There is a farmhouse in Gurugram. A few kilometres from Sikandarpur metro station. A sanctuary of sorts, it doesn’t look special. But senior Zomato leaders leave their plush offices in other parts of Gurugram to sequester themselves in this farmhouse. It is where they come to focus. ‘Have a bug, go to the “offsite”.’ ‘New launch around the corner, brainstorm at the farmhouse.’ There is a big group, which is supposed to assemble at the farmhouse sometime this month. These people will work on launching Gold—a subscription platform Zomato plans to unveil within two months.

This platform exists in Dubai and Portugal. The subscription gets users access to exclusive deals at restaurants and pubs. Restaurants love it because it drives footfall and they can spare a few dollars. Customers love it, because who doesn’t like free lunch? And Zomato loves it because it is making more money from its extensive feet-on-street marketing exercise.

Through Gold in Portugal, customers get various offers: a free drink, or even a meal. A quarterly subscription costs 14 ($16.47 or Rs 1,077). In Dubai, the deal amounts to about the same. India is set to follow a similar path. Except there already is a delivery subscription service called Treats. This is bound to fold in Gold, a few months after its launch. As a Zomato spokesperson said in an emailed reply: “While both are subscription based programs for users – much like Amazon Prime, they are not both focused on delivery. While treats compliments our online ordering business, Gold is largely focused on driving in restaurant experiences for our users.”

Gold, on the face of it, looks like small strategic change. But moving to this platform will force it into the conversation, not only when it comes to eating out but also ordering in.

Consider this. Recently, Swiggy raised money from investors, including Naspers. The company is valued at around $350-$400 million (around Rs 2,300 crore). Sprinkle that with the emergence of UberEATS, with its seemingly unlimited treasure chest, which has set up shop in Delhi NCR (Zomato’s backyard) and Mumbai. Then toss it up with Google’s plans to start listing restaurants. Zomato needs to roll up its sleeves and retain the customers it has acquired through years of marketing.

Zomato knows that its perceived monopoly in the listing space won’t last. India will never be a single-player market. After all, even in China there exist two unicorns, Meituan Waimai and El.me, who operate in that space. But it also means Zomato, which was almost always equated with food tech, will see that change. And that’s why Gold.

AUTHOR

Patanjali Pahwa

Patanjali has spent over seven years in journalism. He last worked at Business Standard as Principal Correspondent, where he wrote on startups, e-commerce companies and venture capital. He has worked at an array of institutions, which include Forbes India, Caravan and Outlook Business. He is a Mumbaikar, born and brought up. Patanjali did his BSc in IT from Mumbai University and then got his journalism degree from IIJNM in Bangalore. He is enamoured by Ernest Hemingway and Tom Waits and may try to sneak in references to them in his stories.

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