Like restaurant chains around the world, Food Passion faced an enormous challenge when governments enacted pandemic lockdowns. How could this business—whose dine-in customers accounted for more than 99 percent of revenues—survive an extended shutdown? 

Fortunately, the company had already constructed a hybrid cloud environment by working with a VMware Cloud Provider. During the pandemic, Food Passion was able to expand a cloud-based tool for its rewards program, creating a mobile ordering app in just 72 hours.

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Meeting customer expectations for mobile apps

Headquartered in Thailand, Food Passion popularized the cook-it-yourself restaurant concept, where customers can grill meat and vegetables at their own tables. What started as a family business in 1987 with its Bar B Q Plaza has grown into a restaurant chain with seven brands operating in Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia and Indonesia. 

In Thailand especially, Food Passion faces stiff competition from the continuous introduction of new restaurants. Those that do not innovate can quickly lose customers. In particular, customers increasingly expect simple ways to engage with and order from restaurants using mobile apps. 

Food Passion recognized the imperative to offer mobile experiences long before the pandemic hit. “Consumers are spending more and more time online,” says Ruangshine Supanpong, chief operating officer for Food Passion. “If they’re online, then we go online.” 

Unfortunately, an aging on-premises infrastructure was limiting the restaurant chain. The company’s IT group couldn’t deploy new servers and storage quickly enough to keep up with shifting customer expectations and evolving business needs.

Beginning a cloud migration

In 2019, the Food Passion leadership team decided to make a move to the cloud, initially constructing a hybrid environment that would combine its existing virtualized on-premises environment with cloud resources. “Cloud offers a lot of flexibility—it can be scaled up or down depending on your needs,” says Ruangshine. “Moreover, when you use cloud, it’s not CapEx but OpEx. So when you want to scale up, you don’t need to put in a lot of money to invest in infrastructure. You can pay a little and scale up quickly.”

The company selected Advanced Info Service (AIS) Business Cloud, an offering from AIS Business. A leading telecommunication and ICT service provider, AIS Business is a VMware Cloud Provider that was already supplying Food Passion’s networking services. AIS Business Cloud is built on the same VMware solutions Food Passion had used to virtualize its on-premises data center. The IT group knew that having a consistent infrastructure across the hybrid environment would help streamline app migrations and simplify IT management.

Food Passion started moving key functions to the cloud, including a membership loyalty program they run on LINE, the most popular messaging app in Thailand. The goal was to shift from a physical membership card to a digital one, which could provide new opportunities for engaging with customers.

But six months into the cloud migration, the pandemic began to spread across the globe.

Pivoting to delivery during the pandemic—in 72 hours

To curb the spread of the new virus, the Thai government began to enforce lockdowns in the spring of 2020. Because Food Passion’s flagship brand is a cook-it-yourself restaurant concept, the company had not established any significant delivery service. With no way to generate revenue, Food Passion had to make a change fast.

The leadership team decided to expand the capabilities of the LINE tool used for its rewards program. By incorporating additional functions, the LINE tool could be converted to a mobile ordering app for a new delivery service.

Hosting these new services on-premises was not an option. To handle the new capabilities and increased traffic, the company would have to buy and deploy new servers, which could take two months. Instead, the company decided to host new services in the cloud, which could scale up quickly.

With help from AIS Business, Food Passion was able to launch its app-based delivery services in just three days. As a result, the company could provide food to customers during a stressful time while establishing a new revenue stream.

Gaining long-term, post-pandemic benefits

The cloud migration and creation of new delivery services are producing benefits that should extend long past the end of the pandemic. For example, the new delivery service has already grown by more than 10 times compared with pre-pandemic delivery revenues. The leadership team believes that food delivery will continue to be a substantial part of the business in the future.

In addition, the transformed cloud-hosted LINE app is now able to support a growing array of capabilities. Beyond earning loyalty points and ordering food, customers can now use the app to shop for merchandise and contact the call center.

This improved engagement with the LINE app has helped more than double membership in the company’s loyalty program. Membership increased from 500,000 to 1.2 million since Food Passion migrated the app to the cloud.

Given the success of cloud migration so far, it’s not surprising that Food Passion is preparing to shift additional workloads to the cloud. The leadership team knows how vital a cloud approach is for rapidly addressing challenges and seizing opportunities. “We need to be very nimble so we can quickly adapt to customer needs,” says Ruangshine. “To do so, we need a platform, like the cloud, that allows us to scale up or down not just in days but also in hours to cope with anything that happens.”  ▪