15 years of TheFork: new projects and a super dinner with Ducasse, Cerea, Darroze, Berasategui and Préalpato

A report on the special event that took place in Paris, with 5 great chefs cooking, totalling 46 Michelin stars. A unique event, to cheer the anniversary and announce new projects to support the industry

07-06-2022
by Carlo Passera
Almir Ambeskovic, CEO at TheFork, in the middle, w

Almir Ambeskovic, CEO at TheFork, in the middle, with four of the five super-chef who participated in the dinner celebrating 15 years of the digital platform. Left to right Hélène DarrozeAlain Ducasse, Chicco Cerea and Martín Berasategui

Fifteen candles, plus a gigantic amount of 420 million clients guided to restaurants over all these years: so TheFork, the main online booking platform for restaurants in Europe and Australia well deserved a big celebration. And CEO Almir Ambeskovic didn’t need to be asked twice: he invited to Paris – the headquarters where 15 years ago the company was born, acquired in 2014 by group Tripadvisor – a group of directors, journalists and lucky clients who won a special contest; he first got them on a boat, and then delighted them with a dinner while navigating the Seine, with great chefs as protagonists. And what chefs! And what boat too! It was Ducasse sur Seine, the bateau restaurant of the iconic French toque; here, signing the dishes and certifying them with their presence, were 5 of the most prominent representatives of the global culinary scene, in strictly alphabetical order Alain Ducasse himself, of course, then Italian Chicco Cerea, Hélène Darroze, Spanish Martín Berasategui and finally pastry chef Jessica Préalpato (number one pastry chef for the 2019 50Best). If you were to bet on the lottery, we recommend these numbers: 20-8-6-12, which are the Michelin stars the former four chefs hold, a total of 46 macarons. This was a very first.

The mise en place for the special 46-star dinner onboard the Ducasse sur Seine

The mise en place for the special 46-star dinner onboard the Ducasse sur Seine

But on these food and pleasurable aspects we’ll return later. For now, we go back in time, to the previous morning in Paris, with a beautiful sun kissing the city and the doors to the headquarters of TheFork, in Rue Saint-Lazare 70 opening. Ambeskovic himself was waiting for us, to talk about the present, past and future of the company – which now has a network of almost 60K establishments in 12 different countries – and of the restaurant industry in general.

(A dutiful note: our readers will be familiar with his face, both because TheFork is Identità’s partner, especially at Identità Golose Milano – that is to say brilliant ideas are always a good match – and because the CEO is more Italian than many Italians, despite his surname: he was born in Sarajevo in 1977 but all his entrepreneurial career took place in Italy, for years, including the launch in 2011 of restOpolis, a start-up that followed the same format of TheFork. Since 2015, with restOpolis absorbed by TheFork, he followed the latter’s development in Italy and beyond, before taking the reins of the entire company, early last year).

Ambeskovic, standing, during the press conference in Paris. The CEO of TheFork announced, among other things, the plan to further enrich the functions of TheFork PAY – the contactless in-app solution that allows to pay the bill fast, simply and safely. It is used by over 25K restaurants in Italy, France and Spain – to get the payment from the table through a QR code. The project will have the first 200 restaurants involved in the second quarter of 2022 and more than 1’000 establishments by the end of the year

Ambeskovic, standing, during the press conference in Paris. The CEO of TheFork announced, among other things, the plan to further enrich the functions of TheFork PAY – the contactless in-app solution that allows to pay the bill fast, simply and safely. It is used by over 25K restaurants in Italy, France and Spain – to get the payment from the table through a QR code. The project will have the first 200 restaurants involved in the second quarter of 2022 and more than 1’000 establishments by the end of the year

Let’s start from a premise: the food world is very traditionalist (grandma’s recipes) and tied to (almost) unchangeable rites (Sunday lunch, holiday recipes). In this respect, it isn’t (wasn’t) easy to innovate: «I must say that, if I look back, I cannot find a specific moment when the sparkle came that changed the picture, the turning point – Ambeskovic tells us. – We grew, one brick at a time. But we must also remember one thing: 2007, when TheFork was born [at first, it was called LaFourchette] was also the year when the first iPhone was launched, before then there were no smartphones. Only 15% of restaurants had an email address, let’s not talk of websites... In other words: digitalisation came, and the world changed». The restaurant world too.

At first, there was lots of scepticism for a project like this one: few restaurateurs were convinced (Alain Ducasse was one of the first «he even gave us plenty of advice on user profiling». And, in Italy, the Cerea brothers and Claudio Sadler too), but most were diffident. Clietns even more so. «I was obsessed with obstacles, I would check every reservation, almost. People doubted something like this could really work... Had there been some technical issue, it would have been a disaster. Our reputation would have plummeted». And instead...

