actually done. And I learned never to believe what was actually said. I literally had to push people and be behind them every hour of the day to get the work done,” says Ankit.
Ankit and the Team strongly felt that the culture of doing things online would soon catch up in India. There already was a dining-out culture, and they were quite certain that before long people would start booking tables online too.
Not long after they raised a round of angel investment in late 2012 and in April 2014, Dineout was acquired by Times Internet. In August 2015, Dineout made its product portfolio even more robust by acquiring a Bangalore based company, inResto. The acquisition of InResto added to the offering and now Dineout is able to provide a complete tech stack to the restaurants, which has fuelled the recent growth. InResto provides features like table management, reservations, customer relationship management and analytics, home delivery and takes away management.
The team today claims to have over 4,000 restaurants for table reservations, including chains like Azure, Impressario, Texmex, and Speciality. Over 1,000 restaurants use the inResto Restaurant Management Suite. Today Dineout caters to the requirements of mass brands to luxury dining brands. Some of these are Lord of the Drinks, Olive,Social, Chillies, Farzi, Mainland China, Soda Bottle Openerwala, Punjab Grill, Mamagoto, The Irish House, Made in Punjab, JW Mariott, Ritz, Copper Chimney, Pullman, Novotel, Lalit. It helps them through high voltage multimedia marketing campaigns that help them not only get a higher diner count but also provide them with massive visibility amongst the top players in the industry.
The launch of Dineout Plus was also a milestone for the Premium Dining Section. Dineout also launched Gourmet Passport that offers 1+1 on the main course, drinks and buffet. It is now also working on some cool new features for the restaurants and it promises to be an exciting journey ahead.
However, there were a lot of challenges in their way and success didn’t come easy as Ankit explains, “The biggest challenge we saw when we started and see even now is in changing the behaviour of people. We believe it is slowly and steadily getting better. The smarter diners are embracing our service, whether it be over the app, website or the concierge service. The other challenge is in continuously investing in enabling the restaurants to be more agile, consumer-focused and experiential.”
“We are putting a lot of time, effort and resource into reaching out to the vast network of restaurants and consulting them as growth partners. We are drawing data that will enable a business owner to take a more informed decision. This would progress a business through a customer-centric process substantiated by data and insights. The team believes they have a great repeated customers rate, which shows that the diner finds their service beneficial in terms of saving time and money,” he says.
However, the journey for Dineout has just begun and they have a long way to go. Their immediate goal is to expand to other cities, introduce new product lines and completely redefine the whole dining out experience. They want to build Dineout into a global brand and see no reason why they should not be able to do that.
“Though launching a startup is not a small task, working in a startup makes you feel like a “Superman”. It is a constant uphill battle but ultimately you do get used to it and the rush which you get is like no other. No task is too big to handle, no mountain is too high to climb. Time flies and I feel that there aren’t enough hours in a day to do our work,” says Ankit.
He says that the key to any successful venture is not the venture but the people involved. Over the last few years, they have built a strong team which makes it very exciting and nerve wrecking at the same time. “Imagine this: everyone in the room talking to each other at the same time (and not very softly) and still managing to do their work perfectly,” he says.
Some advice that Ankit would like to share with the fellow entrepreneurs setting up their own start-up. “Our Journey has been a journey of highs and lows. We have probably seen it all. I personally look up to Richard Branson and have been following him closely since 2002, ever since I moved to London. However, the most important things I have learnt along the way have been ;
- To always have passion & belief in self and the team.
- To always lead by example and have a never say ‘never’ attitude.
- To have the willingness to learn.
- Don’t promise what you can’t deliver and deliver everything you promise.
- If you’re running an airline, restaurant, or any other company, it’s attention to detail that defines great delivery.
- When you’re first thinking through an idea it’s important not to get bogged down in complexity. Anybody can make things complicated. Simplifying things is the most complicated thing to do!
- Failure is not giving things a go in the first place.
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