What’s for lunch? Let SmartBite take the pain out of choosing
By Tan Jee Yee May 9, 2019
- Provides food delivery to corporate workers with no delivery and minimum charge
- Machine learning helps customers more easily and quickly pick their food
IN THE corporate world, among the office dwellers and water-cooler conversationalists, there is one sentence that will spark instant rage and utmost aggravation: “What’s for lunch?”
Working day meals often present a series of tough decisions that need to be made in a short period of time. Do you eat in the closest-possible location, which usually means less choices and sometimes poorer food quality? Or do you risk traffic to venture forth in search of more delectable options? Or perhaps it’s best so suffer a cold sandwich so that you could have a computer-screen-lit luncheon for one?
Then there’s the question of budget. Is today economy rice day? Does last month’s bonus warrant an avocado-laced steak? Or perhaps it’s more prudent to think about health. Salad would be good. But the nearby food stalls only have deep-fried chicken with turmeric. There’ll be cucumber in there. That should count.
And the spiral of madness continues.
Food delivery services have since existed as a saviour. You no longer need to consider heading out to get the meals you want. You can bask in the air-conditioned safety of the office while the avocado-laced steak gets delivered do you.
But even then some problems persist. You still need to make food choices. And, if you’re on a budget, the extra delivery charges might not sound that appealing. Maybe it’s better to go back to deep-fried turmeric chicken again, with cucumber.
The intelligent solution
Food delivery startup SmartBite is hoping to alleviate some of these frustrations. “We wanted to provide easy solutions for working professionals,” says co-founder and chief executive officer Gabriele Fadda (pic, above). “We made a model that addresses their pain points.”
The model sounds deliciously simple, yet brilliant. SmartBite only delivers to offices, and has set delivery periods (covering lunch and dinner). Instead of letting people order from any restaurant in an area, SmartBite only offers a limited choice of meals daily.
There is also no delivery fee, and no minimum order.
Fadda says that the idea is to remove the decision-making hassle when it comes to meals among corporate workers. SmartBite is designed to be smart and simple – the process of choosing a meal and proceeding to the check-out can take as little as 30 seconds.
“That’s what we want to achieve – fast checkout so customers don’t think too much about their meals.”
It’s not exactly a unique concept. dahmakan, for instance, focuses on chef-made food for delivery, which also limits choices to what’s available on a pre-set weekly menu – you get to choose your food, but not the cook. SmartBite, however, operates in between that.
The menu may be limited, but you do have a choice of multiple food providers and restaurants within the area you’re in. Some of these restaurants are known chains, including Nando’s and Texas Chicken. The result is a nice balance – you won’t be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of choices available, but you can still pick a preferred vendor that suits your taste.
Letting AI help you decide
SmartBite is able to eliminate delivery costs and avoid charging for minimum orders through this limited-menu model, which lets their riders do multiple pickups and drop-offs. This, however, adds a complication to the process – how do you ensure you’re giving the right food to your customers?
SmartBite’s solution to this is to harness the power of machine learning. Users who first sign up to the platform will be able to tell SmartBite their food preferences, dietary restrictions and price range – information which will then be used to tailor the experience to the individual customer.
“Based on that, we provide a selection of meals that you can choose from,” says Romeo Bellon (pic, right), SmartBite’s vice president of engineering. “But over time, through more orders and your similarities with other users, this model gets better and you get better recommendations.”
This not only makes the entire process quicker – remember, simplicity and convenience are the key offerings of SmartBite – but also keeps customer food choices varied despite the limited menu.
The challenge, of course, is to make sense of the data that SmartBite collects. “With machine learning, it was and is all about collecting data and making sense of the data we collect. If we fail to do that, the model is basically useless,” Bellon notes.
It does lead to difficulties in finding people to help analyse the data. Bellon says that SmartBite’s responses is to not restrict their search for talent to Malaysia only. This leads to a fairly diverse team who work in the office as well as remotely.
What the future can deliver
Getting the machine learning aspect right wasn’t the only challenge SmartBite had to face early on. Fadda says the company had difficulties approaching restaurants to partner with, though now, with big chains on their platform alongside more than 50 restaurants, negotiating with new partners has become relatively easier.
Restaurants benefit from SmartBite’s model as well. The limited menu lets the restaurants better gauge what they need to cook and makes preparations much easier. “What we supply to restaurants is stability,” Bellon says. “This is because we work on pre-orders and a set menu – something other food delivery services don’t provide.”
The biggest lesson they learned is the importance of understanding their customers. “The one important thing for every startup is to be close to their customers; to keep understanding them and their problems, and to discuss it with them” Fadda says.
That ideology is serving them well. They’re serving more than 20,000 users now, delivering in major office areas like the Golden Triangle in KL, Bangsar, KL Sentral and Petaling Jaya, with expansion in mind. The startup has just recently launched an app version, making the process even more convenient.
New features are on the horizon as well – Bellon says that, in time, it will be easier for customers to customise the catering orders in the app (SmartBite also provide catering services to corporations) as well as in modifying your food preferences.
As for future plans, Fadda says that they’re planning to also expand to other cities – even outside of Malaysia. “We still haven’t decided which cities, but surely to Southeast Asian cities with similar needs and demography.”
SmartBite will be facing an uphill battle from here on. The food delivery industry is expected to grow tremendously in the next few years, and competition will be fierce. For Fadda, standing out means sticking to their current course.
“For us, we need to keep focused on our market. We need to focus on working people and corporations,” he says. The goal, he adds, is to be the “360 degree solution for office people and corporations when it comes to food-related matters.”
It’s going to depend on how smart they keep up, though as things stand for now, artificial intelligence is certainly carrying them a long way.