Food is what brings most cultures and ethnics together. And it’s arguable that no place has a huge smorgasbord of delectable delights and variable victuals than Southeast Asia, specifically Malaysia.
In this world where staring down onto mobile devices for world news or social circle updates is the norm, foodies Kenny Hew and Kay Kastum plan to bring people and restaurant owners together with their social network app. It’s called Food Social, a mixture of Facebook, FourSquare and Instagram that centralises on the joys of food-eating and the communal gathering associated with the scrumptious activity in Malaysia. Users can post their pics and restaurant critiques, search for recommendations in a quick and timely manner, and plan on future outings via registration. The in-house search engine tracks food types, location, and miscellaneous categories such as halal and non-halal.
So what sets this apart from other established food-oriented sites such as HungryGoWhere and OpenRice? Simple: its format and sense of community and relationships. “HungryGoWhere is a listings site, while our app is combining the professional elements of handling corporate accounts with the idea of getting people gathered together for food,” said Hew.
Food Social’s focus is on middle-to-upper-tier food places, though coffeeshops and Malay-Indian food stalls dubbed as ‘mamaks’ will show up on the database. “You have to remember that the popularity of a ‘mamak’ stall is based on strong word-of-mouth rather than brand strength,” he added, while explaining the app’s focus.
The foundation of Food Social lies in user experience, information and community-building. Hew said that his in-house user interface designers were influenced by the app Urban Spoon when coming up with Food Social’s look. They had to go through three iterations, one of them not laden with as much visuals for grabbing attention, before they settled for the app’s current look.
We took a stab at the app. Nearby restaurants and eating places greet you at the top of the listings in a vertical line-up, with more spots slightly further away from our location. As this whole thing took place at D’lish in Bangsar Village 2, more recent mid-range spots crop up such as Wondermama and Three Little Pigs.
Clicking on one tab brings you to restaurant descriptions, promotions, critiques, pictures, social chatter about the place and future online reservation options. Hew said the latter feature will be added at a later date, with more food-related options such as a catering system and restaurant analytics put in. Navigating the app is simple and intuitive enough, with the white and red color scheme making everything look pleasant for moving eyeballs. Food Social shows promise so far.
Hew added that his focused clientele know about current tech trends and know the importance of online presence. “A lot of business owners do not know about HungryGoWhere because the site relies on just user-generated listings. I feel that diners are losing a little bit of touch with business owners in putting out the most accurate information possible, even with using Google Search. That’s why we want all restaurant owners to come together and create a platform,” he said.
The Co-founder is transparent about the company’s ties with restaurant business owners, “We value partnerships. We do service all these restaurants with their own back-end systems for them to work and update their database with. It’s one effective way to gather many diners and get restaurant owners to keep their info up-to-date themselves, with some help from the community.” Hew said that this is to curb outdated information and to give it the business touch between the owners and the listings.
The transparency continues with its handling of reviews and comments. “Any review or comments with negative feedback are most welcome,” said Hew, “In fact, this is how a community work, by sharing true information. But it should be well written without any abusive or exaggerated comments/reviews. It is essential for all business owners to listen and act towards improvement, so they can sustain their business.”
The core of the service is, of course, its social networking effect. “We’re still new, but with the help of F&B owners and our future members, we can be ahead of the curve. We’re using business owners and diners to help consolidate all this data on Malaysian food spots on the platform. [As to how it will grow from there], it’s still a matter of time and marketing,” stated Hew.
Speaking of marketing, the duo roped in a few Malaysian food bloggers such as Soo Yin, Pamela Yeoh and Daniel Chiam, as a way to promote Food Social. They also plan to do events in select colleges and restaurants to get the app word across the Klang Valley. “College students are a good target market for anything related to social media,” said Hew. After all, he said that the app’s target demographic is between 18 to 35 year olds.
The app is focused on dining places within the Klang Valley; by year’s end the company hopes it covers up to Penang and Johor. If you happen to be in Malaysia and wish to partake in this online social venture, the Android version of the app is out now. iOS users will have to wait next month for it.