Local chef Ken Irvine teamed up with friend and tech entrepreneur Ralph Burleson to fill what they saw was a much needed platform for retail companies to help smaller, local businesses compete with the likes of Amazon. As they developed this technology, COVID-19 hit and drastically affected restaurants worldwide and a new idea was born – Dine.Direct.
“[Ralph and I] were chatting about Uber Eats, Grubhub, and other delivery services and how they were raking industry with exorbitant fees, eating profits that restaurants would be making and going to these big tech companies,” Irvine said. “We were making the product and Uber Eats was making all the money.”
Irvine instead considered how this could be the other way around, with technology working on behalf of restaurants. “How it should be,” he said.
Dine.Direct offers restaurants an easy order and delivery platform that won’t take upwards of 30 or 40% of their profits for delivering their food. When a restaurant decides to use the platform, a link is added to their website that retains the restaurant’s brand identity and lets them create a personalized avatar for their brand which directs customers to a Smart Menu. “There’s nothing about Dine.Direct,” said Irvine, “it’s all about the restaurant and our biggest goal aside from building community is to protect a restaurant’s brand, reputation, and profits – especially in these tough times.”
The Smart Menu takes customers to a menu that includes everything from guest customization for orders that will be serving multiple people, to pricing, photos of every item that can be enlarged, and notes for the order or delivery. “It’s super user friendly and extremely simple,” Irvine said of using it.
Irvine and his team have a goal with Dine.Direct that goes beyond just simplifying ordering food for diners and improving that process for restauranteurs. “Ralph and I decided a long time ago we’d give up our piece of the company to build a community,” he said. Restaurants aren’t charged to set up Dine.Direct on their websites, nor do they need to commit to monthly terms or fees to use or even try out the platform. Pricing is on a sliding scale based on an order amount, and that scale even decreases over time for higher priced orders. A $15 order, for example, starts with a charge of.50 cents for the platform fee. With a few dollars added in for delivery and liability insurance and no inflated delivery costs that the current big tech platforms incur, restaurants are able to save a considerable amount offering delivery on their own terms with Dine.Direct.
“Our concept is so well liked by the California Restaurant Association that they became a partner and endorsed us,” which Irvine told me was a huge deal. “We can keep our fee so low because restaurants are going to be able to help out other restaurants. We’re developing community and part of the reason the Association wanted to work with us is that their goal for 2021 is to develop more of a community versus an association, to seriously help each other out and we’re going to do that through our platform.” Irvine and his team are even offering their platform for free in California, with hopes that they can help save many of the currently struggling dining establishments across the state.
But they’re not stopping there, either. Dine.Direct has team members from across the globe and the platform is already expanding from California to other states in the U.S., as well as in Mexico and into Central and South America with plans to expand into Europe in 2021. “The team is made up of people from Barcelona, to Mexico, Singapore, San Francisco – all over the place,” said Irivne. “They’re young and have that ‘save the world’ mentality, so we’re all on board,” he added with a good-natured laugh.
Another part of what Dine.Direct offers to restauranteurs is help with marketing in a variety of formats: tutorials on how to take good photos of their dishes for the Smart Menu, social media, and data to help improve their site. According to Irvine, “Bleu Bohème did beta testing for 3 months and made thousands of changes to get it right – developed by restauranteurs, for restauranteurs.”
He also mentions how Dine.Direct will help restaurant employees by keeping the delivery in-house. “We were able to hire back lots of furloughed employees because they can deliver now,” Irvine explained, “and they love it. They’re making as much money delivering food as they did on the floor in a fine dining restaurant.”
Irvine and Burleson have further plans in the works to bring the benefits of their platform and other technologies to improve the lives of small business owners, customers, and even drivers, but for now their focus is getting Dine.Direct to as many restaurants who want it as they can. “We could flip a restaurant in a day,” Irvine said of getting Dine.Direct up and running. “All they need is a printer and at least a 10” tablet or other device that can connect to the internet.” For any restaurant that needs a printer, Irvine mentioned that Dine.Direct has a partnership with the largest printer company in the world, Epson, so that they can offer discounts to restaurants to help them get set up.
Restaurants can learn more about the platform at https://more.dine.direct/, and diners can already try the new delivery systems at some local restaurants in town such as Clayton’s Bakery & Bistro and Mexican Takeout by looking for the pick-up and/or delivery buttons with a restaurant’s new brand avatar next to it. Happy dining!