According to a recent study by Technavio, the global restaurant management market is set to witness a growth of nearly USD 2.95 billion from 2002 to 2025, growing at a CAGR of 14.04% during this period. North America will contribute 46% of that growth.
While the pandemic brought that growth to a halt for a time, now the restaurant industry is recovering. The pandemic forced restaurateurs to turn to digital solutions in the form of contactless payments, digital displays and interfaces, runner robots, and kitchen automation, the entire industry is reshaping itself at a rapid rate.
But for those small business owners who managed to survive the supply chain snarls and labor shortages, they are now facing another dilemma: how can they operate more efficiently and thrive in this ever-changing industry?
Asian-American restaurateurs, who have often built businesses on extremely thin margins, have borne the brunt of the pandemic. Around 6,000 Asian restaurants were shut down last year according to a study by The Restaurateur finds. In the United States, these restaurants are often built by first and second-generation immigrants, providing an affordable food option that has benefited customers for more than 100 years.
“Many of our clients turn to us for government aid programs and we have received more inquiries about new digital solutions since last year,” said Li Yu, the CEO and co-founder of MenuSifu, a digital solution provider, during an interview with Pandaily. “We can feel the ‘chop chop’. The industry is changing fast.”
The pandemic has posed new challenges for restaurant owners in general but Asian restaurant owners in particular are facing some unique long-lasting problems.
“A friend of mine who is a first-generation immigrant spent almost all his savings on starting a small restaurant. But due to his bad management, the restaurant was facing mounting pressure,” Li told Pandaily, recalling the time when he decided to start MenuSifu.
That restaurant owner struggled with the language barrier, a traditional but outdated operation, an aging workforce, a scarcity of banking relationships, and tight cash flow. That combination of problems made Li realize that this situation is in fact shared by many other Asian restaurant owners. So Li quit his job as a data researcher at Columbia’s Medical School and delved into the restaurant industry, hoping to bring more easy-to-use technology solutions to Asian restaurant businesses.
Founded in New York City in 2013, MenuSifu has built an all-in-one digital management system with both terminals and software. The system has multiple functions including POS, inventory management, ordering and reservation system, staff coordination, back-of-house management, kitchen displays, mobile ordering devices, and more.
Distinguished from other key players in the competitive field, MenuSifu has tapped into the market with a niche target: Asian restaurants. The name MenuSifu comes from the Cantonese word “Sifu” (师傅), which literally means “master.” It’s what Chinese people call a chef who helms the wok in a kitchen.
MenuSifu’s products support multiple languages, offers flexible services tailored for different types of cuisines, and provides 24/7 technical support. Part of the company’s team is based in China which lowers operational expenses so that the platform’s products can be made more affordable.
With a team of over 200 employees, MenuSifu has now garnered nearly 10,000 clients in the US and Canada, including small-to-medium enterprises and bigger food chains such as hand-tossed noodles vendor Xi’an Famous Foods, the spicy hotpot chain Liuyishou, and Shanghainese brand Little Alley. Over a third of the market in Asian restaurants choose MenuSifu.
According to Li, last year, the company brought in around $15 million in revenue generated from its hardware and software sales, payment transaction fees, and other services, and he expects to see solid growth in 2022.
Previously, MenuSifu has raised an Angel round from ZhenFund along with a $3 million Series A round from Amino Capital and Jubilee Capital Management. The company is now planning to close a Series C financing round at the end of this year.
Li believes that technology exists not only to make things easier but also to connect people. Small restaurants and new immigrants, who have access to fewer resources, deserve more support:
“We have a unique customer relationship that can facilitate these families to adopt the technology. We appreciate this trust. Food tech is fascinating, it’s like food itself. We bring people together. Our sales and support team are families, we are helping families.”
Fu Niu Tang is one of MenuSifu’s clients. The mini Chinese cuisine chain based in San Francisco is popular among engineers in Silicon Valley. MenuSifu helped Fu Niu Tang streamline and recognize its chefs and staff, reducing labor costs and increasing its delivery range. MenuSifu is more than just a POS supplier, team members helped Sunny use Facebook and learn how to convert platforms like Instagram and Google. Best of all, no extra fees were charged during the process.
“I am grateful that the MenuSifu team did not charge any fees throughout the process. Orders through the MenuSifu online order platform do not take commission with a service fee of only one dollar. Other platforms charge 20-30% of the cost,” said Sunny.
When the pandemic took hold of the world back in 2020, restaurants across the country were shut down and takeout and delivery became the primary method of sustaining business. MenuSifu helped SME owners speed up this transition with MealKeyway, the company’s professional online food ordering platform. With MealKeyway, restaurateurs were able to build an online food ordering system and delivery capabilities without paying pricy fees to giant delivery platforms.
The service also provides customer relationship management, marketing automation, and campaign ideas so that restaurants can reach their customers online.
Asea Fusion, a 5-year-old Japanese restaurant in Brooklyn, needed that strong support team during the pandemic, and MenuSifu came in. Asea Fusion turned to MenuSifu for the latest in POS technology. The sales team of MenuSifu joined in and helped Asea adopt several innovation solutions and went above and beyond what the company expected as a service.
“MenuSifu suggested that we adopt online ordering and digital advertising,” explained Asea Fusion’s owner. “With this support, the amount of takeaway orders in the past month has tripled compared to the same period last year. Our takeout business has transformed successfully! I feel warm-hearted and able to build my dreams.”
Over the years, MenuSifu has grown up with a batch of Asian restaurants and it has become clear to Li that the new generation of restaurateurs is embracing technology and benefiting from more creative management strategies. Meanwhile, they have inherited the hard-working virtues of older generations. This sector has been on a trajectory of growth in the past year according to Li and MenuSifu is actively exploring financing solutions for restaurant owners.
As Asian cuisines enter the international mainstream, the needs of restaurateurs are soaring. Being rooted in the industry, MenuSifu hopes to help them tackle all kinds of operational problems and grow together.