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Vineet Manocha, Lite Bite Foods: Casual Dining Concepts Best for Indian F&B Market

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Headquartered in Delhi -NCR, started operations in 2001. Today, it has over eight core brands including Zambar, Punjab Grill, , and Asia Seven and has been credited with launching unique concepts in the F&B Retail space under the Fine Dining and Casual Dining restaurant verticals.

, Vice President – Culinary at Lite Bite Foods shares the expansion plans of the company and opines that casual dining or no-fuss concepts are the best fit for the Indian F&B market.

What are your expansion plans?

Our plate is quite full. On 01st of March, we opened 14 outlets in terminal 2 Mumbai International airport – Street Foods by Punjab Grill (3), Bakers Street (2), Bakers Street Bistro (1), Asia Seven (1), Maashto (a new concept specially for the airport, the very first one), franchise of KFC, , CCD (3), Fresco Cafe (1),  Zambar (1),  and Subway (1).

We are currently in the planning stage of opening another 20 outlets, comprising a mix of all brands plus new concepts, in the domestic departures security hold area in terminal 2 of the Mumbai airport. These are expected to open by early 2015.

Apart from that, 23 outlets of Street Foods of India and Bakers Street will also come up in the soon-to-be opened Mumbai metro which connects Versova to Ghatkopar. The outlets are scheduled to open in June 2014.

Zambar and Asia seven outlets are also expected to open in Abu Dhabi in the third quarter of 2014 while Punjab Grill Washington and Punjab Grill Bangkok are both expected to open in February 2015.

This fiscal, we are targeting a turnover of approx. Rs 220 crore from all our brands.

Q. How do you come up with food innovation at your restaurants and outlets?

We have an extremely talented team of Brand Chefs, who are continuously trying new recipes.  Our team understands the ingredients thoroughly, which helps us to innovate new menus.  There is a dedicated development kitchen in our Gurgaon commissary to facilitate innovation.  FrescCo being a buffet concept changes its menu on a daily basis.  Punjab Grill did a Winter menu and a “Chakhna” menu recently, which were very well appreciated.  Asia 7 ran a “Yum Cha” promotion in Mumbai last month and Pino’s has recently introduced Pan Pizzas and a completely fresh menu at Vatika, Gurgaon outlet.

Concept development is a complete team effort at Lite Bite Foods.  A lot of brainstorming, exchange of ideas and market research goes into concept development.  We have the best team and on top of that are our directors who are absolute foodies.  They are continuously on the look-out for new ideas and new food.  Many a times, they are the harbingers of a new concept.

Ideally a restaurant menu should be evenly balanced when it comes to vegetarian and non-vegetarian offerings.  It also depends upon specific location of the restaurant.  Number of vegetarian or non-vegetarian items is directly proportional to the guest profile in the catchment area.

Revamping complete menu is done on need basis only.  However, we continue introducing new items on blackboard menus.  Food promotions and festivals give us the chance to showcase our culinary prowess to our patrons.  It is our endeavour to run atleast one promotion per outlet per quarter.

Q. What are the most popular items or cuisines in Zambar, Punjab Grill, Asia Seven, and FrescCo?

Zambar’s Seafood is very famous as it is absolutely fresh and crisp!  Zambar Thalis are very popular too.  Punjab Grill is known for its best kebabs and Dal Punjab Grill.  We also serve Salmon tikka and Tandoori Duck which are a hit among consumers. Asia Seven serves the most authentic Asian food and it’s known for Sushi, Chinese, and Thai cuisines.  FrescCo is known for its Mediterranean cuisine.  Fresh thin crust pizzas and mezzehs are the specialties at FrescCo.

Q. Do you also use probiotic / specialty ingredients for your dishes?

The term probiotic is gaining popularity in the modern culinary world but probiotic ingredients are being used in ancient cuisines like Indian, Chinese, German etc. since time immemorial. Yoghurt and fermented pickles are the most popular example of probiotic ingredients.

We use homemade yoghurt regularly in Punjab Grill, Zambar, FrescCo.  We also use Miso paste, Bean pastes, Kimchi etc. in Asia Seven.

Q. How many chefs do you have in each restaurant? Which kitchen equipments do you use and why?

The number of chefs in a restaurant depends on the size, hours of operation, and average revenue it generates.  On an average we have a kitchen brigade of 14 to 20 Chefs in our restaurants.

We use a combination of Indian fabricated as well as imported kitchen equipments.  Choice of equipment again depends on various factors like cuisine being served, availability of good quality indigenous equivalent, etc.

Q. What kind of F&B concepts do you think are fit for the Indian market and why?

Indian market is very vibrant and likes to experiment.  Urban population is travelling much more now and appreciates good international as well as regional Indian cuisine.  With almost 450 million youth in 18-40 age bracket, Casual Dining, no-fuss concepts are the best fit for the Indian market, though the acceptability of specific cuisines is majorly dependent upon regional preferences.

Q. Do you think international cuisines are doing better than regional ones? Why or why not?

Mediterranean, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, and Thai cuisines are the most popular international cuisines in India.  International cuisines have their experimental value but they cannot beat Indian regional cuisine. Indian cuisine attracts the maximum repeat guests as it is our staple food.

Overseas travel has seen a huge jump in recent years and when people travel, awareness increases; they try new cuisines and develop a palette for the same. Also, the media boom has played a major role in making various International cuisines flood India. Trying new cuisines is considered aspirational and people boast about their new found knowledge.

For a cuisine to become popular internationally, it should offer a wide variety of flavours, textures, and tastes .  Wider the variety better will be the adaptability of the cuisine.

Q. What according to you will be the top three flavours ruling the F&B market in India?

For anything to rule the markets, it has to be versatile and widely used.  Chilly is one flavour which is very versatile not for its pungency but for its flavours.  It is available in various shapes, sizes, colours, pungency levels and can be used in many ways like pickles, oils, marmalades, dips, marinades etc.

The second flavor is the one India is known for since ancient times, the Indian spice mix or Garam masala.

Cocoa or chocolate is the third flavour which is now getting very popular and gaining acceptance from patrons in various forms .  A very versatile flavour which can be mixed with various ingredients yet has its own identity.  Equally adaptable in sweets as well as savoury dishes.

Q. What are the key elements for setting up a restaurant in India?

First and foremost, you should have a concrete business plan before setting up a restaurant. A right location, right ambience, best quality food and best service are also essential.

Other key elements include a right environment which invigorates the senses of the guest in the form of taste, eye appeal, music, right colours, right aromas and inviting interiors. No compromise on quality should be allowed whether it’s ingredients, equipments, service, or hygiene. Last but not the least, a great, well-motivated and well-trained team.