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Like what many local restaurants do these days, Faasos, a restaurant in Pune, opened a web/mobile app to sell foods online. But unlike any other, it soon closed its dine-in restaurants for good, and went on to become the world’s largest internet restaurant, with 350 micro-kitchens in 150 cities in India, and a few other foreign countries.
What catapulted a local restaurant started in 2004 to sell Bengal-fame rolls to the league of multi-brand and multi-cuisine internet restaurant is not a web/mobile app, but as its new name, Rebel Foods suggests, it is contrarian thinking - backed by data, and contrarian functioning, driven by automation.
To give a brief background, Jaydeep Barman, and Kallol Banerjee, two friends from West Bengal, started Faasos in Pune, after they got bored with their day jobs in the corporate world, to sell rolls that were so famous in their home state. It was in 2004. Within the next two years, they were running four restaurants in nearby locations, and in 2010, after getting some venture capital funding, they had several more in other cities. Then in 2013, came their web/mobile app.
One fine day, when they looked at data, the founders were surprised to know that over 70% of their orders came from online. They then asked ‘Why should we run a chain of restaurants at buildings in primary locations paying huge rents, if about two-thirds of the business comes from customers who had never put their foot in any of them?’ So, they shut down their restaurants. Instead opened small kitchens in non-commercial areas in cities, where they are popular, to cook and deliver foods that are ordered online.
Magic: the rent-to-order value came down from 15% to 4%. And they used the same set of kitchens to cook a variety of foods. Like any offline restaurant, Rebel Foods does not have to tie itself to one or two specialized cuisines. The company has more than twenty brands (one for briyani and one for desserts, and one for pizza,...) with hundreds of menu items.
Though it employs 4,500 people, not all of them are chefs and delivery boys. Rebel Foods employs lots of data scientists, robotic engineers, and developers – for it uses technology extensively, for all business functions. It uses Machine Learning to understand and predict food trends, and personalize food and recommendations for customers. In the area of production, the company uses robotics for cooking at scale, and visual AI for checking the food quality (say, the size, weight, appearance, and texture of the food). At the delivery end, it uses algorithms for dynamic pricing, and sentiment analysis to gauge customer experience.
Rebel Foods wants to take the number of 10,000 internet restaurants - where no food will be served and no takeaways are entertained, but foods will be presented online (Swiggy, Zomato,... or its own EatSure app), and delivered at the customer’s doorsteps. In the process, it is proving that Cloud is the new kitchen.
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