DOUBLE TIP FOR THE FORK’S BIRTHDAY- To celebrate 15 years together with its partner restaurants, TheFork will double the tips they get through TheFork PAY for 4 weeks. From the 6th of June to the 30th of July, all the tips left by TheFork users with TheFork PAY – the contactless in-app solution that allows you to pay the bill quickly, simply and safely, used by over 25000 restaurants in Italy, France and Spain, of whom 15.000 in Italy – will be automatically doubled by the platform

DOUBLE TIP FOR THE FORK’S BIRTHDAY- To celebrate 15 years together with its partner restaurants, TheFork will double the tips they get through TheFork PAY for 4 weeks. From the 6th of June to the 30th of July, all the tips left by TheFork users with TheFork PAY – the contactless in-app solution that allows you to pay the bill quickly, simply and safely, used by over 25000 restaurants in Italy, France and Spain, of whom 15.000 in Italy – will be automatically doubled by the platform

And instead, Ambeskovic says these first 15 years have also served to establish the initial idea, to make it credible. TheFork has grown tremendously (as we’ve seen) and has become a crucial actor in the restaurant online booking system, guiding its digitalisation and supporting small businesses. It’s an authoritative actor in an industry that has experienced two difficult years. In this respect, they have presented a study, produced with Euromonitor, on the perspectives of the industry. Here is a summary of the conclusions:

  • The restaurant industry, it has emerged, still represents one of the most important sectors for the economy, both in Europe (326.4 billion euros of value in 2019, with a contribution of 4% to the gross added value in Europe in 2019) and in Italy (78.5 billion euros of value in 2019, 4% of the gross added value). And despite between 2019 and 2020 Covid led to a significant contraction (-38% in Europe, and -36% in Italy), 2021 has already shown a remarkable recovery both in Europe and Italy, with a growth of 23% for both.
  • Despite the complex economic context, and after two years of pandemic, growth forecasts for the restaurant industry are still positive, with an average of +8% both in Europe and in Italy until 2025. Indeed, this crisis has revealed remarkable agility and creativity in the industry, but also resilience on behalf of European consumers for whom going to the restaurant is a strong part of their daily life.

So the forecasts are of recovery, and The Fork wants to become richer and richer in content: not just a booking platform, but it also wants to accompany the development of the restaurant industry. How so? Ambeskovic: «Ninety-one percent of restaurants in Europe are made by sole entrepreneurs, only 9% are chains. In Italy we get to 97%. The first group starts to lose some market as years go by; it’s still the most numerous and precious one, it represents our roots and traditions, but it’s also weak because it often lacks the enterprise tools that allow its growth». This is why TheFork will launch a project to support "small" businesses and help them: «We want to offer them all the consultancy and trend-forecast support so they can also compete in the future in a market that is more and more complex, competitive, global. Where passion is not enough, and knowing how to cook well is not enough. You also need to make the numbers work». So here it is: saving the soul of family restaurants by supporting them with their needs and in their management, making use of the know-how TheFork has acquired.

Today, Ambeskovic ends, we say too many bad things about restaurants. People say they don’t find staff because they pay little («It’s not true: we’re in line with other industries») or because the hours are long («So people don’t realise how hard it is for restaurateurs, and rage against them»). So what? «So we want to launch a positive message: in late June, for a night, all of us at TheFork will go to help out in restaurants, a symbolic action to make people aware of the issues, and show we’re close to them. And then I remember my first job, as kitchenhand in a pizzeria in Lodi where I got 20 euros per night. I knew nothing. In the following place I had already learnt something and they would pay me 40. I’ve paid my studies like that. Was it hard? Of course. But there was also passion, because I contributed to making people happy, at least for a few hours. And it’s the same passion behind restaurants, it’s always been like this. And the passion behind our work at TheFork too. I can guarantee it».

In the photos below, TheFork’s super dinner on the Seine.

The five chefs for TheFork:’s 15th anniversary: left to right Jessica Préalpato, Hélène Darroze, Alain Ducasse, Martín Berasategui and Chicco Cerea

The five chefs for TheFork:’s 15th anniversary: left to right Jessica Préalpato, Hélène DarrozeAlain Ducasse, Martín Berasategui and Chicco Cerea

Hélène Darroze’s dish: White "Belles du Marsan" asparagus, mullet, buccini and bottarga (buccini are molluscs)

Hélène Darroze’s dish: White "Belles du Marsan" asparagus, mullet, buccini and bottarga (buccini are molluscs)

Alain Ducasse’s dish: Cold scampi, fine gelatine of rockfish, caviar

Alain Ducasse’s dish: Cold scampi, fine gelatine of rockfish, caviar

Martín Berasategui’s dish: Caramelised millefeuille of smoked eel, foie gras, shallot and green apple

Martín Berasategui’s dish: Caramelised millefeuille of smoked eel, foie gras, shallot and green apple

Chicco Cerea’s dish: Risotto with pesto, prawns and tomato emulsion. Everyone said it was the best of the night

Chicco Cerea’s dish: Risotto with pesto, prawns and tomato emulsion. Everyone said it was the best of the night

Jessica Préalpato’s dish: Rhubarb from Saint-Riquer, fennel and ginger

Jessica Préalpato’s dish: Rhubarb from Saint-Riquer, fennel and ginger

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


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