Lunch is a big deal in the workplace. Workers can spend a chunk of the morning deciding on the eatery to call for a delivery and then collecting payment from everyone placing an order.
At least that's what Mahmud Wazihullah observed -- and what drove him last November to launch the website LetsOrderNow.com.
The Carle Place-based business enables individuals to go online to order from a selection of local restaurants and pay separately for their own lunch -- at savings of 5 percent to 20 percent below menu prices. But Wazihullah, who is known by a nickname Wazi, is having trouble convincing customers there's no catch.
A patent-pending algorithm determines the bill. The complicated formula takes into account which eatery and items customers choose, the time they place their orders and the number of lunches delivered at one time to an office, an entire building or a street. So the more co-workers who order from one restaurant, the cheaper their lunches are.
Growth hurt by skepticism
Let's Order Now Inc. projects "six-digit revenue" by year's end. The company receives a percentage of the orders that it derives from participating restaurants.
"Restaurants are initially hesitant to pay a percent of their revenues, until they understand the operational efficiencies and increased revenue potential," Wazihullah said.
With the service exposing restaurants to new patrons -- and providing multiple orders in a single location, Let's Order has lined up more than 100 LI eateries, as well as some 50 places in Manhattan, a market it entered on July 1. And courtesy of Wazihulla's longtime business contacts -- he also owns Carle Place-based Commercial Realty Nation Llc -- his new 10-employee company has gained entry into 20 Long Island businesses, including law firms and car dealerships, scoring access to more than 700 local workers.
Among participating restaurateurs, Steven Lee, owner of Gengi in Westbury, said he joined LetsOrderNow.com in March as a way to promote the 6-year-old eatery. Since then, the ordering service has provided the Japanese restaurant with as many as 100 orders in a single week, Lee said.
But skepticism abounds among "people who don't know me," said Wazihullah, with many corporate decision-makers refusing to give him access to their employees. "Any sort of offer, people assume there's a catch or a cost to it, but there's no fee of any sort to consumers," said Wazihullah, noting that there are no delivery charges, either.
For Wazihullah, surmounting the gatekeeper challenge is critical to growing his company locally and achieving its long-range objective: replicating the service across the country.
According to Tom Mirabella, president of Wingman Planning Llc, a Wantagh consulting firm, Let's Order can improve its batting average by going after small firms, which are "easier to get in touch with" than large corporations. It should also focus on geographic areas with a mass of office and industrial buildings, leaving fliers, printed with the names of local restaurants, in lobbies and hand-delivering them to office managers, he said.
Gita Surie, associate professor in Adelphi University's Robert B. Willumstad School of Business, recommended providing eateries with fliers to give to on-site diners, as well as equipping restaurants with software that directs the online takeout crowd from their websites to LetsOrderNow.com.
She also advised positioning the business as an exclusive "lunch club" that encourages members to invite others to join the fold.
More apps in the works
Wazihullah said he already allows customers to earn points toward free meals each time they recommend a new user or place an order. And first-time users receive a complimentary meal after purchasing their first lunch, with Let's Order picking up the tab. The company also offers a gratis meal when a customer recommends a new restaurant to the service.
Last month, Wazihullah introduced a mobile feature on his website, and an Apple app is in the works.
"Creating an app is the next step in the process," said Mirabella. "But he's got to get people to download the app."
AT A GLANCE
Name: Let's Order Now Inc.
CEO: Mahmud Wazihullah
Customers: 100-plus LI restaurants; 700-plus LI customers
Projected revenue: "Six digits" in 2012