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Experiencing Food

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Growth in the organised food service market has resulted in a shift towards customer engagement and specialisation as a way forward, with both established players and new entrants creatinge niche experiences for evolved consumers, for whom, eating out is an indulgence and an enjoyable experience.

While India is traditionally noted for its rich culture of food, incidences of eating out, as an experience, have only increased in recent years. Particularly in the metros and major cities, food consumption is more than just a fulfilling of the need to eat out; it is also emerging as a form of socialising and entertainment. The rise in incomes, the greater number of nuclear families and working women, rapid urbanisation and the resultant time paucity has not only ensured that a larger number of people dine out, but also that they do so for a number of different reasons and much more frequently at that. This has provided F&B operators with an ever-increasing consumer base to tap into, not only from a mere ‘food need’ point of view, but also for the ‘experience.

Emerging Themes & Formats

Over time, the industry has witnessed the arrival and consolidation of newer cuisines, tastes, and styles that are aimed at providing greater choice and newer experiences to consumers. On their part, consumers have displayed an enthusiasm in welcoming and exploring more specialised food experiences. As is evident in India now, the discerning customer’s preference is for experimentation and exposure to new and unique concepts; the differentiating factors can be menu, ambience, style, or service. The well-travelled Indian consumer is not only willing to try, but is also demanding exotic ingredients and bold flavours, and consequently, restaurants are responding with ingredients like truffles, artichokes, asparagus, Australian lamb, Norwegian  salmon, etc.

The growth of homegrown brands, combined with the rapid influx of international brands, has created a potpourri of flavours and cuisines in the market. Irrespective of their price positioning or segment orientation, restaurants are providing a generally broader choice, rapidly changing and ever-evolving menus, and focussing more on seasonal dishes and aspirational ingredients, to create their own unique product positioning. In the Casual Dine and Fine Dine segments, for instance, multicuisine restaurants with a non-specialised menu, gradually seem to be ceding ground to specialty cuisines and uniquely fused flavours. The entry of established international Fine Dine concepts like La Tagliatella, Hakkasan, and Yauatcha have proved beyond doubt that global chains have recognised this change and established the Indian consumer’s credentials as an evolved and discerning consumer, one who is willing to pay a premium for the taste and quality of his/her choice. In effect, the days are long gone when food was a necessity as increasingly we are eating for experience and pleasure, and not merely eating to live.

Beverage as a Game Changer

Beverages have emerged as a major game changer in India’s dining out dynamics in a large number of cities, and have opened up a whole new set of opportunities for the F&B industry. Gradually, restaurants known for their food offerings have also recognised the need of the hour and are investing time, energy, and money on their beverage menus, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.

In the non-alcoholic category, the most noticeable trend has been the emergence of cafés in nearly every nook and corner in urban India. The sheer growth in the number of cafés and tea joints, whether domestic or international, is ample proof of the evolution of the non-alcoholic beverages market. Cafés (including tea houses) now constitute 12 percent of chain outlets; their business is set to grow from Rs 5,910 crore in 2013 to Rs 11,520 crore in 2018, at a CAGR of 14.3 percent. A string of international cafés like Starbucks, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Gloria Jean’s Coffee, and Costa Coffee have forayed into the Indian market.

Established QSR operators like ’s and have also ventured into this rapidly growing category with McCafé and Dunkin’ Donuts, respectively. Café Coffee Day, the homegrown stalwart, operates over 1,500 cafés already. Interestingly, the development of the coffee segment contrasts India’s image as a ‘tea-drinking’ nation where the per capita tea consumption is vastly higher than the per capita coffee consumption. While coffee remains the backbone of the organised café market, what is also clearly visible is the increasing presence of teas – both traditional as well as exotic – on the menus of such outlets. The growing awareness of the health benefits attributed to tea is another factor driving the expansion of tea-based chains like Chaipatty, Passion – My Cup of Tea, Tapri, Infinitea, Chai Point, Tea Junction, Tea Pot, Tea Center, and Cha Bar. Apart from cafés, the other category which is seeing new interest is the organised juice market, which taps into the health and wellness quotient, with brands like Booster Juice and My Orange catering to an increasingly health-conscious population through easy-to-access locations. This has also added to the overall development of the non-alcoholic segment.

The rising popularity of alcoholic beverages, especially among the youth, can be attributed to dramatic lifestyle and social changes, which, in turn, are fuelled by rising income levels. Consumption of alcohol has gained far greater social acceptability, facilitating a lot of renewed activity in this segment both on the retail as well as the HoReCa front. At the product level, there is a shift in preference from classic cocktails and straight drinks to exotic wines, premium spirits, and the rapid emergence of ready-to-drink personalised mixes. Cocktails & Dreams, Speakeasy, in Gurgaon specialises in serving customised cocktails with a wide range of spirits and additives from which to choose. Artisan cocktails like spirited coffees and green tea scotch, Bronx, and Bramble, are already making the regulars admire the place.

Beer, as a drink, has been profound in its evergreen popularity, especially among youth. This is reflected through a budding fondness for fresh, draught, and flavoured beers over traditional bottled beers. The emergence of microbreweries like Striker, 7 Degree Brauhaus, Toit, and Doolally, and destination beer joints like Beer Café can see cult consumption in India. Mumbai is set to have its first brewpub, The Barking Deer, with The White Owl and Gateway Brewing Co. to follow. Wine consumption is consistently growing at 20 to 25 percent per annum and has facilitated the emergence of new concepts like The Wine Company where wine is the ’starring’ product rather than being relegated to a quiet corner of the bar. Wine as an attraction has led to the opening of many new places like Vinoteca by Sula, and Ivy Wine Café. Another product-level innovation is the introduction of diet versions of beer, vodka, and whiskey by United Spirits Ltd. to cater to health-conscious consumers.

