Overcoming a Crisis by Adapting and Selling Online Nationwide When Customers Are No Longer Limited to Local Areas; The Eateria Gourmet’s Key to Success

Aug 16, 2021
The Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly affected numerous restaurant businesses. As we’ve seen over the past year and a half, many restaurants remain standing, even though they’ve been pushed to their limits. Unfortunately, however, a lot of restaurants have died out. However, the crisis can still be turned into an opportunity. That’s why we’ve seen a handful of entrepreneurs recognizing the changes in consumer behavior during the new normal era.

After the pandemic situation became noticeably worse, restaurants started developing frozen meals to meet the needs of consumers. One of these restaurants was “The Eateria Gourmet” which succeeded in developing readymade food (frozen) and has been selling it all over Thailand. And the person who will be sharing the secrets to their success with us today is none other than Mr. Pratya “Seng” Sathaphonwatthanakun, Managing Director of DD Foods Corporation Limited and Manager of The Eateria.

Unforeseen circumstances turned a food startup restaurant… into a producer of frozen foods.

DD Foods Corporation Limited started about two and a half years ago. Originally, they opened a restaurant called ‘Bar Mee Cuisine” operated under the concept of Asian street food and selling mainly noodle dishes. The business was under the management of Chef Wilment Leong, a familiar celebrity chef who was a judge on the show ‘Top Chef Thailand. Originally, the restaurant was meant to be a ‘food startup’ that would expand and open several branches. However, after opening only two branches, the Covid-19 crisis occurred. As a result, they had to change to plans based on the situation.

All four cuisines at The Eateria If you look carefully, you’ll see that The Eateria Gourmet’s frozen food products are developed from ingredients used in the restaurant’s menu items.

“Over the course of the past two years, we’ve been constantly adapting ourselves to the Covid-19 situation. Consequently, other than the Asian street food we’ve been offering from the start, we’re now also offering other types of food. That’s why we later renamed the business “The Eateria”, which is a combination of the words ‘eat’ and ‘utopia’ and means ‘foodies’ heaven’. Another reason is that it allows us to do clearer marketing. That’s why we’ve categorized our food into four cuisines:  ‘Bar Mee’ (Asian noodle dishes), ‘Basil, Garlic’ (easy-to-eat Thai dishes like rice with basil stir-fries and garlic stir-fries), ‘Sa Chap Ngo’ (Chinese-style rice dishes like rice with duck, red pork, etc.) and ‘Green Hub’ (healthy dishes).”

“The Eateria currently has two branches, the Bang Rak branch and the Riverside Rama III branch. Other than selling at the storefronts, we also sell via various delivery platforms. When the Covid situation happened, we adapted by selling more products online. Other than selling through applications.  We also created channels for taking orders like Line Official and Facebook.”

“We opened the restaurant in October 2019, right before Covid. At first, we wanted our business model to be a food startup. We wanted it to rapidly expand. We focused on consistent recipes in terms of flavor and quality. Wherever you eat it, the standard would be the same. At first, we planned to open several dozen branches a year, but only a few months after opening Covid made us rethink and put our plans on hold because it probably wasn’t the right time to expand the way we’d planned.  Later on, we adapted our plan by capitalizing on the ingredients we had for our recipes and creating new precooked ready-to-eat meal (frozen) products under the brand ‘The Eateria Gourmet’.

The Eateria Gourmet offers precooked ready-to-eat products that use good quality ingredients and flavored with the restaurant’s special sauces. They stand out with their special recipes created by Chef Willment Leong, Chief Executive Chef of The Eateria. The products include precooked ready-to-eat meat dishes. We currently offer eight menu items, namely Hong Kong Red Pork, Special Recipe Crispy Pork, Japanese Chashu Pork, Cantonese Kau Yuk, Japanese Pork Belly in Soy Sauce, Hong Kong Chicken in Soy Sauce, Chicken in Gravy and Beef Stewed with Chinese Herbs. In addition, soon they’ll also introduce ten additional menu items. Moreover, they also offer products like Shanghai Chili Sauce, Tom Yam Sauce and Khiao Wan Sauce under the brand ‘DD Sauce’.

