When we visit a popular or busy restaurant, often times we encounter scrambling waiters who are too busy to attend to us. It affects our dining experience: we sometimes feel frustrated trying to get the waiter’s attention and walk out thinking that the service is bad. Not only that, we receive the same impersonal treatment that involves the waiters doing nothing more than taking orders and bringing food to the table.
A new company started by two National University of Singapore students wants to change that.
“We are on a quest to make service in restaurants wildly better than it is today.”
The company, called BigSpoon, is built around a central theme: empowering service staff to deliver better quality service. Essentially, BigSpoon is a mobile application, where diners can use the app to browse a food photo menu of a restaurant, order food and request for waiter services all at the convenience of their smart phones.
Waiters on the other hand, receive the order along with the name, frequency of visit, dining history and preferences of the diner. With this knowledge, service staff can greet diners by their names, ask about their previous visits and personalize service accordingly.
Founded by NUS current undergraduate Qiao Liang and Jay Teo who just graduated, BigSpoon spent the last five months talking to diners and restaurant owners while developing the whole mobile application as well as improvising it.
“Foodies at heart, Qiao Liang and I started out with the idea of a real time promotional marketing platform for restaurants to self-launch live promotions after hearing about their negative experience with group buying sites. However, it was quickly discovered that restaurants are not particularly willing to give discounts. After returning to Singapore in July this year, we went back to the drawing block, mapped out the entire customer dining experience and found what we were looking for,” recalled Jay when they first started identifying the problem restaurants face.
Devoted to ensuring that BigSpoon was solving a real problem, Jay even went to the extend of working at a restaurant as a service staff to identify what makes service great. They have spoken to more than 20 merchants who gave them feedback and realized that they are creating something that solves the labor issue restaurants are facing as well. Since then, the idea evolved to become a personal waiter app for diners.
Jay, whom takes the CEO role of BigSpoon, has also had experience working in Israel in a venture capitalist firm, as well as working in the United States in a location tracking solutions startup. He previously also ran his own e-commerce business in Singapore. Jay met cofounder Qiao Liang when both of them were in Israel. Qiao Liang complemented Jay’s role well with his technical expertise: he was mentored in Israel by the ex-chief architect of Amobee, which was sold to SingTel for more than US$300M. Before that, Qiao Liang worked at the IT department of Credit Suisse.
BigSpoon pilots its solution with Lola’s Cafe; Careful about partner restaurant selection
So far, BigSpoon has piloted its service with first partner restaurant in Singapore: Lola’s Cafe. Come February, BigSpoon will also be live at popular pancake chain Strictly Pancakes. The team is also in talks with a Japanese chain and several other restaurants at the moment.
The team is careful in their partner merchant selection. We are not at the stage of expanding our merchant pool rapidly as we want to focus on serving a handful of merchants and their thousands of customers well before scaling up.
Of course, with the solution being one of the first ones in the market, it can be hard to convince them to come onboard. Jay told Vulcan Post that almost all the merchants they spoke to can relate to the problem they are solving and see a direct value for their customers and their business.
However, because it is a totally new way of delivering service and requires some changes in their operations, the majority want to see the implementation and results from other restaurants before committing. Fortunately for BigSpoon, they came across several far-sighted restaurant owners who share their vision and are willing to look beyond the rough edges of a new product.
“We believe that we can really make a difference in helping restaurants deliver personalized service that is a notch better than what it is now. We are constantly motivated by the positive feedback that we receive from diners and restaurant owners that we talk to.” Jay Teo, CEO of BigSpoon.
BigSpoon received a funding of S$10,000 from the NUS Enterprise Venture Ideation program to fund part of the development, and is currently looking for mentors and advisors that can help them expand their network and provide advice on scaling the company. BigSpoon will always be available as a free app for diners, and they plan to make revenue from restaurants according to the orders they process.
Can this turn into a profitable business? CEO Jay noted in confidence that they have no doubt about the prospects of BigSpoon.
“Automated or self-service ordering is merely a tool to provide basic service to consumers. When we take a step back and look, we realize that our app fills the need for better service and the demand for better service will always be there. Food and service is the main revenue driver for restaurants. Restaurants that provide a better dining experience will receive higher customer loyalty leading to repeated visits.”
Sometimes having better service can make or break a business.