Going forward, brands are expected to focus on the beverage segment, which offers high margins, and also a point of differentiation from competitors. However, such factors as a complementary food offering, ambience, and engagement activities will also be crucial in determining the vitality of the business model and will help in creating a niche for this segment.

Theme-based F&B

The development of the organised F&B market in India has taken time, due to which, brands are still focussing on getting the fundamentals (menu, service, etc) in order. Despite this, growth in the market has resulted in a shift towards customer engagement and specialisation as a way forward. Both established players and new entrants are creating more niche experiences for evolved consumers. Theme-based offers are gaining over conventional ones, making room for outlets such as Pass Code Only (PCO), a quiet new lounge in Delhi’s upmarket Vasant Vihar. With no visible branding and an easy-to-miss location, this unique watering hole shuns the exorbitant cover charges common to many premium places, and asks for only a 4-digit password. The place is inspired by the 1920s-style jazz bars, and is a confirmation of the growing affinity for exclusive and innovative themes that  excite the imagination of the consumer who has ‘arrived’.

Music, sports, and live entertainment also continue to drive the value proposition, both in terms of brand-building and business. Where cult concepts like Blue Frog and Hard Rock Café have focussed on music as a concept, the new Soi7 (Cyber Hub, Gurgaon) has included a boxing ring in the interiors to offer live matches. Underdoggs, Howzzat, Delhi Daredevils Bar, and Manchester United Café Bar are others that have combined an F&B offering with a sports theme. Many popular joints are also including stand-up comedy and karaoke in their event calendars to create ’reasons for revisit’ for their patrons.

PVR, India’s leading multiplex chain, has taken the combination of entertainment, wining, and dining to a new level with Mistral, that seeks to redefine sophisticated ways in which food, beverage, and entertainment can be put together.

The focus on healthier eating is also catching up; Bueno, another debutant in Gurgaon, serves a variety of whole wheat pastas and tacos and uses hung curd instead of mayonnaise. They do not serve fizzy drinks and strictly follow a ‘no preservative’ policy; items such as sauces and pickles are prepared fresh. Yoga Café in south Delhi is anchored on an interesting premise – fitness, food, and paraphernalia, and serves healthy vegan and gluten-free food. While the commercial success and scalability of health-focussed concepts are yet to be established, they definitely cater to a consumer niche.

All the above indicate a desire on the part of restaurant operators to find interesting and exclusive ways to entice customers, with the objective of creating excitement for them. But the final offering has to be provided more consistently than asked for, and in more than obvious ways. The ability to ideate, innovate, and execute the consumer’s craving has always been and will continue to be a game changer in the years to come.

*Authors: Tarun Jain (Former VP Food Services & Agriculture, Technopak) and Akshay Mallick (Principal Consultant)

Sizing up with Valuation & Specialisation
The Food and Beverage sector has never looked so exciting with the country set to witness several new concepts and formats that will emerge in the new future, writes Sohrab Sitaram.

More and more urban Indians are eating out in their quest for variety and new cuisines, with their frequency of visits to restaurants increasing to 6 times a month in 2008, compared to 2.7 times a month five years ago. Indian consumers are seeking variety and are willing to experiment with new cuisines, according to the Food Franchising Report 2009 released by industry body FICCI food wing, the Confederation of Indian Food Trade and Industry (CIFTI). The study cited the KSA Technopak India Retail Report 2005, which has revealed that eating out accounts for 11percent share of an average Indian’s income, second only to grocery at 41percent and above personal care items, savings and entertainment.

A recent report in the Times of India stipulates that the ‘Eating Out’ population in India has increased the revenue of the Food and Beverage sector to 48 billion dollars. In fact, the Food and Beverage sector has never looked so exciting, with the country set to witness several new concepts and formats that will emerge in the new future.

Small Size Restaurant

High real estate cost tends to eat into the profitability and the bottom line figures of a restaurant, and has emerged as the single largest expense in the Profit & Loss statement of a restaurant. A few years ago it was a competitive second, with food cost being the highest expense. The real estate cost is now the single largest expense due to the boom in the real estate market. If an entrepreneur chooses his restaurant location in a high footfall area or a mall with high footfalls, the rental in these areas is very high and does not fluctuate much even if the overall property market is down.

A high footfall area is always in demand and does not generally follow the typical pricing norm of real estate. To counter this cost, a lot of restaurants have now cut down on the amount of area that they typically require. The size of the tables and the chairs have reduced, kitchens are now a lot more compact (thanks to new technologies), multi tasking kitchen equipment is now available with rise in demand of compact kitchens. The grand reception counter, fountains and water bodies have all but disappeared. Contoured and organic designs are replaced by straight line finishes. The number of covers has reduced when compared to the traditional restaurant. Some of the popular small restaurants include Mamagoto and Chi Kitchen and bar (both are compact restaurants with not more than 45 covers). Both are extremely popular and are expanding at a rapid rate.

