BigDish’s Aidan Bishop discusses the firm’s plans for nationwide roll-out and beyond
Following a strong start to the year, last week saw BigDish announce plans for a nationwide roll-out of its yield management platform in the UK. With much more now on the restaurant technology player’s plate, founder Aidan Bishop talks us through his plans to continue creating value for investors moving forward.
BigDish’s model is based around the idea that a restaurant cannot make any money out of empty tables, so even a cut-price bill is better than nothing. Through the company’s app, a restaurant can offer discount prices during periods when it does not expect to be busy. For the restaurant, this arrangement smooths footfall and ensures staff are not over or under-worked at different times. Meanwhile, diners can enjoy money off, depending on the day and time they choose to book.
The yield management model has been used for decades by airlines, which offer different ticket prices at peak and off-peak times. However, before BigDish, the approach has not been utilised by the UK’s restaurant industry. The closest well-known comparison is Tastecard, which offers diners set discounts at participating restaurants for an annual fee. However, Tastecard did not drive bookings to off-peak hours, instead opting for blanket discounts on chosen days. BigDish, on the other hand, allows restaurants to themselves decide when cuts should be utilised and uses a data-driven approach to help them make this decision.
When we spoke to BigDish in February, the business has just launched its platform in Bournemouth and Bristol following successful beta testing in Bath last year. Alongside this, the firm had also finalised a re-design of its app intended to increase its appeal to the UK market and hired a new chief executive – restaurant tech veteran Sanj Naha.
Critically, the organisation had also recently revealed an update to its 2019 strategy that saw it outline plans to target numerous cities contained within two distinct ‘territories’. As well as Bournemouth, territory one consists of mainly coastal towns and cities like Southampton, Portsmouth, Basingstoke, Guildford, Dorchester, and Winchester. Meanwhile, area two covers Bristol alongside Gloucester, Bath, Swindon, Oxford, Windsor, Slough, Exeter, Taunton, and Plymouth. BigDish said it was targeting at least 200 restaurants in each territory. To do this, it uses their TripAdvisor ranking and reviews to ensure they can offer a certain level of popularity and quality to the platform.
The months since February have seen BigDish act on this strategy and announce progress in several other key areas. Within territories one and two, the company has gone live in selected restaurants across Southampton, Basingstoke, Exeter, Taunton, Swindon, and Winchester.
Elsewhere, it has bolstered its web presence by re-launching its website, reducing an over-reliance on its app. It has also partnered with a digital advertising agency called Loud Mouth Media and set out numerous technology developments targets. These include several new functions on its app, including a new restaurant and share reservation feature, a review-sharing feature, and improvements to search functionality.
A critical development for BigDish came last week when it announced that it was ready to begin a broader nationwide roll-out of its app. It has divided the UK into ten territories, each of which will have one territory manager – excluding London, which will have three. These segments include a new third territory that features Brighton and Reading, where the company expects to go live on 7 June.
In preparation for its plans to scale-up, BigDish expects to recruit ten territory managers over the next three-to-four months. In line with this, it believes it will now be able to go live in new locations at a much more rapid pace. Alongside the national rollout, the organisation also plans to add more restaurants to its current areas in territory one and two throughout June.
According to its update, BigDish now has more than 150 restaurants on its platform, the majority of which are independent. Bishop says he thinks this engagement with independent restaurants is encouraging when compared to competitors, which are focused primarily on chain restaurants.
‘What has been really exciting has been the number of independent restaurants with which we have engaged when compared to our competitors,’ he says. ‘Others in the market have more restaurants, but many of these are chains, with whom we are not yet engaging. So, we are getting some traction with small independent restaurant owners, which is good as it gives us confidence that our yield management platform will continue to be well received by the UK restaurant sector as we begin to approach the larger groups. That gave us the confidence to say “this is going to work nationwide”.’
In this vein, BigDish said that its national roll-out would continue to focus on independent and smaller restaurant groups initially. It believes this will ensure that the app provides consumers with a wide selection of cuisines and restaurants. However, moving forward, BigDish expects to begin signing up restaurant and pub groups to its platform in the second half of the year.
Bishop tells us that he is confident that BigDish is on track to sign up 2,000 restaurants within 12 months, putting it well on its way to achieving its ultimate goal of taking on 6,000 restaurants. The business said its focus moving forward will be as much on improving its technology as adding new restaurants to its platforms. Indeed, its directors consider it to be first and foremost a technology platform, meaning innovation remains at the core of the business development strategy. On this, Bishop adds:
‘The potential and the future for us centres around innovation. We want to bring additional functionality and additional revenue streams into the company. That will become apparent as the year progresses. It is going to be about a lot more than getting people in seats.’
Since the beginning of the year, BigDish’s strong newsflow has seen its share price rise from below 2p to its current 6.8p. This gives it a market cap of £19.1m. Bishop believes the key to keeping this momentum up is to continue engaging investors through relatable and regular newsflow.
‘What has been interesting to me is how much our story is resonating with private investors. I think this is because we offer a straightforward product. Every investor has the opportunity to become a BigDish user. That helps to amplify our message as we roll out across the UK,’ he tells us. ‘Right now, we have just over 150 restaurants across the South and South Central of the UK. We have a very tight investor base, and I can imagine that will become much stronger once we have rolled out across the UK. I think the catalysts to keep the momentum going are new locations going live, partnerships, and new products. I can see quite a few catalysts that are there and can keep us going.’
Against a backdrop of political turmoil and regular restaurant closures, Bishop finishes by adding that he is not concerned about the financial health of the UK consumer:
‘Restaurant spending was actually up last year. I do not think the UK consumer is the issue. I think people will become conscious of the fact that restaurant chains are closing. There are several issues driving this like private equity-fuelled growth, and growing too quickly. It is a great time for small, independent restaurant and small groups. They are much nimbler and can respond to consumer much easier, and give a personal experience.