It was a promising, if ambitious, idea: offering the chance to buy a home-cooked dinner from a local amateur cook who lives around the corner. Why couldn’t Menu Next Door make it work?
17 Mar 2017
Menu Next Door launched its Brussels-based food sharing platform in 2015, with more than 600 Belgian cooks joining the platform.
It expanded to London and Paris in May last year, with some heavy hitting investors behind it. One, Index Ventures, had previously been a prominent investor in both Just Eat and Deliveroo. The plan was to have 20 home cooks on every block in London. It claimed to have 1,900 interested cooks registered in London, with around 100 having sold their own meals.
So far, so promising. Then in January this year, it announced it would shut down its London and Paris outposts, retreating to Brussels.
We spoke to several people involved in the Menu Next Door project to unpick the key problems facing the startup, drawing some interesting conclusions around the social, economic and cultural dynamics of major cities. Ten key themes emerged, summarised here.
- Multiple cities
Trying to scale a project of this complexity in three different cities simultaneously was onerous. Brussels is a markedly smaller and slower market than London or Paris. London’s inner city mix of incomes and ethnicities contrasts with Paris’ more segregated neighbourhoods.
- London’s manifold choices
There’s already a hell of a lot of options for food in London, with restaurants, takeaways and Tesco Metros already fighting it out between them. Suburban areas and second cities, which generally have fewer transient residents and a stronger community spirit would perhaps have been more successful.
- Supply vs demand
It was extremely difficult to build supply and demand simultaneously. It’s a challenge faced by many ‘two-sided’ marketplace businesses, but especially so in a concept such as Menu Next Door, which is the step outside the norm for customers on both sides.
- Quality control
Customer experience varied wildly. Some dinners could be amazing, others downright awful. To build repeat purchasing, a consistent level of high-quality experiences are needed.
- Micro focus
While the ambition was enormous, there was an argument for incremental execution, and the case for a ‘micro micro’ strategy became clear in the inquest. Nurturing a market within a single block of flats rather than whole cities could have been a better starting point.
- Social dynamics
The concept is ultimately a test of community cohesion and trust in an area. Building the kind of social capital Menu Next Door needed takes a long time to develop. Menu Next Door found its best momentum came in an area like Brockley in south-east London. Customers here weren’t already over-saturated with choice and had a decent sense of community.
- Pre-existing communities
Some streets and blocks have existing communication resources; noticeboards or Facebook groups. Finding communities with these existing channels could have unlocked the service.
- Leveraging local heroes
One cook in Blackheath had a strong influence on local mums in her area, while a 49-year-old Caribbean chef in Dalston was ferociously entrepreneurial. Both proved a powerful means of generating activity. More focus on users like this would have arguably led to greater momentum.
- Repeat customers
Menu Next Door found that people were willing to help a friend the first time they cooked, but encouraging repeat purchasing was a slog.
- Differing demographics
Behaviour across age, race and economic levels varies enormously. Indians, for example, were apparently reluctant to charge neighbours for the food. Younger people are less inclined to meet and talk to strangers. This was compounded by the fact the Menu Next Door team (like many well-funded startups) was composed of young white graduates who weren’t ideally placed to relate to the cooks it was marketing to.