Another popular concept called The Hungry Monkey located in Delhi’s Deer Park, does not have more than 36 covers and serves modern European food in a very chic environment. The Pali Village Café in Bandra, Mumbai, is another example of a small compact restaurant. These places are packed to capacity, thus effectively utilising the optimum cover capacity both during lunch and dinner. A smaller restaurant is also easy to handle in terms of cleanliness, has less number of staff, and less statutory requirements especially in licensing, and is therefore being preferred by entrepreneurs.

Restaurants Which Are Not Capital Extensive

There was a time when entrepreneurs used to make restaurants extravagant; no money was spared for decorations, interiors, uniforms, lighting with chandeliers, etc. But, in today’s time, based on their increased financial knowledge, entrepreneurs soon realised that it’s important to recover (atleast EBITDA – Earnings Before Income Tax Depreciation and Amortization) the capital invested within three years. However, with extravagant expenses, investment was difficult to recover and entreprenuers soon realised the need for a leaner model with less capital expenses, and a single handed focus to recover money quickly and increase bottomlines. Most of the successful restaurants and hospitality products are those which have this vision. Just a few yeas back, Olive Kitchen and Bar (as quoted by A.D. Singh) spent around Rs 9 crores to conceptualise and create Olive Kitchen and Bar at Mehrauli. Compared to it, he has now opened Guppy by Ai, which is less than four times the cost. The earlier venture of Ai at the MGF mall was also capital expensive.

Quality, Not Quantity

The trend in restaurants is now tilting towards leaner menus as opposed to a lot of variety. This enables a restaurant to handle ‘food consistency.’ which is considered one of the most difficult tasks. Entrepreneurs are realising that doing a few dishes that are significantly different rather than creating a menu with several dishes which are hardly different (except for one ingredient) are now the need of the hour. It’s also much easier for quality control and training methods. The increased exposure to food and beverage mainly due to travelling, dedicated digital space for F&B concepts, and far more exposure via the television, radio, magazines and Internet, has ensured a much more knowledgeable customer, whose whims and fancies will not be catered by minor differentiations in the menu.

Scalable Restaurant Models
The successful restaurant industry abroad is trying to find inroads into India because India has what it takes to make a restaurant scalable, that is demand. The demand is because of the burgeoning and exploding population of India (which may not necessarily be desirable) but is certainly desirable when it comes to the restaurant industry). It’s far easier to now create a cookie cutter model, create a super valuation and then raise money at a premium. Raising money has also become far more easier owing to the hospitality space becoming a hot favourite for private equity, angel investors and HNI (high net worth indivduals).

The idea of creation of ‘Valuation’ has hit entrepreneurs. In fact, there have been several money infusions into several restaurants. The Specialty Restaurants Ltd’s initial public offering (IPO) in May last year was a landmark event for more than one reason. It was the first Indian restaurant company to go public. (Jubilant Foodworks, another listed entity, is a franchisee for Domino’s Pizza and Dunkin’ Donuts.) Secondly, the relatively modest US$34 million IPO, oversubscribed 2.5 times, gave private equity investors a rare exit. Since then the Private Equity market has been bullish about the foodservice industry, and several companies have shown faith in a restaurant’s scalability, and decided to invest in this business, which has been a blessing for the F&B industry.

, Founder, Wipro, has agreed to invest $25 milion in JSM Corp, which runs Hard Rock Cafe, Shiros and California Pizza Kitchen. TVS Capital also has two investments in the restaurant business – Om Pizza, which runs the pizza chain Papa John’s and Indian cookery, which runs the Yellow Chilli chain of restaurants, started by celebrity chef . The Dodsal group, one of the two largest franchisees of Yum! Brands-owned Pizza Hut and KFC, is in advanced talks with private equity firm New Silk Route (NSR) to sell 30-40 percent stake in the company. The deal could be anywhere between Rs 300 and Rs 500 crore

Super Specialisation
There are several emerging restaurants that believe in super specialisation. For example, Fat Lulus in Gurgaon specialises in thin crust gourmet pizzas, In London Burgers and Lobsters only serves burgers and lobsters. Soda Bottle Opener has experimented with Irani Cafes (a concept which was losing steam in Mumbai)by giving it a new (trendy) avatar. The result has been the emergence of a super successful concept. Specialisation is now back with a bang, and will work very successfully with casual dining spaces and even fine dining.

*The author is Founder, CEO and Director of Square Root Hospitalities,  MGS Hospitalities, and Sohrab Sitaram Consultancy.

Emerging Themes
Eating out in India has evolved from being an occasion-driven activity to being an occasion in itself. It has become a means of catching up with friends, spending time with family, and entertaining clients.

The frequency of eating out has increased in proportion to the widening heterogeneity of the India consumer with evolving tastes and demand for more varied flavours. This difficulty in identifying consumer preferences has triggered the emergence of new themes in the market in terms of formats, cuisines, menu, ingredients and technology in the bid to attain and retain consumers and to stand out in the competition.

Hybrid & Theme-based Concepts

Traditionally, a fixed set of characteristics have been associated with various food formats. For instance, QSR with their fast food offerings and minimal table service and Fine Dine outlets with their exotic and multicourse meals/buffets with full table service and upscale seating options represent formats targeting diverse consumer groups. But, over the years, the market has evolved beyond these defined boundaries. Hybrid concepts are being introduced by players primarily to attract consumers and create a niche for themselves. These include:

Beverage-based formats

Over the past five years, beverages have gained increased prominence in the food services market. In parallel with the growth of the café culture, tea lounges, as a concept, have also gained momentum. The large populace of tea lovers is open to experimenting with variants of tea, even at a premium price. Needless to say, this opportunity has been readily tapped by both Indian and international players. Even regional brands like Tapri Chai, Chai Garam and Chai Point, and business houses like the Tata’s (Chai Unchai) and Waghbakri (Waghbakri tea lounges) have forayed into the space. These tea-based chains offer a wide choice of Indian and international tea flavours, besides blended teas like honey, herbal, and fruit tea.

