WHEN the pandemic hit and lockdown restrictions stopped people from going out to dine, restaurants had no choice but to offer delivery and takeout services to survive and that was the kind of ecosystem where services like GrabFood, Food Panda, and Lala Food thrived.

The same ecosystem allowed new players like Beep Delivery to find their niche in serving smaller restaurants while Dine to Unite saw the need for a free restaurant directory to “connect customers directly to restaurants,” according to a representative.

“With more people staying at home and working from home over the next six to 18 months, the only way for retail shops and restaurants to reach their customers is via social media. If businesses weren’t actively engaging and reaching their customers digitally before, now is the time to do so,” Xin-Ci Chin, head of marketing of StoreHub, which operates Beep Delivery, told BusinessWorld in an e-mail interview on June 11.

StoreHub is a Kuala Lumpur-based technology company providing point-of-sale and e-commerce solutions for food and retail businesses with clients across Southeast Asia. Ms. Chin said Beep Delivery was their response to the COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic after they noticed that their clients saw an “80% drop in revenue” once the lockdown started in the Philippines in March.

Beep Delivery is also available in Malaysia among other Southeast Asian countries.

StoreHub launched the service in May and it is said to currently serve “more than 900 F&B (food and beverage) businesses in the Philippines,” a majority of which were “locally founded and have less than two branches.”

Beep Delivery allows restaurants to create their own websites where customers can order or pre-order items and it has partnered with logistics companies such as Mr. Speedy and Lalamove to handle delivery. They also have a consolidated directory (beepit.com) where customers can view which restaurants can deliver to their location.

The delivery platform, Ms. Chin said, was meant to give stores “more responsibility to engage with their customers directly.”

This hands-off approach also allows Beep Delivery to charge a 2% commission fee on all orders made on the service in addition to “whatever credit card/bank transfer fees that the payment gateway charges us,” Ms. Chin explained, before adding that this was much lower than fees charged by other services.

(Food Panda on its Singapore website said it charges a 35% commission on orders made through the platform plus bank charges, while Grab noted on its website that it charges 30% on all orders made through the app for GrabFood and GrabMart.)

“For the F&B industry, 30% is a massive margin cut that is simply not sustainable for the restaurant, and so Beep Delivery is enabling restaurants to scale up delivery while maintaining a sustainable business model,” Ms. Chin said.

Among the restaurants using Beep Delivery are Chinatown’s Best Food, Yum Yum Chicken, Leann’s Tea House, and Gringo.

Meanwhile, Dine to Unite (www.dinetounite.com) provides a simpler approach to giving customers access to restaurants within their area that offer delivery or take-out services via a free online directory where any restaurant can list their branches and contact numbers.

“We are hoping to connect the customers directly to the restaurants. When a restaurant is able to sell directly to a customer, it doesn’t lose any of its profit to a third-party delivery or ordering service,” Jessica Doyle, director of marketing of Mosaic Solutions (which operates Dine to Unite), told BusinessWorld in an e-mail interview on June 17.

Mosaic Solutions is a Metro Manila-based software development company providing solutions including point-of-sale and inventory management for F&B businesses across Asia.

Ms. Doyle also noted, much like Ms. Chin of StoreHub, that restaurants in Metro Manila saw “an 80% drop in weekly sales” in the first week of the lockdown in March and that “this number has not rebounded since.”

“Compared to last year, 2020 shows a 80-90% loss in sales for April and May. We knew that our clients were scrambling to figure out how to keep their businesses open while everything was in lockdown. Having to shift the majority of their business to takeaway, figuring out how to get supplies and changing the way they prep and serve their food, there was just so much for the restaurant owners and operators to solve,” Ms. Doyle said of the rationale behind Dine to Unite.

She explained that they saw they could help support restaurants by “quickly developing a simple site that could be used to find out who is open and how to order,” and was inspired by efforts like the US’ Rally for Restaurants, a restaurant directory created to support restaurants during the pandemic.

“This community support inspired us, and we wanted to bring it here to the Philippines,” Ms. Doyle said.

The directory allows customers to search for restaurants and see their contact numbers, location, whether they offer take-out and deliveries, and their operating hours.

But Dine to Unite is not a permanent thing as Ms. Doyle stressed that they are “not trying to replace the go to restaurant directories like Zomato,” and that “at the point when Dine to Unite is no longer useful to the restaurant community, we will take it offline,” although there is no set timeline for this.

Currently, Dine to Unite has nearly 500 restaurants and is adding about 50 more restaurants weekly.

“We have received very positive feedback from our partners in the restaurant community regarding Dine to Unite, and our ability to help drive customers to their sites,” Ms. Doyle said.

Some of the restaurants that are on Dine to Unite are the Coffee Project, Mendokoro Ramenba, and Din Tai Fung. — Zsarlene B. Chua