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Travel & Leisure

Japan restaurant-booking startup looks to domestic market

With borders still closed, Tablecross expands service for locals

Tablecross is shifting its service, placing new emphasis on reaching Japanese customers as the COVID-19 pandemic keeps Japan's borders closed. (Photo courtesy of Serkan Toso) 

TOKYO -- Tokyo-based online restaurant reservation service Tablecross, which started out mainly serving visitors from overseas, is expanding services aimed at Japanese as the COVID-19 pandemic keeps the country's borders closed to international tourism.

Tablecross offers restaurant bookings through its platform, called byFood.com, which caters mainly to overseas tourists in various Japanese cities. It also offers food experiences, such as Japanese cooking classes. For every booking made through the platform, the company donates a part of its profit to feed children in developing countries.

It counts online brokerage Monex Ventures and angel investors among its strategic backers. The platform, which was set up in 2019, now has 45,000 monthly visitors, the company says.

"The travel and food service industries are among the most affected sectors," due to the sharp drop in international demand brought on by entry restrictions following the COVID-19 outbreak, Serkan Toso, chief operating officer of Tablecross, told Nikkei Asia. "In our next stage, we will focus on expanding offerings to Japanese people." At present, 40% of its customers are from the U.S., with most other online visitors coming from Australia, Canada and the U.K., Toso said. The Turkish entrepreneur seeks to offer unique Japanese food experiences to foreigners, but relying on international travelers has become difficult.

Early this year, byFood.com teamed up with Toyota Motor's Kinto, which operates a subscription service for cars, promoting the platform to young drivers taking road trips and searching for dining options. byFood.com sees a rising trend toward shorter trips brought due to the pandemic.

Toso said the company also aims to offer food experiences to Japanese customers, such as sukiyaki cooking classes at countryside inns that were previously aimed at foreign tourists. Over the long term, byFood.com aims to launch an e-commerce business that will allow tour participants to purchase food items from artisans and farmers after they return home.

Although byFood.com is expanding its service to Japanese, it plans to continue pitching its services to overseas visitors as well. It recently launched video tutorials for Japanese cuisine, providing new food experiences to people in their own homes. byFood.com offers about 25 different classes, including on wagashi, or Japanese sweets.

The new online classes, along with cost-cutting measures, have helped make the startup profitable for the first time. For the fiscal year ended May, its sales rose 25% from the previous year. Tablecross aims to reach 100 million yen ($908,983) in revenue in fiscal 2022.

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