The growing significance of tea is best showcased by the fact that global coffee company Starbucks that recently entered India, also offers tea-based products in its offerings, such as the Tea Latte. Also gaining in popularity are alcoholic beverages, thanks to changing consumer lifestyles and the increased incidence of social drinking. This has fostered the spread of retail formats that serve an assortment of both domestic and international brands under the same roof, for example Aura, The Vodka Bar, Bombay High, etc.

Theme-based formats

These are a new concept in the food services market wherein the main theme takes precedence over all other factors, including food, service and the overall ambience. The format aims to enhance the culinary experience of the consumer by blending in art, music, culture, fine decor and much more. Some of the more innovative theme-based concepts are detailed below.

Microbreweries

The emergence of microbreweries is a recent market phenomenon. They are limited to a few geographical locations, mainly metro cities. As the name suggests, these outlets brew fresh beer in-house and offer variants across different price points, vis-à-vis conventional outlets that only serve draught or bottled beer. The format’s set-up is open – the brewing machines are encased in glass making the process visible from the seating area. To add to the experience, the staff also takes customers for a tour around the premises. Most of these breweries draw inspiration from the American and British pub culture, right from the ambience to interior design, with tables made of beer barrels, leather couches, wooden bar counters, neon displays, low lighting and smaller food offerings. Players in this space include Toits in Bangalore, Lemp Brewpub & Kitchen, Rockman’s Beer Island, Strikers and Howzatt in Gurgaon.

Entertainment Cafés

With the change in consumer behaviour and increase in competitiveness across formats, consumer retention is a challenge for every player in the market; this is creating increased importance for consumer engagement. Consequentially, exclusive entertainment zones with entertainment options as board games, pool tables, foosball, live performances, etc, are being offered by food services players to differentiate themselves and establish a unique brand proposition in the consumers’ mind. Players like Comedy Night, Open Mic, and 5 Minutes of Fame are attempting to create consumer pull through varied entertainment offerings. Another example is the , which has launched two ‘Polynesian theme’ restaurants – Mai Tai and Trader Vic, with a décor and ambience drawn on the overall experience of the Tiki culture. The set-up has large wooden statues, Tiki-inspired traditional music, and a menu that offers a mix of ethnic and regular cuisines. Other players such as Howzatt and IIFA Buzz Café in the space are based on the entertainment concept closer to cricket and Bollywood, respectively.

Region specific themes

Some of the more popular concepts can also be seen around region-centric themes that have also become popular, and include the likes of Punjabi by Nature, Oh! Calcutta, and Rajdhani, together with international cultural themes like Teppan Japanese Grill and Sushi Bar, Benjarong (Thai cuisine), etc.

Cocktail menus

In today’s market, it is important for players to balance offerings with changing consumer demand. This makes it vital for players to build relationships and, through a strong consumer connect, establish a loyal customer base. The consequence is the adoption of diverse approaches as menu engineering models (a structured approach to designing menus) and menu strategies (concepts that are creative, unique, and in line with the player’s business objectives).

Indianisation & R-Localisation

‘Indianisation’ is the current buzzword in the food services market, with players modifying their core offerings to suit the consumer’s palate. A good example is that of international player McDonald’s, which has succeeded in India with a menu sharply contrasting with its menu in the international markets. Chiefly, pork and beef-based products are excluded; instead, more than half the menu is made up by vegetarian items, and there is also product customisation for tempting the Indian palate. Another example is Pizza Hut which has introduced a customised range of pizzas like the ‘Great Indian Treat’ with Indian tastes such as tandoori, achari, etc.

In tandem with this, the ‘Rlocal’ concept has also picked up with players tweaking menus specifically for certain regional markets. Here again, McDonald’s India is exemplary – it has established a purely vegetarian outlet in the holy destination of and also in a few cities in Gujarat that have a high vegetarian population.

Value Meals

Market players are adding combos and value meals to their menu in a bid to turn a prospective customer into a consumer. Some examples of value meals include the Happy Price Menu from McDonald’s, KFC’s Bucket and Box Meals, and Subway’s combos in the QSR segment; Pizza Hut’s meal for 2, Yo China’s lunch combo, and IndiJoe’s celebration combo in casual dine; and TGIF’s combo meal in the PBCL segment.

Ingredient Consciousness

Ingredients are central to food offerings and crucial in maintaining food quality, consistency, taste, aroma, texture, etc. Today’s experiment-friendly consumer is increasingly exploring new ingredients such as asparagus and black bean sauce, even in food preparations, and opting for them at various outlets.

Organic Foods
Organically-produced food components are fast becoming a more promising alternative for the health conscious consumer as mass-produced ones may contain high amounts of chemicals. Kiosks such as Daddy’s Deli (Bangalore), cafés such as Seva Café (Ahmedabad), and Tattva Kitchen (Delhi) are some early adopters of this trend.

Gluten-free Foods

The heightened global exposure has even led to Indian consumers becoming more knowledgeable about the usage of gluten as an additive for flavouring, stabilising, or thickening food products. There is also greater awareness of the allergies and diseases associated with excessive intake of gluten. The result is a shift towards gluten-free foods by players, who have started introducing foods such as fresh salads, tandoori chicken, fish, etc. in their menus. Subway is a good example of a player offering gluten-free foods.

