Starting today, though, the company is turning its focus local. Rakuten, which is based in Japan but has its American headquarters in San Mateo, is launching a new service designed to help restaurants set up online ordering and pickup during the coronavirus. The majority of the pilot restaurants using the service are located on the Peninsula.
"Many local community restaurants are struggling to stay afloat right now, especially those that rely on word of mouth and don't have the margins to work with delivery services like DoorDash or Postmates. This new platform will help independent restaurants in particular not have to sacrifice profits in order to stay open to serve their community," Rakuten said in an announcement.
Takeo Moriyama, co-owner and chef at Kemuri in Redwood City, one of the Peninsula restaurants piloting Rakuten Takeout. Photo by Sammy Dallal.
The online platform, Rakuten Takeout, will be free to restaurants until November. Customers will get 20% cash back on orders for a limited time, which Rakuten will fund rather than passing that cost to restaurant owners.
"Our goal is to help (people) abide by the shelter in place (order) but also help support local businesses who are obviously feeling the worst of it at this time," Amit Patel, CEO at Rakuten Americas, said in an interview.
The company initially sought out smaller restaurants with little to no online presence but is including any restaurant that wants to sign up. Rakuten staff who live in and around San Mateo cold-called their local restaurants to let them know about the service and to help them set it up, Patel said.
Jeff Kim, who owns Totoro Ramen in San Mateo, said in a press release that Rakuten helped him set up the online ordering "quickly and easily – and the fact that it is free is so helpful in these hard times."
"COVID-19 really changed our business overnight, and it's getting harder to rely on word of mouth to drive orders and visits," Kim said.
The restaurants piloting Rakuten's platform include:
• Totoro Ramen, San Mateo
• Kobeya, San Mateo
• Santa Ramen, San Mateo
• Pancho Villa Taqueria, San Mateo
• Taishoken, San Mateo
• Mr. Taco Man, San Mateo
• Mr. Pizza Man, San Mateo
• Chef Sha, San Mateo
• Izakaya Giniji, San Mateo
• Chico's Taqueria, San Mateo
• Thonglor Thai, San Mateo
• Hometown Noodle, Redwood City
• Kemuri Japanese Baru, Redwood City
• Doza Izakaya, Foster City
• Kenta Ramen, Foster City
Rakuten hopes to expand the platform to restaurants throughout the Peninsula, Bay Area and eventually, nationally.
Restaurant owners who are interested in Rakuten's service can find more information here.