Big Idea

How LimeTray cooked up a digital menu for restaurants with an appetite for tech

With a la carte offerings, this Gurugram-based start-up is a one-stop shop for the technology needs of restaurants

Our story starts with the realisation that restaurants making good food, six out of ten times, shut down in less than a year - Akhilesh Bali, co-founder, LimeTray

A burger cooked with the right amount of spice, with mayo packed perfectly on top of crunchy lettuce and sauces that don’t overpower the patty’s taste, should not be hidden from the world. Also, people should know of the dum biryani that has been prepared over hours to let the marinated meat soak in the juices. But sadly, many restaurants that know how to satiate the palate fall short on managing their operations. Forever offline, they remain unknown to the world and fail to scale up. This is where LimeTray comes into the picture.

“Our story starts with the realisation that restaurants making good food, six out of ten times, shut down in less than a year,” says Akhilesh Bali, co-founder of LimeTray. Founded in 2013, the restaurant management and marketing solutions provider helps restaurants in engaging with customers and selling more online.

The product start-up has undoubtedly set foot in a segment with great hunger.According to a National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) report, the Indian food services industry’s market size is expected to reach Rs.5.99 trillion by 2022-23. “When it comes to the organised market, it is expected to grow at about 12% year-on-year till 2024. In the same time period, the point-of-sale market is expected to grow at about 20-25% as adoption of POS increases,” says Rohan Agarwal, director, RedSeer.

And, LimeTray sits in a sweet spot, at the intersection of the two. With a base of over 4,500 clients across dine-in restaurants, bars, cafes, cloud kitchens and QSRs, it has acquired the trust of big names such as Burger King, Mad Over Donuts and Taco Bell.

For starters
Interestingly, LimeTray traces its roots to another foodtech company — Foodpanda. While Bali was part of the founding team that set up Foodpanda in India, co-founder Piyush Jain handled online marketing for the company. That platform was aimed at solving consumers’ problems (of finding good restaurants that home-deliver food), so the duo thought of an interesting spin on solving the restaurants’ problems. Citing a simple example, Bali explains, “Even today, there are very few places that use tablets to takeorders. So, we understood that there was a big opportunity in making digital solutionsfor this industry.”

In 2013, Bali and Jain decided to move on from Foodpanda and founded LimeTray under Alchemy Web. The original idea was simple: they would help restaurants set up their own online store. They approached over 100 restaurants in Delhi and Gurugram, and the first customer they on-boarded was Biryani Blues. “The happiness of the website going live and the first orders coming in remains unmatched,” he says.

Within a year, they had about 200 paying customers and decided to look for funding and expand their business. After remaining bootstrapped at Rs.3 million for the first 18 months, LimeTray received its first funding from Matrix Partners of around $1 million in October 2014. Till date, the company has received funding worth $5 million from the likes of JSW Ventures and Whiteboard Capital. Ankur Warikoo, entrepreneur and an angel investor in LimeTray, backs the start-up for its technological solutions. “Over the years, it was clear that the food industry was struggling on three fronts: To effectively handle all their offerings, to create their own online identity independent of the aggregator platforms and to be able to reach out to their customers in a timely and effective manner. LimeTray solved all of that with the help of technology,” he says.

Main course
But, can’t one get any web agency to set up an online store? So, what is unique about LimeTray? For one, the start-up offers a fully integrated CRM (customer relationship management) solution that creates automated marketing campaigns for restaurants to reach out to their customers. One of its many features is a coupon manager.“Restaurants offer a lot of coupons such as first-time offers, returning customer offers, and so on. Thus, we productised it and made a coupon manager where you could go andcreate any kind of coupon you want, and then push it to the right customer via email,SMS or notifications,” Bali explains.

So, the next time you get a message from your favourite restaurant about a sweet deal on a burgers+fries combo, you know LimeTray is behind it. The start-up claims that restaurants using the CRM solution have seen 62% increase in repeat sales and 35% increase in online revenue.

