New not-for-profit food app aims to help restaurants survive pandemic.

Apolinar Ventures CEO Anna Dao is on a mission to give back to New Zealand – specifically, her salary for six months.

Born in South Korea to parents who had fled war-torn Vietnam in the late 1960s, Dao hopes an idea that came to her during the level 4 lockdown will save jobs and prevent Kiwi restaurants and cafes from going under in the face of the economic hit they are taking from the coronavirus pandemic.

It revolves around the launch of Tuckr, a not-for-profit and low-fee food ordering app* designed to support local restaurants and takeaway businesses.

And she is literally putting her money where her mouth is - foregoing six months of her salary as Apolinar CEO to help get the project off the ground.

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Anna Dao, CEO of Apolinar. Photo / Supplied.
Anna Dao, CEO of Apolinar. Photo / Supplied.

"I moved to New Zealand with my family in 1991 when I was a month old. I grew up with a lot of opportunities here – now I feel it's my turn to do something for my fellow New Zealanders who may have had opportunities taken from them due to the pandemic," Dao says.

"With Tuckr, our priority is to save or even create jobs and to help restaurants keep enough revenue to get back on their feet."

Established food ordering and delivery apps like Uber Eats charge local businesses up to 36 per cent of an order's value, as well as a delivery fee charged to the customer, she says.

"When I found out during lockdown how much these companies were charging local businesses, I was incensed, like a lot of other people. I was sitting on my couch complaining about it to my husband, when he said: 'Why don't you do something about it?'."

She did, coming up with the idea of Tuckr, a platform being touted as an alternative to big players like Uber and Menulog, which charges local businesses 2.5 per cent of an order's value.

"There will be no set-up costs for a local business and registration with Tuckr is free. We're hoping that will help local restaurants keep as much as 30 per cent of their own money, instead of paying it out to a third party who isn't offering much outside of their ordering platform."

As well as takeaway orders for pick up or delivery (if the business offers it), Tuckr will also be able to handle restaurant bookings, on-premise ordering, and payment, allowing restaurants to offer a largely contactless experience for diners.

"There's no need for the customer to touch menus, EFTPOS terminals, or anything outside of cutlery and their meals, really."

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However, the decision to try and help local hospitality businesses has come at a very real cost to her and her husband – with Dao deciding to live off her savings while they get Tuckr up and running: "It's pushed back buying our first house by a couple of years."

Tuckr – which is free to join – is initially aimed at the Auckland market, with plans to expand nationwide as the audience grows. It's launching as a Restaurant Association survey conducted in May shows that, while 90 per cent of businesses have reopened, 69 per cent say their turnover is down on the same time last year, and 45 per cent say revenues are "significantly reduced."

"With one metre social distancing currently a requirement between seating, diminishing the number of customers businesses can seat, restaurants are already relying more on online ordering, pick-ups, and deliveries. This creates pressure to move to a successful online ordering and payment system as fast as possible," Dao says.

"Some restaurants increase their prices by up to 15 per cent to cover the mark-ups they have to pay on deliveries, meaning consumers pay more, the restaurants are still giving away a large percentage of their order, and nobody wins except the food ordering platforms."

A report released in May in the US by Noah Lichtenstein, managing partner of diversified private technology fund Crossover, reveals the steep mark-ups being charged in the food delivery sector there vary, the report says, between 17 per cent and over 40 per cent.

The report - The Hidden Cost of Food Delivery - says the US industry is expected to grow to US$365 billion by the end of the decade.

Dao says now is not the time for foreign-owned food ordering businesses like Uber Eats to be exploiting New Zealand's local market: "It's obvious our local industry is going to be struggling for some time. By helping them keep up to 36 per cent of their own money, money they earned through their own hard work anyway, we're hoping to help keep the doors open and people employed in these vital businesses.

"We're hopeful New Zealanders feel the same way - and will get behind Tuckr and support it."

Dao says Tuckr is already attracting strong interest from local restaurants and cafe owners, with a target of 500 sign-ups within 12 months. "A lot of businesses have tried to build their own apps, but Tuckr means customers can use one app for a wide range of restaurants. We can offer real value by operating at scale."

By giving up six months of salary, Dao says the set-up costs usually paid by restaurants can be funded.

Dao says Tuckr's success will never be measured in profits: "It will be in how many businesses we help survive the (Covid-19) crisis and how many jobs we can create or save. Now is not the time to be taking advantage of those that are already hurting."

*Tuckr is expected to launch in June, and is taking registrations of interest right now. To support Tuckr, and your local industry, register at tuckrapp.org.nz

Apolinar Ventures is the social enterprise ventures initiative of the Apolinar digital advisory group.