Online menu guide from India hopes to whet more appetites

An online restaurants guide based in India has earmarked $2 million to expand across the UAE.

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An online restaurants guide based in India has an appetite for growth in the Middle East having earmarked US$2 million (Dh7.3m) to launch across the UAE.

On Saturday, Zomato.com, based in New Delhi, launched its website in Dubai in its first venture outside India.

It also plans to provide listings to restaurants in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah in part of a $2m expansion.

Zomato, which currently covers 10 cities across India, serves up images of menu cards along with pictures and reviews of restaurants. It derives its revenues from advertising.

Deepinder Goyal, the website's co-founder and chief executive, said Zomato had created listings for 3,500 restaurants in Dubai, including photographs and GPS coordinates. Menu cards have been scanned for 90 per cent of those.

"You don't need to keep paper menu cards any more," said Mr Goyal.

The Dubai site went live on Saturday but is open only to those requesting access. It will be accessible to all later this month.

"The Middle East is the first stop for us outside India. In three to four months from now we will expand to Abu Dhabi and Sharjah," said Mr Goyal.

"So far we have spent $250,000. But we have kept aside $2m for Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi, the whole of the UAE."

The company has incorporated in Dubai Internet City and has 12 staff who tour the city collecting and updating restaurant information.

Zomato does not charge restaurants to list on the site but makes its money from paid advertising.

Mr Goyal said the site's Indian operations are on track to break even this year.

He said the appeal of the site to advertisers was that its users were specifically looking for somewhere to dine out.

"Because we get such a targeted audience, it makes sense for restaurants to advertise with us," he said.

However, the site will compete for advertising against existing rivals such as Time Out Dubai, MenuPages.ae and ATNinfo.com.

In India, Zomato claims a monthly user base of 4 million and 35,000 restaurant listings. It is available online and via mobile applications.

Mr Goyal said the company also published printed restaurant guides in India, which he expected to launch in Dubai next year.

The printed guides cost about $4 in India but Mr Goyal said the retail price would be higher for Dubai, probably about $10. "In India, we also publish printed restaurant guides. And in Dubai we will do that next year," he said.

Mr Goyal said the site was expanding to 12 locations in India and was considering launching in other markets such as Turkey and Egypt.