Tech-savvy consumers

The trend of greater technology usage by consumers has led food services players to adopt new and diverse technologies as a means of enhancing their customers’ experience and thereby establishing a unique brand identity. Prominent among these are the following:

Interactive menu screens and online restaurant reservations: Some players have introduced touchscreen devices (iPads/tablets) to enable convenient viewing of and selection from the product menu. Touché Diner (Bangalore) is India’s first touch-table diner offering interactive menus which also display images of the actual plating and presentation of food to be served.
Another innovation is the introduction of online restaurant reservation services by players like Table Grabber, Book Your Table and eat2eat. Apart from the ease of confirming reservations at no cost, these providers also make discount deals available online across various restaurants.

Social Media and Mobile Applications: With the growth of the social media phenomenon empowering consumers and informing their choices, various players have established a presence on social media platforms as Facebook and Twitter. They have also developed exclusive mobile applications to connect with customers and adopted tools as Radian 6 and Meltwater Buzz, which allow for social media monitoring, engagement with existing customers, and promotion of the brand among target consumers.
For players like Café Coffee Day, Hard Rock Café, Mocha, Beer Cafe, and Channel V Spot Café, social networks like Facebook and Twitter, and also blogging platforms, have become a core marketing medium to engage customers with interesting content, useful information (event, shows and latest offers), etc. Players like McDonald’s, KFC, and Pizza Hut have adopted a mix of social media and traditional media, but make use of the online media to offer schemes and discounts to consumers.

Brands like Domino’s Pizza have gone a step further and developed a mobile application enabling placement of food orders simply by pressing a mobile phone’s keys. Many players are also using social media platforms to encourage open consumer communication by addressing customer reviews, complaints, and grievances.

Emergence of Food Review Websites
As a part of the Internet-triggered transformation, food review websites are now a key source of information about restaurants across various locations. They host such details as product menus, restaurant pictures, location maps, reviews, ratings, and even contact details of various outlets. For instance, Burrp, Times City and Zomato are food only sites with several listed restaurants across various cities enabling consumers to explore the best food options.
New Revenue-Sharing/ Turnover Rental Models
The growing impact of high rentals on the overall cost structure of players has fuelled the evolution and widespread adoption of revenue-sharing models. These provide a cushion for players to manage costs in the event the location fails to attract the requisite number of customers and generate the anticipated revenues. Malls like in Mumbai, in New Delhi, and Prestige Forum and Sigma in Bangalore facilitate this option for players. The revenue sharing ranges between 7-10 percent for a QSR with a small carpet area and with a high APC.

Indian Brands Foraying Into International Markets
Having established a strong and successful base in India, many food service players have started making inroads into international markets. They have received a good response, driven by the growing number of Indians abroad, expatriates traveling to India and experimenting with Indian cuisines, and also the increasing acceptance of newer cuisines by international consumers. The more famous of these include specialty restaurants like Bukhara, Rajdhani, Moti Mahal, Bikanervala, and Saravana Bhavan, all of which offer authentic Indian cuisines. Among the countries of expansion are the UAE, the US, the UK, Canada, and Singapore. Even restaurants operated by well-known Indian chefs, like Sanjeev Kapoor’s Khazana, Yellow Chilli and Options are present in international markets like Dubai and Bahrain.

*Article source: NRAI India Food Servcices Report 2013

Competing on Themes
The recent years have witnessed a plethora of new concepts and formats from thematic restaurants, concept cafes to ice lounges. Chefs are becoming more creative with food fusions, and offering unique recipes and world cuisines. Street food is evolving from roadside  eateries to new organised formats to project hygiene and quality. Consumers are eager to try fresh ideas and innovations, and the industry is responding with out-of-the-box thinking, and going the extra mile for the food lovers not just by dishing out good food, but also giving them a thrilling experience as they dine

*Inputs by Shahona Datta in Kolkata and Sunayna Gupta in Ahmedabad.

Kaidi Kitchen, Kolkata
The negative connotations denoted by the word ‘Kaedi’, which means prison in Bengali, could startle many, yet make them curious enough to check out the place. The restaurant is amazing in both concept, decor, and it’s gourmet food. A short flight of stairs opens up to a wooden replica of a jail door, which lead customers into a spacious restaurant setting. Adding to the dash of drama is the prison-like interiors. In fact, the restaurant banks heavily on the premise that the decor will lure customers. A series of iron-barred cells of various sizes are the main attraction. These dimly lit cells are furnished with tastefully crafted marble tables and wooden chairs.

Says Rohit Ojha, Owner of Kaidi Kitchen, “The biggest challenge that we faced while implementing this concept was in deliberating whether the customers would appreciate it or not, given the fact that there might be mixed feelings of dining in a prison-like space. Having put the concept into place, we were faced with the second challenge of making our customers enjoy the experience. Though the interior is designed like a jail, it has a good ambiance with the right lighting, rich furnishing, etc.”
The idea has paid off as the restaurant is generating a very good response, especially during weekdays. The average bill size is Rs 800 for two (excluding taxes). A big draw is the gourmet food offerings which include Litti Chokha, Burmese Khowsuey, Chaas, Mexican Sizzling Steak n Salsa, Mongolian Barbecue Noodles with Veggies, and much more. According to Ojha, “Expansion is on the cards.”

