Onboarding 2000 Restaurants in 6 Months

Part 1 of an executive summary of how we launched a Zomato Online Ordering in the UAE


Undoubtedly, one of the biggest opportunities of my professional career was to build Zomato Online Ordering (O2) in a totally foreign market like Dubai in 2015. Zomato a market leader in India, had recently pivoted from being a restaurant advertising and listing platform to focusing on Restaurant food deliveries a market in which many global players had entered into. It was a race against time as Zomato as the company had to establish itself as a market leader again in this space, leading us to July 2015 during which I along with most of the team had arrived largely from various parts of India to Dubai to launch a large operation that of onboarding more than 2000 restaurants and establish ourselves as a market leader in the UAE.

For this venture a large sales force, 200 personnel strong would have to blitz the market and sign up all and every restaurant onto the platform. Their Menus and other restaurant details would have to be digitized and then finally would have to be taken up by me to onboard them by having the physical infrastructure in place, the staff trained and then food delivered.

Managing payments, customer service, Vendor Support, Last Mile Delivery operations would all have to be undertaken to build an operation of this scale and size. This summary is an account of how we did it.

The Target at the Onset

  1. Procurement: To have the tech infrastructure procured and cataloged for the entire network.
  2. Deployment Routine: To have the daily deployment Routine planned and briefed with the team.
  3. BTL Material Run: To have Zomato BTL installed at all partner restaurants in Dubai, Abu Dhabi & Sharjah
  4. Support Teams: To have Customer Service & Vendor Support Teams up and running
  5. Restaurant Go-Live: To have 2000 Restaurants Go-Live in 6 Months
  6. Online Ordering Launch : To launch Operations in Dubai, Abu Dhabi & Sharjah. 

Procurement Processes

1. Hardware Procurement: 

Procurement is the first integral point prior to deployment. In 2015, taking a cue from Zomato's experience in India, it was clear that not all restaurants were fitted with a Desktop computer on the restaurant premises. And so a SaaS interface was deemed a secondary priority for development. What Zomato did go forward with was creating a restaurant mobile application on which the restaurant could receive orders and adjust its timings and stock inventory. And so it was expected of Zomato to install a 3 G Mobile Handset at restaurants on which the Zomato application would be hard coded. 

Subsequently, an order for 2000 mobile handsets had to be placed along with a deal for 2000 sim cards and more than 2000 Mobile phone holders (so that the Zomato device could be secured at 1 location in the restaurant) 

2. Software & SIM Installation & Remote Access: 

In order to ensure that the Zomato handsets were only used for the purposes of receiving customer orders. Each Handset had to be remotely accessed so that the device could not switch away from the Zomato Application. And thus Pre-deployment our team of 25 had to create an assembly line to ensure each device had the Zomato application and was configured for remote access. Moreover, the handsets also had to be fitted with the Simcards tested for connectivity.

3. Identification Labels & Scanning: 

Each device would also have to have a custom label with a bar code so that the handsets could be located and tracked in Inventory. 

Deployment Routine

Once the inventory was procured, cataloged, and ready. We had to identify and settle on the Daily Deployment Routine.

What is Deployment? 

The Process of physically deploying the Zomato handset and pairing it with the Restaurants Unique ID, thus allowing the restaurant to Go-Live is the process of Deployment. This process requires Zomato Operations Executives to visit the premises install the device in a secured location, pair the device and ensure the device is live on Zomato's mainframe. The Executive would have to then Train the staff in the Process Flow, explain to them the SLAs for delivery, and also explain the processes for:

  1. Accepting Orders
  2. Rejecting Orders
  3. Managing Restaurant Timings
  4. Managing Out of Stock Dishes
  5. Going Offline (In-case of Emergency downtime)
  6. Processing Refunds
  7. Monthly Commission Reconciliation Processes.

Deployment was perhaps the most elaborate process which was further complicated as the list of restaurants ready for deployment would only be available a day prior.

What is Ready for Deployment?

After the sales agreement is signed. A restaurant's details for eg: Menu, dish details, Phone numbers, store timings, Days off, dish prices, dish photos, and dish descriptions all have to be vetted, listed, and manually entered into the Content database management software. The vetting would happen in Dubai, while the data entry would take place in Zomato HQ India. Hence once HQ was finished with data entry, they would give the Deployment Team the green light for deployment.

Hence as Team Lead, I would get the leads ready for deployment one day prior in staggered quantities. Monday could have 50 Leads ready, while Tuesday could have 100 leads ready. 

As Team Lead I'd have to break down the daily process into a Deployment Routine

  1. Stage 1: Lead Prioritization: I'd begin my day early by 8 AM and go through the list of restaurants ready for deployment and prioritize them based on volume, a high volume area, distance from the office and 
  2. Stage 2: Lead Allocation: I'd then have to allocate the leads between 25 executives based on their area of expertise and their mode of travel.
  3. Stage 3: Inventory CheckOut: The Executives would then have to check out their requirements for each lead. Every restaurant would get 1 Handset, 1 Phone Holder, 1 Cheat Sheet, 5 Pieces of Branded Packing material. 
  4. Stage 4: On-field Deployment: The Executives would then head out on-field based on the number of leads they have installed the device, train the staff, and get the restaurant Live at the location.
  5. Stage 5: Restaurant Go-Live: Once live at the location I would then have to enable the restaurant Go-Live in the mainframe. Ensuring the restaurant is ready to accept orders from new customers.

