Globe and Mail: Pocket concierge customizes the dining experience

Published on Thursday, October 08, 2015


Globe and Mail article featuring UBC-affiliated venture, Tangoo.

Imagine sitting in an upscale restaurant, cocktail in hand, a new client across the table ripe for a potential business deal. The chef comes over to the table in her chef’s whites to chat about the menu and calls you by name when asking about any dietary needs.

This is the kind of personalized, upscale business dinner Paul Davidescu, co-founder and chief executive officer of Vancouver-based Tangoo, wants to provide his clients with its app of the same name.

“We want to help you make a memorable impression,” says Mr. Davidescu. “I see the purpose [of the app] as bringing people closer together through an experience, and dining is a very personal experience.”

Tangoo launched in early 2012 with the original goal of creating theme nights at local restaurants for up to 60 participants. But after months of no-show bookings and logistical snafus, Mr. Davidescu and his team pulled a complete turnaround in August, 2013.

In less than 24 hours, Tangoo re-emerged as a pocket concierge app that allows the user to choose a Vancouver restaurant based on specific criteria – the occasion, the desired food, the setting and even the participant’s mood.

The idea has been compared to Songza – an online music platform that allows users to pick a playlist of songs based on their mood or activity. Similarly, Tangoo takes into consideration the desired experience of the user and narrows down the choices in Vancouver’s saturated restaurant market.

The app now has 11,000 users and 50 restaurant partners – including culinary heavy-hitters such as Chambar and Sai Woo (nominated for enRoute magazine’s 2015 Top 10 new restaurants in Canada).

By providing the personalized experience that consumers increasingly crave, Tangoo is tapping into a valuable market trend, says Michael Mulvey, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Business.

“At its root it’s the desire to be recognized as an individual and not just as a generic customer,” says Dr. Mulvey. “And some businesses do a much better job at actually recognizing that by recognizing that people have different tastes and preferences and like to be addressed in a very personalized and humanized way.”

For years there have been a host of guidebooks to help diners find a great pizza place or an award-winning steakhouse, but the idea of combining technology with the opinions of like-minded people is a new take on an old theme, Dr. Mulvey says.

“They’re looking for the inside information,” he says, adding that it’s not just applicable to the restaurant business. “People want to know about the new club and whether it’s worth going to or not.”

Technology doesn’t have to mean automated or cold. Rather, the information gathering capabilities and convenience of technology can be combined nicely with the more traditional marketing adage: Give customers what they want.

“Now it’s not just about getting the populous vote that matters, but also the opinions of other people that share similar tastes,” says Dr. Mulvey. “For example, what’s romantic to one person won’t apply to another.”

Tangoo’s latest promotion, First Date Fever, takes its customization approach a step further and targets users on a first date. It allows users to “check-in” at more than two-dozen eateries and let the establishment know why they are there, explains Mr. Davidescu. This way the restaurant can provide perks, such as complimentary glasses of Prosecco or dessert, and get feedback from the user on its validity as a first-date hotspot.

“By checking in and saying why you’re there, you’re basically showing your hand, so it’s the restaurant’s opportunity to wingman you,” says Mr. Davidescu, adding that, down the road, this promo would be easily transferable to the business dinner. “If you’re there to impress a client, the restaurateurs can really act differently and help you make that memorable impression.”

Vancouver restaurateur Vikram Vij (Vij’s, Rangoli, My Shanti) acknowledges he wasn’t sure Tangoo could deliver on its promises to customize the Vancouver dining experience when he met Mr. Davidescu while shooting an episode of CBC’s Dragon’s Den. But the former Dragon says that once he was off-camera he had an opportunity to ask more questions and saw this as a promising business venture.

Now, as both a financial backer and restaurateur involved with Tangoo, Mr. Vij says he believes this app will succeed because “it’s always changing and listening to customers and adapting, just like we do in the restaurant business.”

As someone who interacts with his customers on a nightly basis, greeting them at the door and recommending dishes to try, Mr. Vij says this app allows for that customized dining experience to begin even before people step into the restaurant.

“That personalization is what is so important and that’s what Tangoo does,” says Mr. Vij. “Maybe there’s not a human being on the other side, but people are still looking for that tailored information.”

Read the full article here.