EatFirst is aiming to disrupt the food delivery sector with the launch of what it claims is the first online-only restaurant.
It has its own chefs, kitchens and menus, delivering its food to hungry customers that can only order via the internet. It does work with partners such as Just Eat and Amazon Restaurants but that is just to expand its reach.
The brand has not given itself an easy ride. It is playing in a market saturated with competitors, where Deliveroo, UberEats and Just Eat all vie for consumers’ attention and spend. However, EatFirst’s founder Rahul Parekh insists that its business is “the natural next step” for the online food industry and points to the retail sector for proof.
“In the last five years, there has been a huge emergence of online-only fashion brands. I started the business two years ago and saw the same pattern emerging in food. There is massive potential to create an online-only food brand while everyone else piles into the delivery marketplace,” he told Marketing Week.
The aim is to solve a “classic” problem in the delivery sector.
“What you get delivered often tastes very different than if you were to order it in the restaurant. It’s frequently wrapped in crappy packaging and lukewarm. But if we don’t have front-of-house premises, we can focus on the product that is designed for delivery,” explained Parekh.
In a bid to turn takeaway on its head and keep the flavours fresh, the London-based start up blast chills the food once it has been cooked. The customer then ‘finishes’ the heating at home.
Building a strong business model
Those familiar with the delivery market might note that EatFirst’s business is somewhat similar to Housebites, a UK-based startup that enabled independent chefs to sell home-cooked meals as an alternative to a take away.
However, it shut down in 2014 due to what Parekh described as “messy logistics”. He claims to know the business well and said EatFirst has been careful not to make the same mistakes by having all its chefs in one place.
“With Housebites, the chefs were essentially its mediators, where they produced small quantities to customers scattered around a big area. But in our case, we have the advantage of being a very efficient restaurant chain. It’s a much stronger business model,” he explained.
EatFirst also wants to be a more price-friendly option. Deliveroo and similar businesses tend to saddle the customer with a proportion of the service or delivery cost.
He explained: “We own the entire value chain, so we can become very scalable and bring that meal cost down.”
Developing the EatFirst brand
As a relatively new and small business, EatFirst has to get its name out to as many people as possible – but has to deal with budget constraints. EatFirst does not put a tonne of emphasis on performance marketing and looks to develop its brand the more “traditional” way.
“We see building our brand the same as how other big food brands have built their name – by having great food. This then drives attention, referral and word-of-mouth. We are doing everything we can to get our name and food out there to try by visiting offices and holding meetings, and then get everyone excited about the experience,” said Parekh.
It also has an incentive scheme, where it looks to recruit its own customers to become brand ambassadors and spread the word among their friends in return for credit towards meals. Other than that, the start-up dabbles in social platforms and events, but Parekh admits it’s “not a main focus”.
“We are still young, and much more at the stage of creating an individual personalised experience. Magazine cover wraps, billboards and TV ads are simply not a great use of resources at this stage.”
Rahul Parekh, founder, EatFirst
What EatFirst is using is Instagram. It has an in-house Instagrammer charged with bringing its food to life and creates “unboxing” videos telling people what’s on offer.
“When it comes to food, people buy with their eyes. One of the challenges of having an online restaurant is that customers don’t come in and create that connection, so photography has to bring our positioning and food to life,” said Peter Tomlinson, senior marketing manager at the brand.
Looking to the future, EatFirst believes technological innovation will be key to its success, honing in on delivery algorithms and intelligent forecasting, which allows the business to anticipate demand and manage supply chains. It is also pushing apps that work across devices, and wants to integrate Apple and Android payment systems. The brand has seen an average customer growth level of 30% month-on-month since its launch in 2014, and hopes to double kitchen production capabilities in 2016.
As Parekh concluded: “There is a lot of technological innovation behind the scenes to help us stand out and develop. It’s all about making it the best possible experience for the customer.”