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Pankaj Chaddah is a co-founder and chief operating officer of the restaurant review site Zomato.com. Suzanne Lee for The National
Pankaj Chaddah is a co-founder and chief operating officer of the restaurant review site Zomato.com. Suzanne Lee for The National

Zomato gives you food choices fast with a click of a mouse

The Life: Zomato.com, which entered the UAE market last year, is going west and has more plans for the local market.

Before their launch in a city, staff members of the restaurant information aggregator Zomato.com go knocking on the doors of any eatery they come upon.

From each of these, they note the dishes on offer, their prices, phone numbers and even map coordinates.

"We spend a month or two on the streets in each city and manually collect information from the restaurants," says Pankaj Chaddah, a co-founder and chief operating officer of Zomato.com.

Zomato, based in New Delhi, launched its Dubai services last September and expanded to Abu Dhabi and Sharjah within a month. From mom and pop delivery stores to signature restaurants, almost nothing is off their cards. And now it is going westwards.

"When we launch in a city, we already have information for 90 to 95 per cent of the restaurants," Mr Chaddah says. Later "we increase the restaurant coverage gradually".

The company has 300,000 users in the UAE. The site generates money through restaurant owners who want to advertise, and has about 70 clients in the UAE.

Murtaza Balaiyawala, the owner of Karama-based Pizza 2 Go, is one of them.

"Zomato helps the customer see how good a restaurant is compared to others, and their review system is fairly strong," Mr Balaiyawala says. "You can also respond to the reviews."

And that gives his 10-month-old company, which he took over four months ago, some online presence. Pizza 2 Go is working towards its own website.

The restaurant focuses on pizzas and lasagnas, but next month it will roll out an expanded menu, which would include burgers and pastas.

And Zomato would help to put it in the league of other budget Italian eateries. According to Zomato, it costs Dh65 (US$17) for a meal for two at Pizza 2 Go.

"Their sales support is strong," Mr Balaiyawala says of Zomato. "They call every couple of weeks on whether I want to change banners or target something new."

Zomato's database for the UAE covers more than 7,500 restaurants. It has two offices in Dubai and a 15-member team who update restaurant data every three months.

Every week on average Mr Balaiyawala says he gets 12 to 15 calls that end up in sales through Zomato.

If a customer calls the number associated with a restaurant on the website, the call gets routed through Zomato to what the website calls a "non-busy phone number at the restaurant". That helps in tracking the customer calls and reviewing them.

Despite Zomato's growing numbers of users in the UAE, India still dominates the revenue stream. The four-year-old company broke even in its home country six months ago.

"We crossed the 1 crore rupees [Dh689,312] revenue per month mark for India in October," Mr Chaddah says.

With its expansion, Zomato will move its headquarters to a bigger office in the national capital region in a couple of months.

The start-up environment in India is encouraging companies such as Zomato.

Info Edge, an Indian company, invests in young business that rides on India's growing internet market. It has invested more than US$6.5 million (Dh23.8m) in Zomato since 2010.

There are no plans to sell, but Zomato is eyeing an initial public offering in three years' time.

It launched in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in November with fewer than 1,000 restaurants, and London last month with 16,000 restaurants.

"We are looking at Doha [this week] and after that Istanbul and Ankara in Turkey, Brazil, Kuwait, Lebanon, South Africa and Indonesia," Mr Chaddah says. "We are looking at developing markets of the Middle East, Africa and Europe."

Zomato has $2m expansion plans for the UAE over the next year.

"Most of that goes for salaries for people and marketing [activities]," Mr Chaddah says.

"When we started expanding outside India, the cost becomes high compared to India; the lowest permitted labour wages are 10 times that of India."

But it has more plans for the UAE market and is looking to build an Abu Dhabi team.

"Abu Dhabi has one fourth of the restaurants that of Dubai, but the per capita spending in the [food and beverage] sector in Abu Dhabi is more," Mr Chaddah says.

And "we will have print guides for the UAE by September".



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