Online Food market, a way out for Pakistan’s restaurants during the pandemic?

By Lu Han | Gwadar Pro Aug 27, 2021

BEIJING, Aug 27 (Gwadar Pro)—A Pakistani restaurant called ‘Zam Zam’, located in China’s capital city Beijing, recently stands out in the city’s hyper-competitive catering industry, beating COVID-19’s heavy impacts and became the 2nd most popular restaurant in Beijing’s Haidian district, according to the Chinese food rating platform DaZhongDianPing. As a Pakistani businessman, Hammad Zaheer credits his success to his team and the vibrant business environment, which was enabled by advanced online services.

Online Food market, a way out for Pakistan’s restaurants during the pandemic?

Even before the pandemic, the online food market was booming in China as a consequence of the country’s rapid development of e-commerce, where online and offline businesses blend together through the digitization of the complete retail value chain. The rise of third-party rating and delivery platforms reshaped purchaser propensities and now, foodies in China prefer to order food sitting at their homes as those platforms provide time-efficient services, bulk discounts and user ratings. According to statistics released by Yiguan Analysys, trade volume for China’s internet catering market will reach RMB 934 billion this year.

“Hardly any restaurant owner would say no to bring their business online in China, no matter before or during the pandemic. Online services can help increase customer reach and boost revenue streams. ”, when asked about the opinions towards digital transformation’s influence on restaurants, Hammad Zaheer, the owner of Zam Zam told Gwadar Pro. “Customers love to check on ratings, and can find a wide array of food choices with discounts through just one click. It definitely helped the business of our restaurant.”

Graduated as a student of medicine from Yangtze University, China, Hammad Zaheer boldly abandoned his major and went for his true passion-- food. “I have spent almost nothing on marketing and advertising. As a foodie, I’ve decided that the most important thing for my restaurant is the taste, the quality of cuisine, so I spent the majority of my resources on forging the best chef team.” Hammad said. He hired his chef directly from Lahore to make sure that his kitchen would only send out the most authentic Pakistani food. “At first, Zam Zam was just a place for friends to hangout, then words got out, our rankings on rating and delivery platforms kept climbing. So yes, platforms do help us to reach more customers, yet the quality of food is the ultimate trump card.”

Online Food market, a way out for Pakistan’s restaurants during the pandemic?

However, during the pandemic, online services became critical, “We stayed open when the COVID-19 pandemic was at its peak in China. There were over 1 thousand Pakistani students who lived close to our restaurant, stranded in their dorms. Food delivery services helped them, as well as ‘Zam Zam’. ” Hammad said.

Online food services do help restaurants maintain their revenue and stay in business when dine-in options were restricted due to the pandemic. The 2021 annual report of catering industry in Beijing, jointly carried by China Hotel Association and Xinhua Net, indicated that the epidemic has accelerated the digital process of the catering industry and promoted the overall acceleration of digital transformation. Although the proportion of catering enterprises specializing in takeout is not high, the average proportion of takeout sales still increased by 0.41% year-on-year, reflecting the momentum of digital transformation to a certain extent.

“However, I do not think a restaurant should depend entirely on third-party delivery platforms as some of them charge hefty commission.” Hammad commented honestly, stating that many restaurants became ranking-driven and neglected the quality of food.

Can the Online Food market be a way out for Pakistan’s restaurants during the pandemic? Hammad shared his opinion: "I think for Pakistan, ‘third-party’ or not, the development of the online food market is necessary, especially during the pandemic. Currently, online ordering services such as Food Panda are only available in major cities in Pakistan. Customers have not yet developed consumption habits to order online. The epidemic is devastating for everyone, yet it also opens vast opportunities.”

Pakistan, still haunted by the pandemic, is already witnessing the light of digital transformation in all sectors. Last year, mass transit startup Airlift launched a 30-minute grocery delivery platform to counter the impacts of pandemic. Since then, the platform’s revenue has grown 30-50% MoM on average, and has currently raised USD 85 million in its Series B financing round.

Can the pandemic accelerate the digital transformation process for Pakistan’s catering market? Will Pakistan get its own delivery platforms in the future? Time will tell.

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