Besides the website/app builder and the CRM solution, LimeTray’s most unique offering and biggest revenue contributor is its third-party management system called Merge. At first glance, it may seem like the start-up is competing with the likes of Zomato and Swiggy by helping restaurants build their own online shop, but Merge shatters that illusion. It is essentially a channel manager that helps the employee at the counter manage orders from multiple aggregators at one place. So, instead of tracking orders on different tablets for different food delivery apps and then manually entering customer details into the main system, Merge shows all orders on one screen. “This solution was very well received by restaurants,” says Bali.

Delhi-based Burger Singh, which has around 50 outlets, had changed over 46 POS systems when it finally came across LimeTray. “The key turning point with LimeTray was when they came up with Merge, it helped in saving time by eliminating typos and human errors. We and a lot of other restaurateurs were looking for something like this,” says Rahul Seth, chief of staff at Burger Singh. The burger chain has been a loyal LimeTray client for the past three years.

For these offerings, standalone or bundled, LimeTray currently offers a six to 12-month subscription and customers are billed per outlet. While the cost varies based on the services chosen by a restaurateur, the average ticket price for one store is around Rs.4,000-5,000, says Bali. “If you were to buy these three-four solutions separately from different vendors, it would end up costing more. So, we pitch LimeTray as a one-stop solution,” he adds.

This convenience is what drew Vishal Jindal, owner of Biryani by Kilo, to the start-up. “As a cloud kitchen delivery business, we needed all the tech available for all aspects of our business,” he says. Biryani by Kilo, which has over 40 outlets across the country, has been LimeTray’s client since 2016 and the start-up is the restaurant’s biggest vendor.

For desserts
After India, the Middle East is LimeTray’s second biggest market. The move came in 2018 after LimeTray saw Zomato gaining ground in the region. “We now have customers from UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman and Saudi Arabia. The problems are universal and everybody needs the same technology, so we are now setting up things in Europe as well,” says Bali. Pre-COVID, 60% of the company’s revenue was from India (of which 80% came from Tier-I cities) and the rest 40% from abroad.

This brings us to how the pandemic has rained on LimeTray’s parade. Pre-COVID, the company claims that it was growing 50-60% year-on-year. And, for FY19, revenue stood atRs.175 million. But, with restaurants shutting down from March onwards, the start-up saw reduced business. “COVIDwas a testing period,” admits Bali. However, braving the odds, the start-up offered a waiver on subscription to newer companies during the early stages of the lockdown.

According to RedSeer’s Agarwal, the overall food service industry is expected to return to 80-90% normalcy post March-April 2021. Now, with hygiene becoming a major factor, a number of services are getting added to the list of requirements and restaurants are also maturing. “Ultimately, service providers that integrate everything will end up winning over the traditional ones,” says Agarwal. LimeTray has not been sitting idle either. Noticing the new trend of contactless dining, it immediately created QR codes for its clients that did not have an online presence, within two months of the lockdown.

But, leveraging technology for growth might be the last thing on restaurateurs’ minds, says Ankur Bisen, senior vice president, Technopak Advisors. “The priorities are currently focused on survival solutions. When it comes to technology, the question a client will ask is ‘how will you help me survive’ and not ‘how you will help me grow’,” he explains.

Meanwhile, LimeTray is in a space that has competitors such as TouchBistro and Toast globally, and POSist and Petpooja in India. But, Warikoo remains confident of the company’s growth prospects. “With food delivery becoming more and more mainstream, LimeTray is in the hotseat to capitalise on the trend. I see it as a big global player in the hospitality sector in the future,” he says. And, the numbers testify this. According to ReportLinker, the global restaurant management system is expected to grow at CAGR of 9.83% to touch $2.74 billion by 2025.

If LimeTray continues to tweak its menu as per client needs and scales its operations across geographies, then its success story will be an easy one to digest.