Eggspress, Kolkata
Eggspress is centred around the concept of eggs and only eggs. “Being from a non-food background, the biggest challenge I faced was to convince my family and industry experts about the acceptability of this concept. I remember seeking professional help from food consultants and being discouraged by them as they insisted that “nothing different can be done with eggs. An egg is just like a potato, it’s a common food item, what different can you do with it,” says owner Rajiv Jalan.

He adds, “What they probably forgot is that an egg, just like the common potato, has many health benefits. Even though it is the one of most commonly consumed food items, with a wide acceptability amongst consumers of all age groups, the options in terms of new ways of preparing an egg dish, are very limited. So, I conceived the idea of widening the range and scope of egg as a food item that can be consumed in countless different ways.”

The menu comprises of the eatery’s signature Irish Egg Delight, Egg chicken Mughlai paratha, Spinach Mushroom Fritata, etc, and more recently, Eggspress has introduced international cuisines customised to suit local tastes. “We keep introducing new dishes and take customer feedback through free sampling and trials before adding them to the menu,” informs Jalan.
“In today’s time-pressed world, fast food predominantly means fried and junk food. If you are health conscious, you will go for salads, but you have to add artificial flavours or sauces to make it taste different each time. The whole idea behind Eggspress was to provide nutritious, healthy and tasty fast food – which have very high acceptability amongst all age groups. Egg is one of Nature’s most balanced food. It is tasty, filling, good for health, easy to cook, and it offers endless opportunities to experiment with in a variety of dishes.”

Presently, Eggspress is a 120 sqft QSR within a food court, and following its success, Jalan plans to extend the brand into a fine dining format.According to him, the response has been overwhelming and above their expectations. “We have a very high percentage of repeat customers. People drive down from the far ends of the city to have our egg dishes as such variety and delicious preparation is not found anywhere else.”

As regards investments, Jalan informs that a typical QSR would require around Rs 10 lakh, while for a 20 seater dine-in it would be Rs 25 lakhs and more. Recounting the early days of Eggspress, he reveals that it has not been smooth sailing, “There were a lot of mistakes, but we were quick to learn. One of the major mistakes was in designing the equipment, as ours was a completely new concept. We did not know of a prototype that could be replicated, as a result, our production was not smooth; fuel costs were high as we purchased high capacity equipments, which were really not required for our kind of cooking.”

New formats expected from the Eggspress brand include Eggspress Gossip – a casual dine-in/coffee shop format with 20+ seating; and Eggspress Leisure – a high-end restaurant serving all-day breakfast with a wide menu.

“In 2014, we intend to add 5 more QSRs and 3 Gossip outlets. Eggspress Leisure will be launched at a later date depending on the business scenario and space availability as getting good real estate is a challenge. Expansion through franchising is also on the charts, but only after we reach a number of minimum 5 company-owned Eggspress Gossips.”

While the company has been receiving franchising enquiries from Ranchi and Patna, Jalan informs that they will focus on Kolkata as the city has one of the highest per capita consumption of eggs in India.

Fish Fish, Kolkata
Bengalis and their love affair with fish is no secret. Taking the love for fish to a whole new level are Aniruddha Guha Roy and Chef Debasish Kundu, who have opened a dream place for fish connoisseurs, called Fish Fish, in Kolkata’s upmarket Ballygunge area. “Although, one can rightly think that opening a fish-oriented restaurant would narrow down the customer base, we went ahead with the concept as we felt that  Kolkata is a place where people love and enjoy eating fish, then why not open a fish-specific restaurant?” says Roy.

Fish is considered a great health food; it is low in calories and has a good amount of omega 3. Barring a few categories, fish has zero cholesterol content, which makes it an ideal choice for health freaks. It is also a non-controversial dish; it can be relished by people of all religious beliefs, as is not the case with chicken, mutton or beef.

According to Chef Kundu, the utmost importance is given to freshness. “We buy only a certain quantity of fish that can be exhausted in a day. We never serve  stale fish, as our business is based on quality food, and we will never compromise on it. The wide variety that we serve also breaks the monotony for the staple fish and rice dish. Kolkatans now want to try international dishes that we offer. Our most popular dish is Padma ilish – you will not find it anywhere else but at Fish Fish.”

Although Kolkata loves eating Fish, it’s a brave decision to dedicate a restaurant only to fish dishes. Kundu is working on a cookery book, besides hosting cookery shows. He also plans to open a restaurant where there customers will find books to read, fresh fish preparations, and wine pairings.

The Little Door, Mumbai
The Little Door bar and kitchen is a fun, comfortable place unlike any other, that serves a variety of Mediterranean fare including fondue, pizzas, sloppy giant burgers and the house specialty – the Drunkesserts. Not to mention a great selection of beer, wine, cocktails and alcohol. Once a week it is open in the day for the famous Sunday Hangover Brunch.

In the attempt to bring to the table a more meaningful experience to the regular lunch outing, it showcases work by young artists. The Little Door also promotes fun events such as the ‘The Jug Chug Championship’ which is a monthly contest where the winner who can chug down a mug of beer the fastest gets not only a month’s supply of free beer, but also a couple voucher for The Hangover Sunday Brunch plus a crazy gift, and with events like The Acoustic Tuesdays where  different artists come every week and give live performance. Pubcast, beer games like Jug chugs, Beer pong, message in the bottle and Bladder Burst.

