How to eat cheaply in Malaysia

Eating out isn't necessarily a cheap proposition these days.

A good meal at your favourite restaurant might set you back far more than you would be willing to spend, given the current economic situation.

But what if you could go to your favourite restaurant at a different time of the day and eat at a discounted rate?

Well, that's exactly what the newly-launched Eatigo Malaysia website (my.eatigo.com) and mobile app offers, with discounts up to 50 per cent every single day at restaurants around the Klang Valley.

The restaurant reservation platform was launched in Bangkok in 2014 and Singapore in 2015 and has been hugely successful since, capturing 95 per cent of the online reservation market in the former and 50 per cent in the highly-competitive latter.

Since its inception, eatigo has seated four million people, and had one million app downloads.

With the Malaysian version, its founders are clearly looking to repeat the phenomenal success experienced in the other countries.

The brand's CEO Michael Cluzel says, "We want to make sure that no matter what you like to eat, you'll find it on Eatigo."

At the moment, Eatigo Malaysia has nearly 100 restaurants listed on its platform - from TGI Fridays and Italiannies to popular independent restaurants like Chequers as well as hotel eateries like Sheraton Imperial's Essence.

By the end of this year, Cluzel expects the number of restaurants to hit 400.

The concept behind Eatigo is both simple and ingenious.

The platform matches empty stomachs with empty tables, capitalising on the times when eateries are normally less busy to offer up to 50 per cent discounts.

The discount incentive is permanently there, as the premise behind Eatigo is converting an empty table that is just languishing in the restaurant into a profitable one (even if people are eating at a discounted rate), which also explains why for some of the restaurants, Eatigo represents between 20 per cent and 40 per cent of their daily reservations.

Michael Cluzel (left) and co-founder Pumin Yuvacharuskul launched Eatigo in Thailand in 2014 and in Singapore in 2015.
Photo: The Star/Asia News Network

Cluzel says he realised there was potential in the market when he came across data that showed that restaurant capacity utilisation runs at 30 per cent compared to hotels and airlines, which run at 75 per cent to 80 per cent.

This is when he figured out that there was a tangible need for something like Eatigo.

"I had this realisation that an empty table is a perishable good and it operates very much like an airline seat or hotel room.

Once you realise they are similar and inefficient, that's when you put this together and discover that the market is huge.

"It's a US$2.6tril (S$37 trillion) market, operating at 35 per cent capacity utilisation and nobody is dealing with this in the whole world.

"This is when we decided this is something we wanted to go for, because the market is big, the market is global and it's a problem we want to solve. The merchant has a problem of capacity utilisation, the user wants a good deal, so we can benefit both and create a win-win-win situation," he says.

Cluzel says the team chose Singapore and Thailand as their alpha markets because they represented two different kinds of markets: a sophisticated market and an emerging market.

They wanted to study both and ensure they fully understood their business and that the model was a successful one.

Your favourite food may be coming to Eatigo, which allows you to enjoy it at a discounted price.
Photo: The Star/Asia News Network

As it turned out, it was, as Eatigo broke even within a two-year period.

"We didn't want to take the next step until we knew this could be a sustainable business. And once we knew, then we could take the next step. Now I understand how major and emerging markets behave. Two years ago, we didn't fully know our business," says Cluzel.

Part of this learning curve involved figuring out how to select the restaurants to list on the site.

Cluzel and his team now draw up a master list of restaurants in each country, gleaned from TripAdvisor ratings (TripAdvisor has invested in the company), publications and recommendations.

These selections can encompass eateries in large hotels, popular franchises like TGI Fridays or totally independent restaurants, but one common factor should bind them all: popularity.

"We have generally a good track record of finding out what's going to drive traffic. If you're not an attractive merchant, I will not be able to drive traffic, so I will not make any money and you will be frustrated, because there is no extra traffic.

"So we naturally gravitate towards merchants we believe will be able to generate traffic. We don't make the eatery more popular, we help to monetise their existing popularity," he says.

Incidentally, the restaurants agree on a sum to be paid to Eatigo based on the traffic generated, which is how Eatigo makes its money.

Eatigo users can enjoy meals up to 50 off at restaurants like Renaissance Hotel’s Dynasty Restaurant, where they can enjoy dishes like this grilled lamb with Mongolian sauce. 
Photo: The Star/Asia News Network

Eatigo users can enjoy meals up to 50 off at restaurants like Renaissance Hotel's Dynasty Restaurant, where they can enjoy dishes like this grilled lamb with Mongolian sauce. Filepic

So how does the platform work?

Essentially, you can browse through the selection of restaurants, filtering according to categories like hotel buffets, what's trending or even by cuisine type.

You can also filter your search based on the discounts available - discounts start at 10 per cent and go up to 50 per cent off your bill.

If you're only interested in 50 per cent discounts, search under that to find the restaurants and times that match what you're looking for.

Generally, the 50 per cent discounts tend to be offered at off-peak times, but all the restaurants have to offer 50 per cent off at a particular time every single day.

You can make reservations up to 30 minutes before the selected time.

Once you make the reservation, you'll get a confirmation email and all you have to do once you get to the eatery is tell them your name and that you've made your reservation. Then you eat what you want and the discount will be reflected in your bill.

Cluzel says there are plans to expand Eatigo further within the region and possibly outside South-East Asia as well.

"There will be more in the region, they will come in the next few months. Are we eventually going to look outside the region?

"I would love to, because food is unique - it transcends religion, culture, geography - it doesn't matter if you're in a Buddhist or Catholic country - people eat three times a day.

"So having a base that is a behaviour that people do three times a day is very good. So our conviction is that this will work anywhere. But our ambition for now is to become the dominant player in the region," he says.