What and where to eat for lunch is a real issue for every office worker. Getting a meal is a time-consuming exercise both for dining-in and takeaway. With years of experience in retailing, Jerry Lam came up with the idea of selling bento box meals with pick-up machines. First of its kind in Hong Kong, his smart co-dining platform EC Bento debuted in 2019.
Sharing economy applications come in all forms nowadays but none of them are related to food catering. Lam sees great opportunities in co-dining. The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened hygiene concern and his bento box pick-up machines can ensure safe meals with minimum infection risk.
Personalized meals and pick up points
EC Bento’s bento box pick-up machines are no ordinary food machines. As Lam points out, these bento box pick-up machines literally “think out of the box”. Teaming up with restaurants and supported by a mobile app with a menu of different daily offers, EC Bento gives customers full flexibility to choose what, when and where they want to eat. “Our menu is updated daily and caters to individual needs by offering international cuisine. Every pick-up machine has a keep-warm function to ensure meal boxes come out steaming hot.”
Lam says food is freshly prepared daily and delivered by a professional logistics team to the pick-up machines for collection. The whole process, from meal ordering, transportation, loading into the pick-up machines and meal collection, is performed by intelligent control to maintain good food quality. According to Lam, not all meals from all suppliers are suitable to be supplied by pick-up machine and repeated tests are necessary before a meal goes on sale.
Attracting more partners of various sectors
The pandemic has put many small restaurants in difficulties. Lam says frankly he wants to help them open up new business channels, “The platform is the solution to many restaurants that find it hard to handle food deliveries. They can also reach customers in many districts while saving on manpower cost.” Apart from ensuring food quality and smooth operation, the AI system also collects customer data to inform restaurants of diners’ preferences and habits. They can enhance their menus to suit the market.
EC Bento pick-up machines are located at 25 collection points across Hong Kong. Most of them are set up in office and industrial buildings in business and industrial areas to serve office workers. “The one-hour lunch break is really short. Getting your meal quickly means you can chill out for half an hour after enjoying your meal.” Lam says the self-help pickup machines have caught the eye of developers and companies. Many have approached EC Bento voluntarily to discuss cooperation. The machines may be introduced in shopping malls and residential developments in the future.
Advantage over food delivery platforms
Food delivery platforms are developing very quickly at the moment but Lam does not think that would undermine EC Bento’s advantage. “Food delivery platforms are often hindered by territorial restrictions. By the time the delivery man arrives, the food may have gone half cold with condensation on the cover. There are no such issues when you order a meal at EC Bento.”
Currently, EC Bento has 17,000 users. Lam points out that business has been growing in the pandemic and he is optimistic about development prospects. “Even when the pandemic is over, we can still offer wider and faster food choices. I don’t think anyone would say no to that.”