A matter of necessity

Owner of Mum's Place Christopher de Mello

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Mum’s Place is a famous restaurant in Damansara Perdana specialising in Portuguese and Nyonya food. Part of its fame resides in the fact that it’s been around for nearly two decades and is still hugely popular.

Perhaps this is why the owner, Christopher de Mello, took his time about signing up with any of the home delivery platforms, chafing at the significant cut these platforms (especially the most popular ones) were demanding. “Frankly, when we heard what they were asking, it put us off. We would essentially be working for free if we gave them that.”

De Mello is a self-confessed Luddite. Describing himself as “archaic” when it comes to computers and anything online, he was forced to reconsider when the Movement Control Order (MCO) was extended from two weeks to a month. Although his business was doing well enough to take the two-week break, he was not prepared for the extension.

The restaurant was popular enough for clients to call and email De Mello and his wife to ask when it was going to reopen or whether they would consider doing deliveries. “This has been more rampant over the past 10 days, maybe the fasting month was coming up.”

Although it is popular most days (you need a reservation to get a table at dinner), its stellar months are during Chinese New Year and Ramadan, says De Mello. There was no way he could miss out on this market. So he started to look at delivery options.

Even before the MCO kicked in, De Mello had been trying to get onto the Grab Food platform. “We were trying our luck but it was not that easy because you have to wait for one to two weeks for the town hall where they meet the merchants, register you and tell you the do’s and don’ts. Grab Food has grown so big that they have to do it this way unlike in the early days when they came to see you personally.”

He couldn’t afford to wait that long. So, in the meantime, his nephew, Joachim Sebastian, founder of Everpeaks, a local multi-channel e-commerce solutions provider, signed Mum’s Place up on Beep Delivery.

Beep Delivery is a POS-integrated food delivery feature for F&B (food and beverage) businesses that was launched by StoreHub, a technology platform for retail and F&B businesses, just 48 hours after the MCO was announced.

“Joachim registered us on mumsplace.beepit.com and did all the nitty gritty to sign us up. It was a tedious process. For my part, frankly, I don’t have much experience in doing things like this. And you had to key in a lot of things, unlike other food companies where the process is fairly straightforward.

“This one gives you the whole backend system. When a customer comes to the page, the first thing it asks is if they want to pick the food up themselves or get it delivered. If they ask for delivery, it will then ask them for location details. And once you fill that up, it goes straight to the menu application,” he says, still fascinated by the entire process.

As with the other restaurants, Mum’s Place has had to come up with a number of set menus. “We basically know what our customers order. For instance, there is a set menu for millennials with dishes like rice and sotong sambal. Anyway, we came up with nine menus on this application.

“For those who are keen to try our dishes, they can order the set menu with some dishes on the side,” he says.

Once the customer has keyed in his order, the app will calculate delivery charges based on the customer's location. “The max they are willing to go now is 20km. For anything below 5km, delivery charges are a flat rate of RM5 and anything more is about 80 sen per km, I think.”

When he calculated how much this platform would take, it worked out to 10% to 12% only. “Which is bearable compared with the 30% to 35% minimum of the more established platforms. I mean, who even makes 30% profit nowadays? Not unless you’re an Ah Long. So that’s why people have to mark up their prices or design a special menu for those other platforms.”

Regardless, De Mello is determined to make up for lost time and sign up for every platform there is. “I’m going to apply to Grab, Foodpanda, Bungkusit, DeliverEat, GoGet, you name it. We will do five or six at one go. The thing that got us going is Beep Delivery and Orbit (another online delivery system for restaurants). But we will get on all the others as well.”

In his previous life, De Mello was a general manager with Arab Malaysian Credit for 20 years. “We did things like term loans, equipment financing, share margin trading and hire purchase. We were a division of the merchant banking side.

“When I first started the restaurant, it was a huge transition for me. I went from being chauffeur-driven, wearing suits and going for board meetings to this. I didn’t have a secretary to do stuff for me anymore. It was interesting, but also very challenging.”

He went through a steep learning curve for the first 15 months but his banking background and orderly mind came to the rescue and he put systems in place for everything. The restaurant, which is so named because its star dishes are based on the recipes of his late mother and late mother-in-law grew and flourished.

“We started out with eight workers and went up to 59 at one time when we had seven shop lots for the restaurant as well as a catering business. And this was excluding part-timers.”

After 2009, however, he dialed it back. “We decided to stop outdoor catering because staffing was becoming a huge problem in the service industry.”

Come September, Mum’s Place would have been around for 19 years. It is well-known for the consistency in the quality of its famous dishes such as its otak-otak, ikan cencaru and sambal sotong. De Mello credits his wife and sister-in-law for this.

“The main people to train the staff and come up with the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are my wife and her sister. The two of them are there every day to ensure the paste, the taste and the cooking techniques are adhered to.

“They monitor the back-end while I take care of the front-end operations staff and marketing and deal with suppliers,” he says.

The combination has worked, which is why two decades later, the restaurant is still around. And it was doing well right up to the MCO. De Mello does not expect things to go back to normal after the MCO is lifted and has rearranged his restaurant accordingly.

“We have scaled down our seating by 40% to 50% to allow for the proper distance between tables. This is so that people will be comfortable to come and dine but it will affect our revenues. That’s why an online presence is so important, not only for the duration of the MCO, but after that,” he points out.

De Mello has about 20 staff and is doing his best to retain them. “Worse comes to worst, we will pay them what we can afford and when times are better, reward them accordingly. It’s good to value your staff at this critical time. We’ve been paying them allowances and buying them food and groceries. But with the delivery business, their salaries should resume in May.”