Lunch delivered to your desk, driven by technology

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Jessica Li, Jonathan Weins and Christian Edelmann co-founded Dah Makan last year.Jessica Li, Jonathan Weins and Christian Edelmann co-founded Dah Makan last year.

Not long ago, both of them were management consultants who hardly saw daylight outside the office. Their meals were eaten at their desks.

They realised they were not alone in doing this. Every day, large numbers of people also eat at their desks, both lunch and dinner. But the food delivery options here are limited, and hardly healthy.

This convinced Jessica Li and Jonathan Weins that there is a ready need to be filled, for healthy tasty food delivered right to the desk.

So, Dah Makan was born to be a food delivery service with a difference.

Every weekday, it offers one lunch dish, with inspirations drawn from cuisines around the world. One day, it could be Greek, the next Moroccan, then Italian, Japanese and so on, except for Malaysian food.

“There are already many great options for Malaysian food out there, and they do it really well. We don’t want to compete in the same space,” Li said.

The calorie count and ingredients are listed for every dish. Customers place their orders online, and the food box will be sent to their offices or homes, to be paid upon delivery.

Food delivery

Dah Makan is among the legions of food delivery services to have sprung up in the last couple of years, offering healthy and exotic cuisines. They are a far cry from the tiffin deliveries that used to be the hallmark of catered food.

Today’s version is upmarket, sleek and healthy, and target busy professionals stuck in their office. Given Malaysia’s congested roads, it’s not surprising that food deliveries has become appealing.

Li said Malaysians are increasingly keen on eating well with quality ingredients and healthier cooking methods.

“Many of them have lived abroad, and become used to the choices available there. Healthy eating is definitely picking up here,” she said.

Most of their customers are young, aged from 25 to 40.

These healthy lunch boxes have become quite a hit. Dah Makan now delivers 300 to 500 lunches a day, showing steady growth since its launch last November. The majority of its customers order a box every single day.

Two months ago, it began a dinner service. For dinner, customers can place an order for immediate delivery, and their box will arrive within 25 minutes.

Weins said they knew from experience that busy professionals often don’t think about food until they are hungry. And then, they did not want to wait 60 to 90 minutes for their food to arrive.

“We had worked in consultancy before, and we know how it is,” he said.

They are now mulling extending the meal service beyond dinner after the sahur promotion for Ramadan showed a good response of 10 to 20 boxes delivered between 2am and 4am each morning.

But while the meals are crafted in the kitchen with little touches like napkins and cutlery included to offer a better experience, it is technology that drives the business.

With so many boxes to be delivered within a short time, the planning has to be precise. A lot of work has gone into route planning to ensure that their 20-plus riders move about efficiently.

They have to get it right because there is only a tight window to deliver the boxes: between 1145am and 1230pm for lunch, and within 25 minutes for dinner.

“We have one person working just on route planning for each day based on the orders,” said Weins. “We are now building an app for us to track the riders.”

They are also building a system to predict food orders so as to minimise wastage, and allow them to deliver faster.

In fact, the technology side is so important that they have almost as many technical staff as kitchen staff.

It helps that both Li and Weins had worked in the Food Panda delivery services in Hong Kong where Li grew up. Weins is from Germany. They have two other partners including a Malaysian.

Right now, Dah Makan has yet to show a profit but they believe that it will be in the black by the end of this year based on the projected growth.

The venture was self-funded with USD40,000 but they now have an investor whose funds will go into building a bigger central kitchen, developing the logistics and app, and marketing the service.

“Technology has changed how food is delivered,” said Weins.

The lunch box can be Korean one day, and Mexican the nextThe lunch box can be Korean one day, and Mexican the next.

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