Q&A: Providing the dining options to match one’s dietary needs

Today we talk to El Salem, an entrepreneur and developer of the app eatwell, which provides a range of dining and dietary options for people those with specific dietary requirements due to health reasons or personal choices. A lawyer by profession, El conceived the app based on her own experiences and she made it her mission through the app to give diners the confidence and certainty when it comes to choosing where to eat out without the hassles.

ISB: What inspired you to come up with eatwell?

ES: Being gluten-free and on the low FODMAP diet, I have struggled to simply find somewhere decent to eat (let alone delicious or cheap options for me) for the past 11 years. Every single time I wanted to find a place to eat it took over 30 mins, and I’d end up eating boring meals or picking out things I couldn’t eat, paying extra for crap quality substitutes simply because I didn’t want to annoy anyone about the contents of the meal. With one in three Australians having a dietary requirement, I decided to develop the skills to really solve this problem for good.

ISB: As someone who has had no previous experience in tech, how were you able to successfully make that transition in launching the app?

ES: It was a very big jump from law to app research and design but one that came quite naturally to me. I am so committed to solving this problem and a constant focus on user needs makes for a very clear direction in launching and developing the app. I asked all my friends who were developers who they knew could help me build it, and this lead to me finding a developer who was truly amazing (and vegetarian too!).

ISB: How do you ensure that eatwell is able to maintain such diversity in dietary and dining choices?

ES: We have focused primarily on the 10 major dietary needs, for medical reasons, personal choice or lifestyle, and/or faith reasons. We made sure to scope a broad range of restaurants to cater to as many people as we could and developed the ability for users to be able to add reviews of any restaurant for any dietary need (including specific allergies or diets (e.g. Low FODMAP / Keto). We want anyone with any or more dietary needs to be able to find and share their favourite places so we opened it up to everyone!

ISB: Why is it important to have community participation as a crucial element in the app?

ES: Community recommendations are at the core of the eatwell app. Reviews by other people with your dietary needs mean that you can trust that a restaurant not only has options but has good ones that have been vetted by someone like you. With the variability of dietaries available, it is very difficult for restaurants to cater to everyone and the lived food experiences of people with dietary requirements are invaluable in finding quality options.

ISB: What is your vision for eatwell to be in a couple of years?

ES: My vision is that every person with a dietary requirement or need feels connected to each other in finding and sharing the best places to eat for them, wherever they go around the world. Trusted, amazing restaurant and food recommendations for any 1 or more dietary needs.

ISB: What is the most important piece of advice you’d give to those who have a potential business idea in mind that they’re thinking of pursuing?

ES: If you keep thinking about it and just can’t get it out of your head, give it a proper go but be sure to validate the need for what you’re doing. It is best if it’s a problem that you’re solving for people – as this will give you the ammo necessary to always move forward and people who experience the problem will tell you what they need and be your first users. Always focus on solving the problem and your users, with a focus on monetisation as well.