How digital platforms changed the way the restaurant industry works

The study's findings include expanding the company's workforce and infrastructure and raising the company's profile.

How digital platforms changed the way the restaurant industry works
The use of digital platforms has revolutionized the service industry, including restaurants. Photo by Fabrizio Magoni / Unsplash

The first reason a restaurant might join a digital platform is to make sure it stays open in the face of a health emergency and a changing market. According to a study done by the Institute of Social Research (IIS) of the UNAM, this is also done to make the business more visible and bring in new customers.

Miguel Armando López Leyva, who is in charge of this academic institution, said that the research project "Experiences, perceptions, and attitudes of restaurant businessmen about DiDi Food Mexico" is a good example of the institution's potential to connect with different parts of society.

It's important to note that two out of every five new businesses in the country are in the restaurant business, where digital platforms are a "lifeline" for survival.

We have done the research, studies, and analysis at the IIS about the effects and possibilities of the pandemic, he said during the panel The Impact of platforms in the transformation of the restaurant industry: the case of DiDi Food.

Researchers Maria Josefa Santos Corral and Luca Carmina Jasso López did this study. It shows how important information and communication technologies are for companies to grow and change. She thought, "Platforms are here to stay. It's not that they didn't exist before, but they give a new way to think about how things can change in the future."

The results of the study

Lucía Carmina Jasso explained that, unlike other investigations, this one is approached from the perspective of the restaurateurs; "it is qualitative fieldwork, carried out on the sidewalk, in garages, in small premises; it was a work of micro and small businesses.

We wanted to know how they adapted to the new patterns of digital reality and how the platforms were technological mediators. "We went to the field with the objectives we defined together with DiDi." The research, which made it possible to recover "live voice" narratives, was conducted in four cities: Xalapa, Guadalajara, San Luis Potosí, and Oaxaca; plus a pilot in Mexico City.

We found cases of restaurants that with the use of digital platforms went from three to eight employees, or that from having one fryer now have two. Some entrepreneurs said that 90 percent of their orders are through the platform; in other words, it has had a great economic impact.

Of course, with this technology, there has been growth in terms of territory and visibility for these food businesses. In principle, they perceive that they are in an infinite virtual showcase, even the "stallholders", she pointed out.

María Josefa Santos explained that among the challenges for MSMEs are some difficulties due to economic reasons, such as the payment of the percentage of the platform and its technological operation.

We observed "that the opportunities are not only in areas such as training in the use of the platform but also in administrative skills" so that in addition to increasing sales, profits also grow. "One of the suggestions we made was that training for DiDi to become a partner of the restaurants, beyond being their delivery person."

They also detected that the use of the platform favors greater interaction of families, because now young people participate, especially in the digital part.

Meanwhile, the executive president of the National Chamber of the Restaurant and Seasoned Food Industry, Daniela Mijares Martínez, stressed that 96 percent of this sector corresponds to micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, the so-called MSMEs.

In addition, we are an industry with a woman's face, because 56 percent of our workforce is female and even more important is that 50 percent of them are heads of household, she pointed out.

It was predicted that the digitalization process in this sector would take three to five years, but it took only a year and a half. Restaurants with a larger administrative and corporate structure were able to do it efficiently and quickly, but this was not the case for all of them. Ninety-six percent of the establishments, such as small restaurants, now have digital platforms at their disposal; "the challenge is very big, not only to bring them closer to them but also to explain to them the technological tools available for the operation of their establishments," she said.

According to DiDi Food's senior director of Government Affairs and Public Policy for Spanish-speaking Latin America, Vicente Roqueñí López, for companies it is essential "to find spaces for analysis about the impact and value we contribute to society. That was the reason why we sought to partner with IIS and develop this research".

99 percent of the companies in the country are MSMEs and generate 72 percent of the jobs; in this case, 85 percent of the restaurants affiliated with DiDi are also MSMEs. "We have managed to include micro-businesses and 'changarros', which never thought of being part of a digital platform".

Speaking at the event, the director for New Business Development of DiDi Food, Arnulfo González Hernández, recalled that the company began operations in Mexico in February 2019, in Guadalajara; that same year it expanded to Mexico City and Monterrey until it currently has a presence in 70 cities in all states of the country.

We want to know the needs of our restaurant partners, and part of that is this study. We have close to 50 thousand restaurants that are permanently "connected" in the application, which represents an additional sales channel and also an amplification channel to reach consumers who otherwise would not have been "contacted".

Thanks to the study conducted by UNAM, "we can continue to learn and make a contribution to the delivery industry. Digital transformation must become an emblem for SMEs; it is a great opportunity for improvement," he concluded.