 “This idea occurred to us during the Covid-19 outbreak when it was difficult for customers and people in general to go out and buy supplies. It wasn’t convenient to walk to the market, because they were afraid of getting sick. That’s how the concept of The Eateria Gourmet originated. It meets people’s needs in terms of convenience, long shelf life and home delivery. It also helps reduce risks for consumers who have to socially distance themselves. Furthermore, we’ve realized that a lot of people were concerned about family members, relatives and friends living far away. They wanted to send food to express their concern and care and as a morale booster in this situation. That’s why we created ‘The Eateria Gourmet: Familia Selectness’ food set. It’s a set of frozen ready-to-eat ingredients sold at a special price as an alternative for customers. This special set was launched a few weeks ago and is receiving excellent reviews.”

 Be flexible and adapt to the situation.

1.Move forward with a new plan. When we were affected by the Covid situation, instead of going ahead with the original plan of opening dozens of branches a year, we tried to adapt and go full-speed with The Eateria Gourmet, so we could sell to customers nationwide via online channels. The first thing we had to do was develop a good frozen meal product.
2. We turned our central kitchen into a factory. Other than having the kitchen of each branch of The Eateria, we also have a central kitchen, so we turned it into an FDA-certified frozen foods manufacturing factory and acquired the required permits.
3. We focus on B2C (business-to-customer) online selling channels. We started out with six products. We sold through social media platforms like Facebook, Line Official, delivery applications, Shopee and an online channel we created ourselves by having customers place their orders via Google Form. Later on, after receiving good reviews, we expanded the menu to include ten items and we plan to expand the menu even more in the future.

Success in supplementing fewer storefront sales with frozen foods.

“I have to say that the decrease in storefront sales due to the effects of Covid are being supplemented by our increasing frozen food sales because, according to our marketing, we’re starting to see the results of being able to distribute our products to consumers nationwide. It's making The Eateria Gourmet better and better known. In addition, the quality, clear communication and marketing are giving us repeat customers. Another reason for this is probably because the products we developed are meeting the needs of the current situation.  Today’s customers also have a better understanding that the quality of frozen meals is just as good as that of fresh meals, but with the added convenience of being able to store them for 3-6 months.  And they’re not too expensive, while being reliable in terms of food safety. We give a lot of importance to the latter and believe that when we offer new products in the future and do larger-scale marketing, our sales will improve even more.”

The key to success from The Eateria Gourmet.

● A difference you can’t find anywhere else. Precooked ready-to-eat (frozen) meals use special recipes by Chef Willment Leong, a famous professional chef.
● Quality products that taste just like you’re eating at a restaurant. It’s like a chef’s cooking for you, because the recipes have been perfected.
● Understanding consumer behavior, meeting needs during Covid, offering home deliveries using temperature-controlled vehicles, providing convenience to customers, reducing risk of transmission in an era where you have to keep social distancing.
● Using multiple marketing channels, making the brand known and rapidly increasing the customer base.
● Customers are all over Thailand. They’re no longer limited to the areas surrounding the restaurant.
Tips: A short version of the key to success for operators who want to develop frozen food products.

 The kitchen has to be ready… The equipment must meet standards.
The kitchen has to be ready… The equipment must meet standards.

Develop quality recipes with good flavor. Not every dish is suitable for making into a frozen product. You have to consider what types of dishes are suitable and what types are not. Look for ways and operating systems that help you maintain quality and taste before creating a frozen product. The menu items vary from restaurant to restaurant. Look at what your core products are and develop them well. You have to find your strong point with the products you already have and then capitalize on them.

● Your kitchen has to be ready… Your equipment must meet standards. The kitchen must have good management. It’s important to have a facility that’s equipped to produce frozen foods because after the products are cooked using heat, they have to go through a freezing process using a blast chiller to prevent bacteria and then they’re stored in a freezer. Moreover, you need a standard vacuum seal. Otherwise, air will get in to ruin the quality and reduce shelf life. This is why the facility and equipment are so important for maintaining food quality and safety.

● Food safety cannot be neglected. This starts from when you select your ingredients, whether it’s meat or fresh vegetables. You have to select them from suppliers that meet standards. When you get to the production process, whether we’re talking about cleanliness, slicing, trimming, cooking or freezing and storing, every step needs to take into consideration safety and prevention of contamination by germs in order to meet FDA standards and assure customers of the food safety.

