The idea for the travel dining platform, BonAppetour came after the thought of gate crashing a holiday dinner at a local home in London on Christmas Eve. Co-founder and CEO, Rinita Vanjre explains.
“My co-founder and I found ourselves in London on the evening of Christmas Eve one weekend, and since we were also very spontaneous travelers, we didn’t make plans or do much research before visiting,” she says. “When we arrived, we saw that all the restaurants [even McDonalds] were closed, so we had nothing to eat that night. As we were trying to find a place that was open, we passed by homes and saw families celebrating Christmas Eve together, having a feast. A tiny part of us wished that we could just crash their dinner and share in their good experiences as well.”
According to Vanjre, this was the beginning of where they saw a need for what many may regard as the ‘Airbnb of travel dining’. As she was traveling, they stayed in Airbnbs and liked it because it gave them a view of how each local city looks like. “There was one particular Airbnb host who was amazing because when we arrived at her place in Edinburgh, she was super friendly; she even made breakfast for us,” Vanjre recalls. “Because we had arrived at her house pretty early in the morning, she sat down with us and told us so many things to do in Edinburgh and shared many interesting perspectives of the city.” They left that experience thinking that they really connected with this particular host and made a new friend. It was at this point that the founders thought that every traveler should be given this type of opportunity.
”Although there is Airbnb, and that’s great, not all hosts have the patience or the passion to actually sit down with their guests and spend that type of quality time together with them, telling them more about their culture and other stories.”
Championing the evolution of the global food culture
The Singapore based startup leads as a pioneer at a time where not only when food culture around the world is evolving, but also when opportunities for innovation are plenty. The brand continues to evolve with ongoing changes and plans to stay on top of this growth. “There are new menus coming up that reflect new ways of cooking food, and a lot of our hosts are people who have been taught by their grandmothers who have passed down their traditional recipes. What is great is that many of our hosts have also been exposed to various global cuisines and tend to incorporate elements of what they learned into their cooking to create some sort of fusion.”
Creating whole new recipes for their guests is something that BonAppetour hosts are mindful of, but it extends beyond the merge of different flavors. Guests have the opportunity to be extremely detailed about their meal requests, down to their niche dietary restrictions. “A lot of people nowadays have particular dietary needs especially those who choose to go gluten free or are on say the paleo diet and many more. In a majority of cases, it might be difficult to find such foods at public diners, and not all restaurants offer such meals for very specific diets. The great thing about Bonappetour is that the host is cooking just for you, and they are able to customize their cooking to accommodate all of your dietary needs.”
What will ultimately pull all of this together is BonAppetour’s plan to create a community of people who are really passionate about cooking and about creating new flavors and establishing a global platform to share and exchange ideas with each other.
Smart, simple & user-friendly business model
BonAppetour’s business model is smart and user-friendly. It brings together a still rather fragmented global dining market industry, one that is largely offline and burgeoning, and presents it online. It is not only for globe-trotting individuals looking for unique local, cultural experiences — it’s also for individuals who are really passionate about their culture and their cooking, and gives them the opportunity to make their own way or make a mark in the hospitality industry. Their model is fairly similar to Airbnb’s, which helps potential guests book their reservations from an array of options, and are eventually matched with a potential host of their choice. A new BonAppetour mobile app, expected to launch in early July, will allow everyone to make bookings on-the-go, anywhere, anytime.
BonAppetour is now available on five continents and in some of the world’s top travel destinations like Tokyo, Paris, Cape Town and Florence. And it’s growing fast. And has caught the attention of financial heavyweights who are also investing in the service. In May 2016, the startup announced that it raised US$500,000 from Serial tech entrepreneur and investor, Wong Toon King of FarSight Capital and Prasetia Dwidharma, Indonesian angel investor Budi Setiadharma’s investment arm, spearheaded by Arya Setiadharma and Ardi Setiadharma.
From Boston to Paris — Creating amazing dining experiences…and friendships
According to Vanjre, the startup’s biggest wins are when its customers and hosts are happy after their experiences, because without this, it doesn’t really have a reason to exist. From awesome birthday dinners to magical proposals, she highlights a few pleasurable user experiences that reinforce the startup’s ultimate mission. “There was one event recently where a guest from Boston was traveling with his wife and a group of about 8 friends for his 50th birthday. He wanted to surprise his friends by not letting them know he was planning a home dining experience. It turned out to be really successful and he was really happy that the host [a perfect stranger at the time] was willing to make such arrangements for him and play along with his idea.”
In another example, a rooftop proposal in Italy overlooking the city’s skyline was successfully executed down to the very detail, complete with a musician, flowers, videographers and close friends, because the host turned friend was on the ground to help the future groom make all of these arrangements for the special day.
BonAppetour seeks to change the way people dine around the world as they travel, but the startup realizes that it will take it setting itself apart to make the type of difference that is necessary to achieve success. “From a strictly economic viewpoint, I would think that the travel industry is pretty heavily monopolized by certain companies that have been in existence for a while, and because of their presence, they get most of the customers traveling to a particular city. For newcomers to the industry, it can be difficult to make a mark and rise to success.”
What works for BonAppetour is that it is not your typical ‘touch and go’ travel platform. For a lot of travelers who just go on sightseeing trips for example, they do not actually get the opportunity to better understand how things function appreciate why their destination city has become the way it is both socially and culturally. This is where the platform adds much needed value.
“One thing about it is that apart from giving people the opportunity to make friends and have a great meal, we are giving people an opportunity to understand the culture at a much deeper level than they would otherwise have been able to,” Vanjre explains.
Of importance to the startup is the goal of creating a world that is not based on any type of bias or preconceived notions of other cultures. “A lot of the times when we have guests dining with our hosts in a city like say, Paris, they often comment about how friendly the hosts were, when before their experience, they really thought the French were all snobbish and arrogant.”
Vanjre reiterates that the startup is very focused on global travelers, but sees their offerings to be something that even locals will find valuable. She and her co-founders see this type of social dining become a norm especially for new residents to a city, including expats and immigrants, who want to assimilate into the community and be an active part of a cultural immersion experience even in their own homes. “In Singapore for example, we have so many different races — Indians, Chinese, Middle-Easterners, Indonesians and a large expat community of Italians and French. All of these people will want to learn more about each other through the dining experience.”
Eventually, BonAppetour would like to expand its offerings into some of the key culinary hubs around the world, but the most immediate next step is to enable dynamic booking for people to book on the day of itself through its new mobile app. “We see this to be a sign of huge growth for people in the community who want to look for something cool to do in the evenings or on the weekends and also for travelers who are looking for something more immediate, like where to eat today. So this is the plan for a least the next six months.”
Olusheyi Lawoyin is the Founder & Creative Director of The Voix. She can be reached at Olusheyi@thevoix.com.