As reported by Sue-Ann Tan in the Straits Times, here:

Chope has made its name as a reservations mobile app to help diners “chope” their seats in restaurants and cafes, but it is expanding its capabilities by making a foray into mobile payments.

The tech start-up is partnering DBS Bank to integrate DBS PayLah into the Chope system so diners can pay on the app itself.

Chope will also roll out promotions for diners using any DBS or POSB card, or with DBS PayLah.

The app works by helping diners make online reservations while giving them incentives to dine at off-peak hours to help eateries control their crowds.

Founder and chief executive Arrif Ziaudeen said: “We are entering a third phase where the app is not just about reservation. The dining journey is really quite long. Currently, we let customers reserve places at eateries and get discounts and vouchers. The final act is payment.”

He acknowledged that competition in this area is much more intense than for just reservations. “It is a matter of timing. Five years ago, it would have been too early for us to go into payments, but now, we have to make a move at some point.”

Mr Ziaudeen set up the Chope business nine years ago after graduating from business school and taking a job at a private equity firm.

“I started Chope as a fun project. I love eating out at restaurants, so it was just a passion project that has grown into regional business,” he said.

Mr Ziaudeen began by identifying the problem in the dining experience, which was that restaurants often had issues when taking reservation calls. “Sometimes they cannot spell your name, for instance,” he noted. “The experience is just so subpar compared with a hotel, for instance.”

He started with two staff in an office in Orchard Towers. Chope now has 200 staff in seven markets, including Thailand, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Shanghai, and around 5,000 restaurants across the region on its platform.

Mr Ziaudeen said: “People asked why this was important at first, but then, they realised that they could place a reservation any time now, 24 hours and seven days a week. Chope grew because people realised there was a problem that existed.”

Chope founder Arrif Ziaudeen says rapid expansion is not his company’s model. It is about making the business profitable in each new city that it enters, and about sustainable investment and growth for the firm. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

At that time, South-east Asia was also going through a tech renaissance, and businesses that were too traditional started to realise that they had to take on technology or lose out.

Mr Ziaudeen said: “We saw great growth in Singapore, from traditional dim sum places to fancy Michelin restaurants. We realised then that it was not just Singapore facing this problem. Hong Kong also had the same issues and we realised this problem was universal.”

The company has doubled its revenue consistently year on year for the past four to five years, with a steady increase in the number of restaurants on the platform. Last year, 11 million diners used Chope services.

But besides Chope helping diners make reservations conveniently, Mr Ziaudeen also sees it playing a role in transforming the food and beverage (F&B) industry as a whole.

He said: “The app also helps restaurants to adopt technology, even beyond reservations.”

For example, restaurants used to call every person to confirm their reservations. Now, Chope helps restaurants to send diners an automated message. When diners have to queue, the app can help eateries send an automated message to a person’s phone when their number is approaching, for instance.

Mr Ziaudeen said: “The automation of services helps them to solve some issues, but more needs to be done. It is also about changing the behaviour of restaurants and users. We have a good shot at making that change.”

That technology also specifically helps restaurants that might not be able to afford to build their own digital tools. Chope helps traditional F&B businesses in places such as Indonesia tap the app and use in-built technology for their purposes.

Helping eateries to use technology to manage crowds and resolve their manpower crunch is especially important now during the coronavirus crisis.

Mr Ziaudeen said: “Chope is working with restaurants to balance running their businesses with ensuring diners’ safety and hygiene.”

Chope also did a report which showed that 81 per cent of restaurants in Singapore are experiencing a decline in revenue from Covid-19, so over 50 per cent are offering discounts to drive more business.

“But we also need to encourage social distancing and reduce risks. Through Chope’s technology, we created off-peak deals that give bigger discounts to move diners to come at less crowded hours,” Mr Ziaudeen said.

“It’s a win-win for restaurant revenue and diner safety. It even features digital payments so you don’t have to touch any cash or cards.

“We also shared advisories enabling restaurants and diners to dine out safely, as well as one on how to improve distancing between diners.”

He acknowledged that it has been challenging, with fewer people going out to dine, but in cities where the number of cases has dropped, dining activities have bounced back quickly.

The number of reservations even hit a record high during the Valentine’s Day period across the markets Chope is in.

Now, it is just focusing on growing sustainably.

“We have been around for some time now and have seen start-ups come and go. Rapid expansion is not our model, but it is about when we can make the business profitable in each new city we enter. It is about sustainable investment and growth,” said Mr Ziaudeen.