Opaala co-founders Marwan Saab and Giles Wright Image Credit: Supplied

Hospitality-tech start-up, Opaala, offers a smart service platform that reduces overhead costs, eliminates the waiting period, and increases revenue through a contactless, mobile-powered solution. Following the Coronavirus pandemic, Opaala’s exciting smart-service system has now been integrated into multiple food and beverage and hospitality venues across the UAE.

Opaala co-founders Marwan Saab and Giles Wright talk about their efforts to digitize and enhance the customer experience in the region.

Excerpts from the interview:

Tell us about Opaala. How does it stand out in the food, beverage and hospitality sector?

Marwan Saab: Opaala was born pre-COVID-19 to help F&B/hospitality venues improve efficiency, reduce overhead costs, and increase revenue, while most QR concepts came to life as an immediate reaction to contactless requirements. Their main aim was to eliminate physical contact with menus, or as a temporary pivot from their core products. We service all types of F&B venues, hotels, arenas, cinemas and events, each with unique features for their particular requirements.

How was the concept born?

Giles Wright : Opaala was born out of need. While visiting a few of our favorite venues, we noticed the difficulties in maintaining quality service during high footfalls. Guests can often be ignored if not sitting in the direct line of sight. This means a loss of revenue for the venue and frustration for the customer.

We sketched out a solution and built a demo. We shared this with one of our favourite coffee shops and within a few days of setting up the platform, they saw an immediate impact on service and sales, with both staff and customers giving us some great feedback.

What are the unique features that create a customized experience for the customer and venue? How does it bridge the gap between the two?

Marwan: Opaala provides a dynamic live menu that is searchable and filterable, based on dietary requirements, and can be viewed in multiple languages. Venues can create schedules where prices change automatically making it perfect for specials, happy hours, and late night menus when the kitchen staff is stripped down.

We let customers make special requests and communicate with staff directly from their phone. For hotels, guests are able to have a live, direct conversation with the concierge and other staff.

If guests move around a venue and place orders from different tables in the same sitting, the platform automatically identifies where they are, tracking and collating their orders on each table. Bill splitting within tables is automatic.

How many businesses are currently using the Opaala platform? Who are your current partners?

Giles: In the past couple of months, we've launched the platform across 45 venues and six countries. Some of our partners include Zabeel House The Greens, Nikki Beach Hotels and Resorts, Anantara Hotel and Resort, Nightjar, RIVA Beach Club, North 28 and Akiba Dori.

What impact has the company had so far on UAE businesses?

Giles: We've seen a direct impact with reduction of overhead costs, with a few venues seeing more than 30 per cent reduction, and an increased revenue between 15 and 25 per cent despite reduced capacity, not to mention the ecological savings on wasted paper for menus.

The use of the platform keeps increasing, with one of our venues serving close to 100 per cent of their orders through Opaala.

What makes Opaala different from the QR-code concepts we see around in the UAE?

Marwan: Many venues had to resort to quick-fix QR based menus that lead to static PDFs to satisfy contactless requirements, but those are difficult to read through as they're not mobile optimised. Others provide a digital version that cannot be used to place an order.

We provide venues with a fully functional platform that identifies individual tables and gives customers the ability to customize their experience. But most importantly, we work closely with venues to tailor the solution to their needs, adding new features to help with their specific needs.

What growth do you see a year from now?

Marwan: We're supporting our restaurant partners by offering them our reMote delivery platform as an extension of our inVenue feature to help them extend their reach. We will also be expanding our Hotel, Cinema, and Events divisions.

Your expansion plans?

Giles: Our expansion plans have grown much faster than anticipated. At the moment, we are live in the UAE, Oman, Greece, Thailand, Montenegro, Hungary, and currently in discussions with venues across the GCC, the UK, Mexico, Canada, Turkey, Egypt, and more.