Author’s Blurb: “My mind doesn’t automatically go to a 5-star dining experience equipped with rooftop city views when I think of my favorite restaurant. It goes to my beloved chili pan mee joint where the aunty gives me extra lard toppings without prompt, because she just knows me and my tastes so well.”
The perfect dining experience isn’t always just about the affordability or quality of meals—the feeling of familiarity and warmth that comes with them matters too.
One might also think that this feeling would only be replicable at their go-to noodle shop, or the likes of it.
But the team behind UMAI’s restaurant management system has enabled larger F&B players to reproduce that feeling.
UMAI wants to help their existing clients—who are mainly large scale restaurants across Asia—”bring back customers twice as often” by using this tactic, and needless to say, I was intrigued.
Getting Intimate, With The Help Of Data
At first glance, UMAI’s management system looks similar to the likes of TableApp’s feature for restaurant owners.
Both seem similar in the way that they’d make life easier for owners when it comes to managing reservations and promoting via social media.
But UMAI allows for owners to take a more intimate approach, and their detailed profile is evidence of this.
The ‘guest’ feature allows for owners to be able to access more personal information of their guests. This includes the ability to monitor their dietary preferences, number and email, and even job positions.
They’re definitely quite serious about out-performing chili pan mee aunties.
Data collection can take place during a meal, where a guest’s dietary restrictions, favourite meals, and more will be registered in the system.
After a meal, restaurants registered with UMAI can quiz guests about their overall feedback about the meal and experience, as well as note other metrics such as their seating preferences.
How Do They Do It?
I stumbled upon a quote from Jonas Chelbat, founder of UMAI, in an interview with The Star Malaysia.
“If they (customers) are a social media influencer, we would suggest getting the chef to greet them instead of a waiter. Or if the system figures out you’re coming on your birthday, the restaurant will know to prepare a surprise.”
In the same interview, Jonas explained that this is done by “investigative software”—one that can notify restaurant owners of potential no-shows when a guest has double booked at a different restaurant.
But wait, does this mean both restaurants have to be using UMAI for the system to cross-detect them? How does this relate back to them bringing back more customers? How do you determine if a guest is worthy enough to warrant a visit from the chef?
We got hold of Alex Small, co-founder and managing director of UMAI to grill him on the science of the software.
Unfortunately, Alex told us that the specifics of the software were their “secret sauce” and he wouldn’t be able to explain this in detail.
According to Alex’s brief explanation, the system simply pulls publicly available data from social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram in order to decide this.
But justifiably, the UMAI team was tight-lipped about everything else.
I personally have a theory, though. A common way this is done is through ‘data scraping’ aka web harvesting, a perfectly legal way of obtaining and compiling public information.
Again, this is just something they could be doing via a system that is tweaked to collect user information. As for the real way this works, we’ve yet to know.
While I was writing this piece, I also vaguely remembered coming across them in the past. It turns out that I had dined at an UMAI registered restaurant early this year.
If my memory serves me well, the waiter had then asked for my number and email after the meal.
Right, so it wasn’t because he fancied me. What a bummer.
The restaurant, Knowhere Eatery & Bar, uses UMAI’s loyalty program to give me credits I can redeem within a period of time if I ever wanted to come back again.
“Restaurants, cafes, bars, etc. typically serve customers, then cross their fingers and pray to the gods of F&B that their customers come back,” Alex said.
“Our clients sign up more than half of their customers to their loyalty program, which gives the customers credits they can redeem in subsequent purchases.”
According to him, their loyalty program feature can drive an increase in revenue of about 5%-15% within a few months.
The UMAI Edge
I can imagine how difficult it is for bigger restaurants (with a constant rotation of staff) to rely on memory alone to know preferences, and this can create somewhat of a gap between a customer’s experience and the restaurant.
What transpires is then mediocre reviews or guests only visiting a place once and then forgetting about them altogether.
UMAI is aware of this lack of personal touch, which is why they’re constantly on the hunt for innovative new ideas to bridge this gap.
On their website, they boast more than 500 restaurants across four countries using their services.
“We serve all categories of F&B operators from bars on the 50 best in Asia List, to one of the largest coffee chains in South East Asia, to Michelin restaurants, to hotels, to one of the largest global ice cream chain brands,” Alex shared.
Some names you might have already heard of are Troika Sky Dining, La Bodega, Dining In The Dark KL, and Wingstop.
When asked about UMAI’s plans for the next two years, Alex responded in kind.
“We expect to be on more than four continents by then. We believe it’s only a matter of time before UMAI is the largest provider of hospitality CRM software based out of Asia Pacific.”
Bottom Line: “I find that what UMAI is doing goes above and beyond the usual ‘reservation management’ concept. If I ever one day visit an UMAI registered restaurant without knowing and am automatically greeted with a surprise birthday cake—you can bet I’d leave them a glorious review.”
This article first appeared in the Vulcan Post.