Restronaut Feeds Foodies and Founders in Dubai

Read In recently launched as an online-meets-offline startup by Dubai restaurateur Leith Matthews. Based on successful events at Leith’s business hub/café MAKE, the web-based platform serves Dubai’s appetite for fresh events by combining the city’s foodie culture and startup scene in one delicious package. Offering the chance for people to meet and discuss topics of interest while discovering hidden-gem restaurants, Restronaut is a bit like a curated Meetup that bridges the gap between all-too-easy online friendships and the challenge of building offline friendships.

The startup partners with local restaurants, selected for their food and ambiance, and then creates and advertises tables based on a theme, and invites a notable or influential speaker. Attendees book their tables and set menus in advance, and Restronaut takes a commission. Typically held on a weeknight, Restronaut gives local restauranteurs added business on a potentially slow night. Previous and upcoming events include Founders Dinners with Habib Haddad of Wamda, Louis Lebbos and Muhammed Mekki of Namshi, and Tarig El-Sheikh of Knot Standard. In the future, Restronaut will experiment with formats based on beverages, other event topics, and brand partners.

The Restronaut site itself is sleek and well-designed, enticing the reader with mouthwatering pictures of signature dishes at their partner restaurants. After registering, attendees choose an event based on the themes, menu and location, and they can even view who is at the table and make a decision based upon the other diners. Attendees can also socialize with like-minded people at their table, thus increasing the chances of great conversations and connections. 

Co-founder Ghazwan Hamdan explains it as a win-win-win: diners meet new people while discovering new restaurants, restaurants can fill tables on slow nights and find new customers, and Restronaut takes a small commission.

At the Restronaut event I attended at MAKE Business Hub, Namshi co-founders Louis Lebbos and Muhammed Mekki shared their experiences in founding, growing, and eventually leaving Namshi. Emphasizing their shared history as MBAs, McKinsey consultants, and Namshi cofounders, they are now teaming up again to offer education for entrepreneurs in the region. Namshi itself launched in less than 3 months with a large capital infusion from Rocket Internet, and focused on achieving ambitious growth from day one. Lebbos and Mekki gave an honest account of their experiences in the region, highlighting both successes (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is now their number one market) and failures (a bungled entry into Egypt).

Their  advice for entrepreneurs included making the distinction between an ‘experiment’ and a ‘failure’, which, they said, is determined by size. A failed product launch is an easy recovery, but a failed market entry has long-lasting effects. For e-commerce, the high percentage of cash on delivery (COD) orders throughout the Middle East, especially in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, presents a big challenge, as fake orders, effective pricing, and delayed payment become critical challenges to manage.

The food, of course, also played a key role in the evening. With family-style salads and starters as a first course, a rich mushroom risotto as a second course, and gooey brownies for dessert, the menu held up its end of the deal. Given the lineup of future events, Restronaut promises to bring a fresh perspective on both dining and socializing.

“We aim to make social truly social again,” says Leith Matthews.

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