Angus McLachlan has hardly slept in three weeks.
In that sense, he’s probably not unlike a lot of small business owners in Australia reacting to the Covid-19 crisis – particularly the restaurants and bars he deals with on a daily basis. But while just about everyone else’s business is struggling, his is thriving.
McLachlan is the founder and CEO of Bopple, an online ordering platform at the centre of a new digital ecosystem that’s helping save some of the country’s most popular restaurants, cafes and bars during the shutdown.
In the past three weeks, venues across the country – including Sydney’s Rising Sun and Continental Deli; Melbourne’s Epocha; Brisbane’s Happy Boy and Gauge; Adelaide’s Africola, Golden Boy and Orso; Perth’s Northbridge Wine Store; and the Gold Coast's Rick Shores – have signed up for the service, as operators swerve hard into takeaway and delivery in an effort to keep their businesses afloat.
It’s a long way from London, where, in 2012, McLachlan dreamt up the app as a “scratch-your-own-itch” side project that would connect smartphones directly to point-of-sale systems and help streamline interactions between punters and restaurants.
Bopple the company was eventually established last year in a slightly different format: not simply a mobile app, but a more flexible web-based online ordering tool aimed at operators first, diners second. If it addressed the needs of the restaurant or cafe, that would flow on to the customer experience.
“When you partner with good restaurants, they give the best customer experience,” McLachlan says. “That approach was the magic sauce, really.”
The sudden growth in Bopple’s business is helped by the fact it takes a relatively small 5.9 per cent fee per-order from its partner restaurants – less if they sign up for a yearlong subscription package (subscription fees have been waived for between one and three months during the Covid-19 crisis). Also, venues can opt to handle deliveries themselves rather than deal with a third party, giving them greater control over the customer experience while giving their staff more work.
It’s a different model to bigger players such as Uber Eats and Deliveroo, which McLachlan likens to delivery marketplaces with “whole logistical networks”. “Ours is much simpler,” he says. “We just connect the customer to the venue and have some sophisticated tools that allow the venue to open up new revenue streams.”
Happy Boy co-owner Cameron Votan says Bopple was the game changer that allowed his restaurant to enter the delivery market.
“Delivery we’ve never done [before], because we run on such lean margins,” he recently told Broadsheet. “The cut taken by the big delivery operators doesn’t work for a restaurant like ours … We’ve always done takeaway but it’s never been a priority, so we’ve really needed to retool how we think about it.
“I’ve been really impressed by the response … Bopple allowed it to happen.”
But Bopple is just one player in this brave new Covid-19 world. Melbourne-based startup Hungry Hungry has also experienced sudden, remarkable growth. It too plugs venues into an easily navigable system that lets diners order food for takeaway, drive-through and delivery.
“The last few weeks, it’s been like being stuck in a washing machine,” Hungry Hungry co-founder Mark Calabro says.
Similar to Bopple, Hungry Hungry has quickly transformed itself from a web app designed to work inside a venue to a fully featured online ordering portal that connects remotely to a restaurant kitchen’s tablet.
“We weren’t expecting to be doing business with some of the best restaurateurs in Australia – until the world got flipped upside down,” Calabro says. “We very quickly built that extra functionality into the platform … and that has seen an incredible uptake.”
In the past two weeks Hungry Hungry has signed up 250 new venues to the platform, including heavy hitters such as Totti’s and Sugercane in Sydney, and Estelle, Di Stasio Citta, Mister Bianco, Tonka and Lune in Melbourne. Again, the platform boasts a low commission rate of five per cent per order, but Hungry Hungry sweetens the deal further by not charging a subscription fee.
“There are no contracts,” Calabro says. “We think if our product adds value, you’ll want to use it and share it with your friends.”
Adelaide app Your Local has also launched to combat the high commission fees of the big players. It claims to be Australia's only 100 per cent commission free platform. Venues include Nugg Lyf, Noi Vietnamese, Drummer Boy and Pirate Life and more are being added daily.
Still, the low cost of these platforms only partly explains their popularity. Allowing venues to handle delivery themselves, Calabro says, gives chefs and restaurateurs a new degree of control over their product.
“If you’re a chef, your food and what you present is everything,” he says. “It’s personal. Being able to control that from the kitchen to someone’s front door is paramount.
“Also, it [allows] creativity – you have Negronis being made in plastic pouches and jars, wine going for super cheap online [to clear] stock … People are thinking on their feet really quickly.”
It also creates work for hospitality staff. South Australian delivery app Restaurant Runner – which was launched late last year by Adelaide Hills restaurateurs Che and Rebecca Zahra (Jimmies Restaurant and Miss Perez Kitchen & Bar) – recently expanded its operations to include the Adelaide metro area. The Zahras want to ensure that local hospitality staff remain employed throughout the Covid-19 crisis as delivery drivers and riders, rather than outsourcing the work to third-party platforms.
Other solutions in the new delivery and takeaway economy are even more niche. Melbourne-based startup Mr Yum is a free online platform that’s now offering a delivery solution for venues in Fitzroy and Collingwood only. It takes just a 4.5 per cent commission.
“We’ve got heaps of restaurants in our customer lists that are not on delivery apps at all,” Mr Yum CEO and co-founder Kim Teo recently told Broadsheet. “And we just started floating the idea with them about creating a very localised website that had just Collingwood and Fitzroy venues on it.”
Mr Yum’s new site, which launched on March 30, lets locals order burgers from The B.East on Brunswick Street; gyoza and tinnies from Chotto Motto; brekkie and produce boxes from Proud Mary; and slices from Shawcross Pizza. It’s a bit like taking a virtual stroll down Brunswick Street or Smith Street.
Elsewhere, there are new initiatives such as Brisbane’s Save Our Supply, which is running a “status report” on hospitality venues in the city, listing what’s open and linking to pre-order, takeaway, delivery and voucher-order services. And Melbourne’s Fairfeed Community Project, where laid-off hospo workers deliver meals cooked at Smoke & Pickles in Elsternwick. There’s even electric-bicycle company Lug & Carrie, which is supplying fancy Tern bikes to Melbourne pubs The Green Man’s Arms and The Tippler & Co so they can start fulfilling their own delivery orders.
“These operators were saying, ‘We have to change and we have to change today’,” says Lug & Carrie founder Benjamin Carr. “They were willing to take a risk and try new things.
“We’d been approaching businesses and suddenly they were coming to us with that need. To have that owner call up and say, ‘I want this to work’ – it’s great when you have a product that can help.”
Additional reporting by Jo Robin.