Zomato “gets” foodies, and it gets them so well

I am a foodie. And a big Zomato fan, no pun intended anywhere. Here, I am going to talk about everything we foodies love about Zomato and all the things it could do better.

For the uninitiated, Zomato is a restaurant discovery platform with 74,800 restaurants listed across 19 cities and 4 countries, and claims to have served 62.5 million foodies till date. More simply, it is about food and where to find the best of it.

So this is how I met Zomato. I was in college till 2009, and whenever I needed to know of new places to eat or hang out at, I just asked a couple of friends and I had more recommendations than I could handle. But once I entered the world of technology, everything in life started to begin with a Google search. But that’s not how I discovered Zomato. That’s how I discovered that websites of restaurants, when they have one, are completely useless. They talk about everything except what I need to know.

I got to know of Zomato in a rather funny way. I was looking for some kickass About Us pages on the web, and a friend of mine pointed me towards Zomato’s team page on Facebook. It spoke the same language I spoke, had this young and fun feel about it, quirky bios of everyone on the team. I loved it. Then I gave their product a try. And I uttered — “My precious.”

And we have been together ever since. It’s been a rather smooth relationship, and now I will tell you of all the things I love about it.

When do you look for a new place to eat at? Most likely when you are in the mood for some good Italian food but have been to little Italy thrice in the last fortnight. Or you are at a friend’s place in your shorts and floaters, probably a little drunk, and want food delivered to your doorstep? Hyderabadi Biryani has not been very kind on your stomach lately, so you want to go for someplace lesser spicy. Zomato delivers on both counts by allowing you to search for restaurants by fine dining or delivery in your city. There’s also catching up and nightlife if you are in the let’s-go-hangout mood. And if you like searches the Google way, then you have a simple Search bar you can throw in all your keywords into.

But that is no rocket science, is it? No it isn’t. Actually most of the things that Zomato does isn’t rocket science. It’s just that they do it well, really well.

Then you get your search results in 0.035 seconds in a beautifully laid out page with everything you need. Ratings, timings, cost for two, bar or no bar, cash or card, reviews from people you follow (more on this later) and more. And then you can apply filters like wifi, outdoor seating, buffet and whatnot to find that perfect someplace for you. Again, all of it in what I can only call a lovely interface.

Then you choose a restaurant, and are presented with all the details you need on the restaurant. Up-to-date scanned copies of the complete menu (which they go door-to-door and collect manually), photos of the place and food (not the best, but manageable) and most importantly reviews. Comprehensive reviews from foodies, big foodies and connoisseurs. The reviews tell you everything about the ambiance of the place, the service, the dishes to try and then they give you more photos.

The reviews were not always these helpful. Then Zomato decided to create a food social network of sorts, and there has been no looking back ever since. You can follow foodies, so every time they add a new review, it comes up in your notification bar. Passionate foodies and wannabe food critics use this as an opportunity to educate their followers about food and the best of it.

As the number of reviews you post increase and more people find it helpful, you go from foodie to connoisseur, and you also become eligible for the leaderboard which is displayed in each city’s homepage. The catch is you have to enter a review having more than 50 words, and when you are doing that, you might as well write a good detailed review. And with the recent Instagram integration in the reviews, you can add pics for other foodies to drool over.

Sounds like the perfect love story, doesn’t it? Well, almost. There are some things that Zomato could have done better though.

The ads. They are some of the ugliest ads I have seen on the web. Every time I search for restaurants, a bunch of these ads come up in the right panel. And every time I see them, my eyes bleed and a little part of me dies. I understand Zomato has to make money and restaurants work with shitty digital agencies, but there has to be a better way. Featured listings, photo albums, more details, whatever it is that they can make money from as long as the ugly ads can go out the window.

iPhone app. While it has seen big improvements over time, it still isn’t as good as the website experience. And the consistency is missing across the two interfaces. You can just search by location or cuisine on the app, not by delivery, dine out, catching up and the like. But an interesting feature is the instant recommendation that tells of you of a random new place near you — if you don’t like it, just shake the phone and a new recommendation will come up. I think I could use a variant of this on the web interface as well.

The tags. A cafe is a cafe to me, so when it comes up in my search for Italian food, I start getting cranky. And this happens because under the cuisines tag, the cafe has American, European and Italian marked against it when it serves four dishes for each of those cuisines, and pretty bad one at that. Same with pubs having Indian, Mughlai, Chinese and Italian slapped against them. Of course, I have no qualms if the cafe or the pub serves really good food, but when I am looking out for good Indian food, neither a pub or a cafe or a restaurant having a total of three Indian dishes is what I am looking for.

Notifications. While I like to be notified when someone I am following posts a new review, why do I have to be notified when someone I follow follows someone else? I want to follow their food trail, but not every single thing they do.

All that said and done, I have to commend Zomato for everything it has done for us foodies, and for the industry as a whole. Only time will tell how it fares against the Yelps of the world as it expands into more mature markets, but it’s got an international product and the balls to take on the world.

I wish them all the best.