Aadhar, Ahmedabad
Aadhar, a hospitality initiative of Govind Patel and his wife Ramila, was set up in 2007. This 2,000 sqft theme based place is designed like a palatial Rajasthani haveli complete with a dome, wide open spaces, and a lavish seating arrangement.
Patel, an NID graduate, had designed many such theme-based food outlets for known restaurant brands in Ahmedabad. The husband wife duo like to call the restaurant a ‘Temple of traditional food’. In fact, there is a temple built in the middle of the restaurant, which also has a beautiful fountain.

The restaurant is geared to hold small gatherings, large conferences, and even theme weddings. The menu serves a-la-carte Gujarati snacks and three types of Gujarati thali: Swad, Prasad and Mahaprasad. The cost per thali ranges from Rs 400 to 530. Food is served in copper utensils, and prepared with attention to hygiene, freshness and quality.  According to Patel, their USP is the consistent taste and quality. Only natural and fresh ingredients are used; in fact, the entire menu is designed keeping in mind seasonal availability of food items, and there is no usage of synthetic preservatives, colourants or spices.

The restaurant sees a regular customer base of 70-80 footfalls on weekdays and around 100 on weekends. 80 percent of guest are locals, while NRIs and tourists comprise 20 percent, especially during the Navratri festival and months from December-March.
The owners rely on word of mouth publicity besides promotional events and advertisements from time-to-time. Aadhar has witnessed consistent growth over the years, and has established itself deeply in the hospitality business. Currently, they have only one restaurant and are open to franchise for expansion.

100% Rock, Delhi
This rock pub cum restaurant in Delhi, tells its story through music, ambience, interiors and the menu design. After having experienced the ambience and music, the next adventure is in scanning the menu as there’s a rock story in the menu too.
“We had thought of musical cards and Ipads that start playing rock music the moment you pick your dish, but then chose convenience over gimmick when designing the menu. It’s got the ease of use like any other, especially with the low lighting in the evening. However, there are famous rock stories within – and drinks dedicated to the best of rock music, ” says Anubhav Swami, graphic designer of 100% Rock.

The beverage menu opens with a short note on musicology (study of music), followed by short notes on famous rockstars like Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, The Who, Frank Zappa and many more on every page. The innovative cocktail menu is named after famous rock tracks like Mr. Tambourine Man, Drifters’s Escape, Three Angels, Handy Dandy – a cool mix of Rum and ice cream, Hurricane, The Real Me, Mary Jane, Long Live Rock, One night Stand and many more.

Rajwadu Ahmedabad
Lantern lit pathways, lush green surroundings, a courtyard temple, works of art and architecture, epitomise the Rajwadu restaurant that was conceptualised and set up by Paresh Patel, Rajesh Patel and Manish Patel in 1998. The 12,000 square yard restaurant is designed around a village theme, complete with eco-friendly materials. The aim was to give consumers a wholesome dining experience in the lap of nature.

Traditional Rajasthani and Gujarati food are served on Rajwadi khatla (cots made of coir), under the open sky. Every guest is given a warm welcome and addressed as ‘Hukum’ (lord). The authentic cuisine (called the Rajwadi thali) is a combination of seasonal and fresh food with close to 36-40 items, and priced Rs 495. Jain food is also available on request. There is a separate snacks unit called Madhurya in the premises.

Families and friends visit this place to enjoy and spend quality time in an environment further enriched by various entertainment activities such as a puppet show, magic show, folk dances, a village haat for shopping, pottery, monkey show, a handicraft shop, etc.

With a dining capacity of 1,000 people, the average footfall is 300-400 on weekdays, and over 600 on weekends. Tourists and NRIs comprise 30 to 40 percent of the footfalls.  Annual growth is 10 to12 percent Despite being an open air restaurant, off seasons like the monsoons witness good business with tents, food festivals like Makai Mahotsav, etc,  to attract customers. Every festival of all religions is celebrated with folk activities and change in menu. Customers can host parties, weddings, birthdays, social functions, and corporate meets at a dedicated place called Upavan. To its credit, Rajwadu has won ‘Times Food Award’ for best Gujarati food’ three times in a row.

Rang De Basanti Dhaba, Delhi
Highways change and roads mend, but what stays constant are the dhabas dotted across the map of the country. Rang de Basanti Dhaba is a modern take on the traditional concept of dhabas. The name is inspired from the free will and independent spirit that personifies the youth of the country today. Loacted in Delhi, the place combines the earthy elements of food in a rustic set-up with the modernity that drives factors like hygiene, décor and air-conditioning. A life-sized yellow tractor is its focal point.
“Food and hospitality for me is a professional journey, shifting from Kolkata to USA and finally Delhi is a life journey… and personifying this journey is the life-sized tractor sitting inside each of my restaurants. “It’s the centerpiece – and my show stopper. Whether old or young, irrespective of gender or formality, there’s hardly a guest who leaves RDBD without getting his pic clicked on or next to the tractor,” says owner Abhimanyu Maheshwari.

“At times, the placement of the tractor influences the place chosen by us to open a new RDBD. At both South Extension and Sarojini, though they’re both on the first floor, what clinched the deal was the presence of a huge glass façade through which the tractor could be lifted inside. At times we have found locations that could be true winners, but if a new tractor cannot find its place in the restaurant, then we don’t go ahead with that real estate choice.