● Distribution Channels: The more, the better. However, you need to manage them well. You have to study well about various distribution channels, including public relations through social media or delivery via delivery platforms, which includes GP costs. Otherwise, you could create your own delivery channel. Whatever you do, make sure you utilize them all. Don’t restrict yourself to using only platforms without GP costs because you’ll be cutting out your own opportunities. In addition, you should have an administrator specifically to supervise all of this and act as the customer service.

● Taking pre-orders and pre-payment is always better because it helps you plan the production process, from ordering ingredients to stocking the appropriate ingredients. Therefore, restaurants should have fridges and freezers to store a full range of backup ingredients and products. The current Covid situation presents two main issues. The first issue is purchasing ingredients. Many ingredients are in short supply. Therefore, there needs to be a link between taking pre-orders and procuring good quality ingredients. 
Temperature-controlled transportation ensures products reach customers. A solution for consumers during Covid.

● Don’t use just one delivery service provider because in a situation like this some delivery expresses might not be able to reach certain areas. You also need to choose proper modes of transportation, so your products can reach customers quickly and safely. For example, The Eateria Gourmet uses electric motorcycles equipped with a cooler allowing for deliveries in Bangkok in a 20-km radius with the products still at temperatures below zero. As for customers in other provinces, several temperature-controlled delivery express suppliers are used, so customers all over Thailand can receive products at suitable and safe temperatures. Once the products reach the customers, they can easily remain in the freezer for 3-6 months.

● It is important to communicate about the proper method of reheating the food. Each type of food requires different reheating methods, so it’s necessary to recommend to the customer the proper reheating method for each dish. This is why The Eateria Gourmet provides a card recommending reheating methods with the food. In addition, the labels for new products contain QR codes recommending reheating methods for each menu item. The methods have been tried by the chef to ensure the best quality and flavor similar to eating at the restaurant. This is because if you don’t communicate this to the customers, they might reheat using improper methods that negatively affect the flavor and then they won’t reuse your services.

● Creating sets… Offering special menu items to boost sales. Other than The Eateria Gourmet: Familia Selectness mentioned earlier, creating special seasonal sets is another great way to boost sales. For example, in the middle of August, the Ghost Festival is on the 22nd, so the restaurant has created a festive food offering set for the Ghost Festival for sale at a reasonable price. In the past, people were used to buying ducks or chickens from the market as offerings.

However, due to the current situation, it’s inconvenient for people to go to the market. Plus, they have to be more frugal. Having frozen food delivered to their homes is one solution. The Eateria Gourmet offers a special Ghost Festival offering set including one set with Hong Kong Chicken in Soy Sauce, two sets of Cantonese Kau Yuk and two sets of special shrimps with sweet-sour sauce and DD Shanghai Chili Sauce especially for this festival at a reasonable price of only 599 baht. This is an example of a special menu set you can create for each season.

“For our restaurant, since the first wave of Covid, we’ve been constantly trying to adapt our business model until I can now say that, although we’ve had to face a crisis, we’ve also found opportunity. It’s important that you adapt to customer behavior. The Eateria Gourmet’s frozen food products can meet the needs of customers in the present. As for other business operators, I think it’s important that you first conduct research, so you can use the information to plan your strategies and determine the appropriate method of business operation. Another thing is that menu items are essential assets that can be capitalized on and developed.

If you want to enter the frozen foods market, you need to check which of your menu items are suitable for it. When you make them into frozen food products, they should maintain their quality and flavor. You have to find what sets you apart, so you can communicate that in your marketing to boost your sales.”
“I think that although more operators are turning to frozen ready-to-eat foods for nationwide delivery, there’s still a lot of opportunity, because if you do it right, you’ll have customers all over the country. You will no longer be limited to the areas, neighborhoods or streets surrounding your restaurant.”
The Eateria Gourmet food delivery channels:
LINE OA : TheEateria https://lin.ee/nZcQTwG
FB : The Eateria https://www.facebook.com/TheEateria-109562281230725
Shopee : TheEateris https://shp.ee/eqgc7ji
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