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Q&A: The First Online Restaurant Service in Nairobi

Working in a busy, traffic-congested metropolis like Nairobi usually requires individuals to walk long distances to popular eateries for lunch or dinner. And driving usually takes even longer.

However, with the use of the internet, you can now order meals from your favorite restaurants from the comfort of your office or home. This is thanks to technological innovations by startups like Yum, a web platform that allows you to navigate various restaurants’ food menus. Once you make your order, you will be asked to pay on the same platform, online.

This technology may not be news in the developed world where decent infrastructure, security and connectivity are the norm. Yet in areas like East Africa, this is a bold step in the midst of insecurity, deteriorating road networks, low internet connectivity, power blackouts and the general low income.

When it rains, the traffic gets uglier while power blackouts rule the situation. So, how is Yum operating in this sector? We speak to Anthony Gitobu, Yum's Director of Operations.

Can you tell us about the basics of your company, what is the size of your company in terms of employees, who are your target customers and clients etc.?

Yum is a Kenyan logistics company that focuses on restaurant food delivery. The company has 15 employees. Yum customers are people who are hungry for their favorite meal from their favorite restaurant, but who want to eat at home or office. We also deliver groceries and fresh produce to different customers in Nairobi.

When did you start, has the idea been with you for long and nurtured through time?

The company started in 2012 as the first online restaurant delivery service in Nairobi at the time. One of the founders lived in Asia for a while and used a similar service there; he wanted to bring the concept to Nairobi where he now lives full-time. Yum was the first platform for ordering food online in Nairobi. Since we started, there is only one other online ordering platform which has entered the market.

What is the technology behind your operations? Which one would you not operate without?

Our business is an online business so technology is very important. We can’t live without our internet-based platform or our phones. When the electricity goes out, we have to find ways to continue operating.

Even though Yum works from a building with a generator, electrical outages can cause serious operational concerns. For example, Yum's platform is web-based, which means sales associates working in the call center need internet access. If the electricity goes out, the wireless internet goes out. We often [have to] use our smart phones to bridge the few minutes it takes to bring the site back up.

Why would you consider your business idea and company unique? What gives you an edge?

There are many countries around the world where restaurant delivery is offered, but what makes Yum unique is our high level of customer service and dedication to providing consistent, fast delivery to our customers.

Can you please comment on the hospitality/food and beverage industry in Kenya and East Africa in general?

It’s an exciting time to be in East Africa. The restaurant scene is unfolding quickly and Nairobians are benefiting in a big way. Foodies can be very happy in Nairobi, the variety of cuisines is outstanding and the level of professionalism around growing a food culture is incredible. So many people in this industry are pushing at the boundaries on all sides – a revolution is coming!

In addition to food, is there any other product/service that your company offers?

Yum offers grocery, green produce, pharmacy, and liquor delivery. Our customers love these services!

How has your company impacted the ease at which city populace and others are benefiting? In Kenya (and elsewhere)?

Traffic can be terrible in Nairobi. If you work late and sit in traffic on your way home, it’s nice to order restaurant delivery so you can relax when you do finally get home. On a cold, wet, rainy night, it’s nice to know that you can simply order for delivery and not have to step outside into the elements.

And how do you get round the traffic problem? Presumably time is of essence as the food has to remain hot.

Traffic in Nairobi can be incredibly slow at times. There are times when even a motorbike cannot get through. Our riders are as effective as they can be in these situations. They call each other to identify alternate routes that are free of dense traffic. Also they call the dispatch center to warn about accidents or traffic jams, so other riders know which roads to avoid.

Are there any challenges in your operations, any obstacles that you feel are dragging you down in terms of business? How have you addressed them?

One challenge is the same as any delivery company in Nairobi faces, it is the lack of an addressing system. Our goal is to conduct the fastest, most consistent delivery every time a customer orders from Yum, therefore all of our technology and training works with this in mind.

Would you say that the internet connectivity is sufficient for your business?

Yes. The only time we have challenges with internet connectivity is when it rains and the electricity goes out.

What is your greatest achievement so far?

Yum has served over 20,000 meals in Nairobi and we’re growing every day. We have over 60 restaurants on our website. Our customers often call us to recommend restaurants and we follow up. We add about one restaurant per week, so we're growing fast!

Any expansion plans?

Like any other startup in Kenya and other countries in general, we look forward to remain true to our mission and vision to lead the sector. We were the first and pioneers in this sector and looking forward to ruling the scene.

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Daniel Muraga

Daniel Muraga is an experienced online writer and communications professional based in Kenya.

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