Ame Gujarati, Ahmedabad
Ame Gujarati serves Gujarati food with a modern twist (fusion). Lovelesh Mehta, founder and MD, created the concept with the aim of showing how modern Gujarat dines and enjoys life. Individual, tent shaped, eating spaces, air conditioned and glass walled surround a central courtyard. The effect is an environment that exudes serenity, where customers can enjoy complete privacy amidst luxurious surroundings.

Authentic Gujarati thalis include Vepari, Sheth and Nagar Sheth. These are differentiated according to the number of items offered and the utensils in which they are served. For instance, Vepari thali uses steel cutlery, Sheth serves in bronze, and Nagar Sheth in silver. The price range ranges from Rs 270 to Rs 551 inclusive of all taxes. Every food item is made in-house (the bulk kitchen is located in Thaltej, were raw materials are prepared and then bought to the restaurant for the final cooking). Mehta claims that every recipe is made with SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) under a maintained temperature.

The 3,200 square yard restaurant sees footfalls of about 100-120 on weekdays, which go up to 300-400 on weekends. The overall revenue generation is 60-70 percent from local visitors and 40 percent from tourists/NRIs. Annual growth percentage is between 15-20 percent. The place is popular for its various food festivals, and as a venue for hosting weddings, corporate meets, etc. The brand is looking for franchisees, especially in south India. Franchisees should have minimum space of 4,000 sqft and minimum investment of Rs 60 to 70 lakh. A franchise outlet is coming up in Pune this year.

Barrel,  Delhi
With a splash of graffiti, sculptures, and music depicting a new world order in an uncharacteristic way, Barrels promises to be the place for the socially awakened where both women and men can unwind and feel liberated. An epicenter for artists, musicians, authors, comedians, and the free-willed, Barrels, located at PVR Priya Complex, Vasant Vihar, Delhi, positions itself as India’s first thematic pub.

Though the pub elicits a classy, very English vibe, it also serves as a family-friendly place with its melange of colours, cheerful visuals, music, art, and lighting, ergonomically designed to de-stress  the mind and soul. It offers a wholesome gastronomic experience. With a menu designed by chefs Shakil, Amit and Sandeep, whose USP is that the trio  belong to the foothills of the Himalayas. The menu is a selection of pan-ethnic dishes influenced by Asian, African, American and European cooking traditions. Dishes include Keema Masala Pasta, Vietnamese Chicken Skewers, Steaked Fillet of Fish Sizzler, Murg Salli Chaat; Kebabs in Egg Blanket, Stuffed Parathas, Yakitori Chicken, Crème Veg, Mushroom Penne Salad, Bunny Chao, Floating Fish, etc, along with a range of desserts such as baked cheese cake, mud cake, doughnuts, tiramisu, smoothies and shakes, besides beers, whiskeys, wines, and cocktails. A meal for two costs Rs 800. Free beer pints are handed over during birthdays, puzzle games and guzzling competitions, and the pub also celebrates movies and sitcoms, and, therefore, has an instant connect with the youth.
The place owes its USP to Akshay Ohri and Priyanka Sharma. “Entertaining people and making people happy while they dine out is true hospitality. Each guest’s meal is prepared to order from scratch, and we take pride in what we serve and how it is presented, ” says Ohri, who spends most of his time researching newer ways to improve customer experience. As operational head, Sharma not only manages the staff, formalises menus, organises functions and bookings, but also ensure that everything is prepped and ready to work smoothly. “Barrels could be easily termed as an English-accented breakfast or a neighbourhood world cuisine eatery or a dessert parlour famous for its elegant hand-made desserts. The idea is to create visible standards in all the realms of hospitality,” she says.

DUDE FOOD, New Delhi
Dude Food is one of the quirkiest debutant in the ever evolving F&B scene of the capital. Located at a student-friendly locality of Satya Niketan (opposite Sri Ventakeshwar College) it  follows a simple philosophy: ‘Life is too short for mediocre meals’. It promises to eradicate the political correctness from Delhi’s food scene.

Cheerful visuals with a splash of graffiti covered walls, and music depicting the New World Order, sets the mood. The restaurant elicits an urban street vibe, and has an instant connect with the youth. Understanding the pocket depth of fellow dudes in town, the place is a complete value for money hang-out place.

Heady aromas whet up an appetite, making way for a wholesome gastronomical experience of American cuisine.  Everything on the menu is deliciously honest and will surely offend the anorexic or those paranoid of calorie counts. The food is straight from the heart, inspired by the dark abyss of gluttony; and as Head Chef Gaurav Chawla puts it, “The offerings are unpretentious and taste is paramount…it’s the kind of stuff that cults are made of.”

The menu comprises of some crazy preparations. To kickstart the day, there are  waffles with ice cream,  caramelised banana and buttermilk pan cakes with honey,  creamy smoothies and thick shakes. Though there is hardly anything for the calorie conscious, the Dude salad bowl, with an amalgamation of 20 veggies is good enough to satisfy their cravings. Post breakfast offerings include Drunken Chicken, Sticky Bacon wrapped sausages, and the Dude Burger with a bacon weaved mutton patty. A highlight on the menu is the Garbage Plate, which after wooing the Americans since 1918, is set to come alive for the first time for Indians. A meal for two  costs Rs 400.

Cool Dude’s chief promoter , says, “The idea was to break paradigms and kickstart a counter culture movement in the F&B space. Dude Food is a 100 percent self-owned business, operated by Delicious Concept Pvt Ltd. We plan to start more outlets after completing atleast five months of the first outlet. In 24 to 30 months we will have 5 outlets in Delhi-NCR.”