One common question we get from Chinese friends arriving in Singapore is “Why aren’t there any good food review platforms like Dianping here?”
Singapore boasts a plethora of food options – hawkers, cafes, bars and restaurants – and there are tonnes of businesses targeting the F&B sector: payment, loyalty, POS etc., and of course, food delivery.
You can see from the stickers outside a typical food establishment in Singapore:
However, there doesn’t seem to be a leader in reviewing these food establishments, which helps them drive traffic.
A review platform takes a community to contribute authentic, trustworthy and attractive sharings in order to prosper. Tiktok, Xiaohongshu and Telegram have been doing well in this aspect:
- TikTok’s user-created videos take the readers through a journey to see the restaurant and describe the food. Whilst it is good, users are only seeing one video at a time – and the search is not exactly good.
- Xiaohongshu, a Chinese lifestyle review platform, has also gained momentum in Singapore. Similar to TikTok, it has an algorithm that pushes videos/ articles to the users, but unlike TikTok, users can see a range of videos at any one time. Users can see restaurants pushed to them, in addition to the makeup, tourist site and lifestyle goods that they are interested in. Plus – Xiaohongshu has grown so big in the market now that the volume of reviews for any one restaurant/ product/ place is meaningful.
- Food review channels on Telegram have built up local communities for their subscribers to provide personal recommendations. Channels such as TasteSoul compile the latest spots to satisfy cravings and even has a comment function for diners to leave their honest review. While there is the occasional bot that leaves fake reviews, it is generally quite easy to tell.
Why are there no successful food review platforms in Singapore?
The people’s passion for food in Singapore can be demonstrated by the activities happening on the platforms above. The natural question is: why is there no equivalent of Yelp or Dianping in Singapore?
There have been many dedicated food review platforms that have existed in the market. But very few were able to continuously acquire new users at low cost, keep existing users engaged, continuously grow and eventually, implement a sustainable monetisation strategy- i.e. the playbook for any tech companies today.
What is the secret sauce? It boils down to the very business model of food review. A platform needs continuous operations on both F&B and consumers to ensure that customers will always find what they want (good experience).
However, the very business model that depends on advertising can be a hard sell at scale, especially in Singapore whose market is relatively small. To succeed or even sustain, a platform has to be either very low maintenance (like the Telegram groups), generic (like TikTok), or focused on transactions with reviews as a side function (like Chope or Eatigo).
Dedicated food review platforms might work better with a food delivery platform rather than standalone: Dianping merged with Meituan in China, and Wongnai merged with LineMan in Thailand. In comparison, Yelp, as a standalone platform, has a market cap of barely US$2 billion despite being a leader in the US market.
Revival of fortunes
In Singapore, one company that many remember was HungryGoWhere – it was a popular food review platform between 2006, when it was founded, and 2012, when SingTel acquired it for S$12 million (US$8.7 million).
However, it did not achieve the potential that SingTel had hoped at acquisition for a number of people, organizational and (as a result) product issues. Eventually, the site announced its closure in July 2021.
Until last week, when Grab announced that it had bought and relaunched Singapore’s HungryGoWhere.
The synergies are clear – just as Meituan-Dianping or Lineman-Wongnai: a well-run review platform keeps both consumers and merchants engaged at low cost (as compared to a food delivery platform), driving the flywheel of the merchant – consumer – fulfilment ecosystem.
Grab already has the base of both merchants and consumers – they should theoretically easily incentivise merchants to maintain their review profiles, and consumers to leave their authentic, trustworthy and attractive reviews.
Equally importantly, merchants’ attention on such platforms can directly drive transactions, through food delivery or pick up at least.