Sunday 25 Feb 2024
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Restaurants that reopen from May 4 are required to record the names and contact numbers of all customers along with the date and time of visit. This new regulation actually presents them with the opportunity to build an efficient customer database, says Alexander Small, co-founder and CEO of Singapore-based UMAI, which provides smart software systems to restaurants.

He tells Enterprise that many traditionally-run restaurants do not have a customer database, even after years of being in operation. Either that, or they simply rely on scrappy handwritten notes, which he describes as “inefficient and risky”.

“If you are using pen and paper, you could lose this database more easily. And you run a higher risk of the government taking action against you during this period when businesses have just started to re-open,” he says. 

Traditionally-run restaurants also risk losing their customers to online food delivery platforms during and after the MCO period. Who is to say that customers who have become used to ordering their food online will ever go back to visiting restaurants again?

“These food delivery platforms offer a lot of value to restaurants, helping them stay afloat during the MCO (Movement Control Order) period. But, at the same time, these platforms could cannibalise their customers. 

“They also charge restaurants an arm and a leg. For instance, an established platform charges its customers a 30% fee,” he says. 

Having a complete customer database not only allows the restaurant to comply with present government regulations, it also helps them retain customers through various targetted marketing campaigns, says Small.

“For instance, restaurant owners who have a customer database integrated with a marketing software can easily launch a loyalty programme or marketing campaign to retain its customers,” he says.

For instance, it could offer customers special deals on their birthdays, which are recorded in the database. The software can also be used to track how frequently the customers visit and how much they have spent, rewarding them with discounts and promotions.

“The ability to market themselves to their customers is the real benefit. Without it, when customers walk into their restaurants and leave, there is nothing much the owners can do to attract them back,” Small points out. 

Free software for local restaurants to trace customers
This is where UMAI comes in. Small says the start-up is offering local restaurants a contact-tracing system that helps them track their clients' information, free of charge, for an indefinite period.

He adds that the system could be installed in as little as an hour all the way to two full days, depending on the communication between the start-up and restaurant owners. 

After installing the software, UMAI trains the restaurant employees (cashiers and waiters) to get the necessary information from customers, which can be keyed in via phone, computer or tablet.

UMAI is willing to keep this service free in the hope of upselling its other services — automated marketing, online ordering and a reservation management system — to customers.

Small is most excited about the company’s automated marketing system, which helps restaurant owners launch various marketing campaigns based on the information collected on its database.

“We have seven different types of campaigns that restaurants can use to bring their customers back, which include birthday promotions and first-visit discounts.

“They can target big spenders by sending them a thank you message to invite them back. They can also send SMSes, in an automated way, to a pool of customers that have not visited their place in a while,” says Small.  

The variety of products sold by UMAI also enables the start-up to provide restaurants with online food delivery services that come with a much lower fee, 6%, compared with the 30% charged by some of the other food delivery platforms.

“We do not target the mass market as this would require us to spend a lot of money on acquiring new customers,” he adds. 

Its reservation management system, he adds, is especially beneficial to restaurants with a strong brand name. “We charge restaurant owners a flat rate per month instead of per table.”

UMAI’s notable clients include Troika Sky Dining, The Big Group and the Hard Rock Café. 

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