Creating of Sub Teams

As we reached our preliminary mark of 800 Restaurants ready to go live, we had reached our critical threshold and were ready to begin accepting orders from Customers.

However, once orders would come in we would have to have sub-teams for troubleshooting. And so began the process of subdividing into multiple specialized teams as follows:

  1. Operations: The Operations Team would continue to ensure of deployment of further restaurants that were ready to go live.
  2. Customer Service: Customer service would follow up with customer complaints of Delays, Order Cancellations, Wrong Orders, etc.
  3. Restaurant Support: Restaurant Support would focus on helping the restaurants with their technical difficulties, or SLA questions.
  4. Inventory Management: Over the course of the operation, further procurement of more Handsets, Materials, Sims cards, etc would have to be managed.
  5. Last Mile Delivery:  Finally, once all base operations were in place, we introduced Last Mile Delivery services with a 3rd party logistics provider. 


Operational Hurdles

Zomato, a firm adopter of the Agile Framework of Product execution, one which I firmly believe in relies on releasing small improvements of product over time rather than attempting large reformational product features. This of course is an operational incumbrance, because operations from a vendor perspective largely follow a waterfall approach where staff and end-users are trained in the operationality of the digital and physical infrastructure.

Any variance in the same compels an operations team to allocate resources and time to re-train and re-integrate restaurants and vendors in the Zomato operational guidelines. Simply put if a new App feature is released with a new functionality and or user experience, the Operations team would have to retrain the entire network of 2000 restaurants, with such a large network this exercise needs a team of its own.

However, during the 6 month period, my team encountered multiple different tech-related issues:

  1. Bugs in the Restaurant App: During the first 4 months of Phase 1 & 2. The number of bugs that hindered the functionality of the application was immense. Connectivity of the Mobile Handsets to the internet proved to be the biggest challenge, with restaurants going offline automatically whenever there would be a drop in network. Restaurants could only go online after a hard reset of the application, which required the physical presence of a Zomato support staff.
  2. Sorting Bugs by Discovery: With most of the Tech team based in


Final Result:

Ultimately, we did get the Job Done

  1. Restaurants Deployed: We had well overachieved our target of bringing on board more than 2000 restaurants in the time targeted by us.
  2. Launched Last Mile Delivery: As operations had become a lot more homogenous, we had resources enough to bring in new services to the restaurants, the most important of them being last mile Delivery services which were operationalized by our contracted 3PL provider.
  3. Launched Sharjah & Abu Dhabi: In addition to Dubai we were also able to expand to Abu Dhabi and Sharjah thus achieving a larger footprint in the UAE.
  4. Achieved Market Dominance: Our delivery service was an instant success growing at a phenomenal rate. In just a year's time, Zomato had achieved a market leader position. 


Project Review: What we got right

This exercise was a highly detailed experience in launching a nationwide business in a very short time. The key lessons we did get right will always be part of my everlasting experience.

  1. Starting with local heavyweights: Ensuring we got on board the more high volume, local heavyweights really paid off. With larger volumes from Restaurants like Jabal Al Noor, Wokyo, Venus, etc we were able to onboard quickly spending very little resources and establishing a strong churn of deliveries vis-a-vis focusing on spending a lot of time and effort chasing the big fish.
  2. Focusing on High-Volume Areas: JLT, Dubai Marina, WTC & Business Bay, were quickly identified as locations with high volumes. And so prioritizing these residential and commercial areas for deployment and Go-Live quickly relieved any pressure the over team would have had to face on Sales Targets.
  3. Not going ahead with Arabic Content: As a player from India, the initial discussion on hiring staff, having a mobile application in Arabic, and other training material in Arabic was always up for debate. Luckily limited resources made the decision for us and we went forward without an Arabic focus. All in all this did not have a major impact for us.

Retropective: My Learnings

In launching a massive operation like Zomato Online Ordering, often chaotic and ever-changing, it does behoove one to take into account what could have been done better,

It is my firm assessment that we established a strong network of operations and a solid base for Zomato to expand its Online Ordering Business. It is however important to note that pressure to deliver did take a large toll on the Team and myself. I have covered this topic in detail in Part 2 of this summary.

A retrospective purely from an operational point of view can as one listed as follows:

  1. Create a near-term vision of the operational layout: In Retrospect, having a clear view of the different stages of operational execution, would have provided the team and the department plan and sort out their expectations with respect to their careers at Zomato.
  2. Document Experience: Launching such a project few have the privilege to work build upon. Every now and then it would have been great to document and catalog the work done that translate into such massive success.
  3.  Always stay close to the office: With such massive targets, the pressures of long work hours also play an important part, in hindsight I would always recommend keeping your residence close to your office. Unfortunately for me, I stayed nearly an hour away wasting precious time commuting to work.