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6 common roadblocks F&B businesses face in the digital era

Humans and businesses alike tend to resist change until they face with an indomitable force of nature such as COVID-19 and change suddenly, becomes a necessity for survival. Find out what are the six common roadblocks faced by F&B establishments today as they digitalise their operations.
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24 Jun 2020
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Written by Daniel Tay

In physics, inertia is defined as an object’s resistance to a change in velocity. Humans and businesses alike tend to resist change until they come up against an unstoppable force such as a really big object, a great stimulus, or, more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many F&B establishments—especially the most traditional ones, like street hawkers—are still wary of digital tools and platforms. But at a panel discussion at LIT DISCOvery, a recent virtual career symposium organized by Young NTUC, Fave Singapore’s managing director Ng Aik-Phong shared that COVID-19 has made it impossible for F&B joints to remain completely traditional.

“COVID-19 has brought this wave of digitization that’s going to continue no matter which industry you’re in,” he said. “People are staying home—they’re not going to stores or dining in. The pain of the pandemic is forcing F&B establishments to digitalize out of necessity.”

He suspects that even after the pandemic, it's not going to fully go back to how it was.

At this panel discussion, Aik-Phong and three F&B industry veterans share their thoughts on how to overcome six of the most common roadblocks F&B businesses face when digitalizing:


  • Ng Aik-Phong, Managing Director of Fave Singapore
  • Gilberto Geata, Director, Southeast Asia, Google Customer Solutions
  • Douglas Ng, Founder, Fishball Story
  • Eddie Seetoh, Director and 3rd Generation Owner, 9s Seafood

Fearing digitalization for being “too complex”

Digitalization is the use of any digital tool—like WhatsApp or Google Forms—to change a pre-existing traditional function. But that doesn’t mean that it has to be a head-to-toe revolution.

“I would encourage SMEs to simply think about what they’ve been doing traditionally, and consider how that could be done online,” advises Gilberto Geata, Southeast Asia’s Director for Google Customer Solutions,.

When COVID-19 broke out, for example, Fishball Story’s Douglas Ng had to find a quick solution for meal delivery. When some private-hire drivers offered to help deliver the orders, he immediately invited them to his shop and held a meeting.

“We weren’t quick enough to get on board different delivery platforms. So we had to develop our own system,” he recalls. “We immediately structured the delivery fees and decided to use WhatsApp to coordinate and accept orders. Maybe it’s a caveman method compared to joining a food delivery platform—but it’s simple enough, and works for me.”

Even simple, everyday tools like WhatsApp and Google Forms can help F&B businesses streamline existing processes.


Not being active on social media

Fishball Story has been building its social media customer base for years. During this period, the hawker stall was able to take advantage of its social media platforms to increase awareness and inform customers about their deliveries.

Thanks to the reach they’ve built up over the years, Douglas explains that their customers “can go to our Facebook page, which has a lot of information about us, and they can even order the food directly as well.”

9s Seafood’s Eddie Seetoh also went through a similar process. “We are not afraid to show customers what goes on behind the scenes to assure them that we have great quality,” he shares. “We regularly show photos and official reports with our new products. Structured images and designs are very important to attract positive attention—we want to woo customers with interesting visuals.”

The key lies in providing as much information as possible for your customers. People can’t walk into your store during a pandemic. But they are searching for you online.

One of the best ways for SMEs to establish an online presence is by using Google’s free listing service, Google My Business. Then you can build a website to showcase the products and content that people are looking for.


Gilberto explains it from a user perspective:

“I would want to make sure that I can buy your products online, that I can find different variations, color sizes, and so on. I just checked out Douglas’ website, actually, and on top of ordering fish balls, I can add my own personal preferences and add notes to menu items. These little things make the experience relevant and seamless for the user.”


Not taking advantage of the data

One of the major benefits of going online is the ability to track feedback from clients.

“By using Google Analytics, you can find out where they’re coming from, and how they found your website,” says Gilberto.

With analytics tools on Google, Instagram, and other online platforms, you can see whether users buy or exit, and you can track how much time they spend on the site. Once you’re familiar with the data, you can test new methods to increase your customer base and the number of orders you get.

The key is to be discoverable, engage with the right content, measure, and iterate.

Sticking to cash and refusing to accept digital payments

Some restaurateurs worry that digital payments are unreliable or unsafe. Hacking is a very serious concern—and what if details get compromised?

To this, Aik-Phong responds that FavePay is “integrated securely and encrypted to Visa, MasterCard, and even Paypal.” Unless you are sharing your login information with others, the risk for fraudulent activity on digital payments apps is actually very low.

“If you use credit cards, the technology is precisely the same. And if something does happen to your digital balance, there is an instant chat feature so that you can talk to customer service in just a few seconds,” he adds.

FavePay is now trusted by thousands of merchants across Singapore and Southeast Asia. “So far, we don’t have issues,” Aik-Phong says. “But if you do, let me know on LinkedIn and I will help you out the best I can. Really.”

Most of the popular digital tools and platforms for F&B platforms use secure gateways when they collect payment data. One of the best ways to ensure safety is to keep your payment or login information private—don’t share your data with anyone.


Using only one platform

F&B companies need to be on as many platforms as possible rather than being shy about their presence. The signup process for most platforms and digital payments solutions is very easy, and it’s worth it to be active and present in the digital world—every platform is a gateway to reaching new customers.

For example, Google Pay Singapore recently introduced a spiffy new feature that lets users discover new food options that they might like directly within the app. Gilberto explains, “If you have a F&B menu and want to get orders on Google Pay, simply fill a form, send us your menu, and we’ll do the rest. It’s completely free.” This feature is designed to help F&B establishments spread the word about their offerings without having to spend a cent on marketing.

Eddie and Douglas also recommend getting on as many platforms as possible. Douglas says, “If your parent has asked you for help, the first thing you should do is sign them up for Fave, Deliveroo, Grab, everything. These platforms are available, they’re everywhere, and a lot of them are free. It's not about the commission that these companies take. It's about how you redesign and brand what you sell, and the customers you build a new relationship with.”

One last tip: gain attention on these platforms by offering promotions and bundles!


Not being creative enough

Aik-Phong mentions an e-commerce booster package from Enterprise Singapore, which was designed to help F&B establishments make the transition from offline to online sales.

“Switching now with the help of these tools will pay off in the long run,” he says.

But those aren’t the only opportunities available for F&B establishments.

Thanks to the Internet, the world is your oyster. You can design your business in any way you want—for example, after food delivery platforms like Grab grew more popular, some people launched delivery-only business models.

“You’re only limited by your imagination, and ability to merge your resources with your ideas to execute something,” concludes Douglas.

If you haven’t yet, then it’s time to make a switch

The presence of online tools for everything from contacting customers to collecting orders to delivering meals to measuring the success of a new menu item makes everything frictionless.

Done correctly, digitalization will make your job as a restaurant owner easier—and it also provides customers with a much more enjoyable, hassle-free experience.

More customers, less stress on your end—what’s not to love?

LIT DISCOvery 2020 is a virtual symposium organised by Young NTUC. It was attended by over 3,000 participants and featured several career profiling and exploration activities to help youths and young working adults in their career navigation.