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pankajchaddah | February 16, 2011
Online Ordering: Houston, we have a problem.

Hundreds of people have asked us this question (sometimes over and over again): “Why don’t you start accepting online orders on behalf of restaurants?” My answer is no – we will not accept online orders, not yet! And here’s why. Looking at us, we might come across as lazy people who don’t want to get involved in all that tough operational stuff. Although a large part of that argument is absolutely true (I am lazy and Deepinder has a well-rounded tummy), the fact still remains that online ordering cannot work unless:

  • All sort of customizations are removed from the universe of cooking. I am talking about the preferences of ‘having it our way’ – extra salt, more or less spicy, extra onions on the side, extra green chutney and what not!
  • The mouse pointer that clicks on menu items in an online menu is treated to be as authentic as a real voice over the phone which persuasively says: “bhaiya please jaldi bhej dena!” (It would be great if you could send the food really quickly!). This is perhaps as good as removing everything human from the entire concept of food.

Let me elaborate on the points mentioned above. The time needed to communicate all those personal preferences and the call that the restaurant makes to ensure whether the order placed online is genuine or not, are bound to extend the delivery time by at least 10 to 15 minutes. We always order food only when we start feeling hungry, and any sort of delay beyond 40-45 minutes starts annoying us. It’s human tendency. Ask yourself – when was the last time you ordered food 1 hour before you started feeling hungry? Probably never…

Another question we’re asked frequently is: “What do you say to the recent trend of all major brands offering an online ordering option?” When we talk about Domino’s, Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, or KFC – you really can’t and don’t need to make any customization to the standard dishes they offer – so for this particular question, my first argument in the first paragraph goes for a toss. But the one about the authenticity and genuineness of a customer still holds true, right? It’s exactly why these major brands make a confirmation call to the customer whenever an online order is placed – isn’t the whole purpose of having an online ordering option lost if you are going to talk over the phone anyway? And an online ordering platform can’t guarantee delivery within 30-35 minutes either. Hence proved, and as my Physics teacher would say, “Quite Easily Done” (English for “QED” in theorem proving language, “Quod Erat Demonstrandum” in Latin!) Now it makes me wonder, why are Domino’s, Pizza Hut and the like offering online ordering if they can’t match the standard of services over the phone? I don’t have anything against the whole concept of online booking; in fact, I love how cab companies are incentivizing online bookings, but I find the current trend of online food ordering nothing but a mere marketing gimmick to create a buzz amongst consumers.

Now coming to solutions – brands that don’t offer the option for consumers to customize their orders can perhaps manage online orders very effectively by implementing credit card payments and targeting sloppy bachelors (like me) suffering from “lack of cash at home” issues. But again, for that I need to be ready as a consumer to pay in advance for something that is perishable, and possesses a chance of being delivered when it’s cold and inedible. But a solution for thousands of other restaurants who are always making small customizations – and have their customers saying “If you put coriander on the dishes, I am going to return the food!” – is yet to be seen in the online ordering model.

Before parting, let me present some facts on how most online ordering websites work in India. Their back-end is a call center. So when a customer places an online order, the website’s call center calls up the restaurant to place the order on behalf of the customer, and in many cases they also call the customer to verify the customer’s identity. It sometimes makes me wonder about the problems or the customer needs that these businesses are even trying to address. The only one I see is that they are enabling online payments for people who don’t have cash at home, but is even that being properly addressed? I seriously doubt it. Having said that, we might go into online ordering some time down the line. We would love to provide an end to end service to our beloved customers. But with the current state of affairs, if we enable online ordering now, we see ourselves running into problems bigger than the ones we will be trying to solve.

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