5-Star advice from Arrif Ziaudeen

Chope’s resilience and its ability to innovate has prepared it well for the impact of Covid-19. Latest Star Advisor Arrif Ziaudeen, founder & CEO of Chope, shares his journey and advice.

arrif ziaudeen

A decade ago, Arrif Ziaudeen saw a huge opportunity in online restaurant bookings and grabbed it enthusiastically with both hands. Today, the business he founded, Chope, is a leading platform in the F&B space, having expanded into six markets outside of Singapore and grown its product offerings.

Chope’s resilience in the face of adversity and its ability to innovate have been key to its success, and has prepared it well for the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the F&B sector.

Arrif shares with us his journey with Chope, and offers up some valuable advice and potential business solutions for SMEs struggling with the fallout from the pandemic.

What was the inspiration for Chope?

Back in 2010, I noticed that people were booking everything online – hotels, airlines, taxis and cinemas – but restaurant reservations were the only time we ever had to pick up the phone. And this came with restrictions, such as having to observe operating hours when calling, and the difficulty of providing names over a poor phone connection, among other things. Intuitively, it felt like a hugely inefficient process that could be made simpler. I was pleasantly surprised to find that no one else had done it in Asia, and so Chope was born. 

What have been some of the key milestones in the company’s growth?

One key milestone was our expansion outside of Singapore. We opened in Hong Kong in 2013, Shanghai in 2014, Bangkok and Phuket in 2015, as well as Jakarta and Bali in 2016. 

We have also expanded our product lines. We started with powering instant reservations, and scaled to having a suite of B2C and B2B products. Today, we connect diners to restaurants not only via reservations but also through discovery, and food experiences such as deals, delivery and retail. Our SaaS (Software as a Service) products enable restaurants to digitalise their operations in the areas of table management, queues, ordering and payments

Our Chope Restaurant Network has also grown from 100 restaurants listed on Chope in 2012, the year we launched our app, to over 5,000 restaurants today.  

Last year 2019, in particular, was a year of many milestones. We sat around 24 million diners through our systems in that year alone. This was stellar growth as it was more than a third of the total number of 70 million diners that we’ve seated since our inception in 2011. We also ended the year with 170 staff across our various markets. 

What has surprised you about the journey so far?

The mettle and resilience that my team has shown through the various challenges that have been thrown at us. I am continually reminded that this company has been built by the drive to innovate and make things better, and an unwillingness to give up. Being on this journey with the people I work with has taught me a lot about myself as a leader, team player and friend. 
How has Chope been affected by the pandemic, and how has it dealt with the resulting uncertainty?
Our business relies on the health of the restaurant industry. Needless to say, safe-distancing measures followed by the suspension of dine-in completely has significantly impacted our revenue. 

Upon the announcement of the Circuit Breaker, we quickly pivoted and offered a delivery service for our restaurants. We also partnered with taxi drivers and private hire drivers as a means of offering those who have had unexpected downtime some supplementary income. 

Other than our on-demand island-wide meal deliveries, we are now also offering other food experiences such as gourmet meal kits, multiple-day meal plans and takeaway vouchers. 

Based on your interactions with F&B operators, how are they coping during this time? 

Inevitably there will be some restaurants that will not be able to make it through this, and that is a very sad reality. 

On the more positive side, it has been inspiring to see how restaurants have been able to adapt and innovate quickly through this. Chef Rishi Naleendra of Cloudstreet Kitchen and Cheek Bistro are fine examples of this

The F&B industry has been hit as a whole. But we are seeing a passionate demonstration of their resilience in the face of adversity. 
What advice do you have for other SMEs as they accelerate their digital transformation amid this crisis?

In the current era, one thing to note is that it is going to be increasingly difficult to get eyeballs online. As such, SMEs might want to consider partnering with a well-established platform that carry brands that already have the customers you want, instead of building a loyal customer base online from scratch. This will help you to grow and scale quickly. 

Our whitepaper evaluating the impact of Covid-19 and Circuit Breaker on Singapore’s F&B scene offers advice for restauranteurs, but some are also applicable to businesses in general. Below is a snapshot of recommendations published in our whitepaper:

Embrace and grow from digital transformation

  • Despite the doom and gloom surrounding the impact of Covid-19, restaurateurs also saw areas of growth. 44.3% of restaurants reported digital transformation as one of them, with staff going through upskilling. 
  • Whether it’s to manage new third-party delivery and logistic partners, moving inventory online or adopting new queue and table management systems, restaurants should see this as a positive and continue down this road of discovery. 

Tap into third-party partners for exposure and support

  • Check-in with partners and explore how they can support you as you rebuild your business. 
  • Continue to engage with your network, you are not alone in this! 
  • Restaurants that are retailing produce, meal kits, meal subscriptions, deals and other promotions should consider partnering with ChopeDeals to tap into our large database of diners. 

Looking ahead, how do you think SMEs should pivot their business models in the new normal?

Even with the end of the Circuit Breaker, we project that many consumers will still choose to stay home in the short to medium term. Looking ahead, I think businesses should pivot their models to one that enables business continuity during social distancing/lockdown measures. 

For example, restaurants should be prepared to maximise their seating, adhering to social-distancing measures, when dining-in resumes. Take advantage of online marketing and tools, such as the retail of dining vouchers so that diners can “secure” their seats in advance, is one of the ways a restaurant can be at the top of their game in navigating the new normal. 

Whether it is padding up current digital capabilities or taking the first steps towards digital transformation, it is also worth seeking out partners offering digital solutions that enable agility in catering to new and unpredictable measures in the “new norm”. SMEs should also leverage established platforms’ network and reach to help you scale quickly.

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