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Fine dining brands hungry for India debut

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Some the world’s most upmarket restaurant brands are ready to take a bite out of the India story. Unlike the multinational fast-food brands like McDonald’s and KFC, which have expanded in the country over a decade with hundreds of outlets, these high-end chains want to remain exclusive.

The list includes top fine dining brands such as London’s Hakkasan and Carluccio’s and Las Vegas’s Le Cirque, all of which are setting shop in India soon. New York’s Japanese restaurant Megu and San Francisco-headquartered Trader Vic’s, a trendy Polynesian-themed restaurant chain, have also finalized their India plans as an increasingly affluent middle class splurges on premier branded eateries.

Some of the iconic restaurant names such as Le Cirque and Hakkasan have loyal upper crest admirers. Trader Vic’s has only around 20 outlets worldwide and Hakkasan has even fewer. Le Cirque has announced plans to arrive at The Leela Palace in New Delhi while Hakkasan will open doors in Mumbai’s upscale western suburb Bandra.

Belgian bakery chain Le Pain Quotidien recently opened in South Mumbai’s tony neighborhood of Colaba, serving traditional handmade breads, salads and tartines. California Pizza Kitchen, too, has moved in with some stores, hoping to target India’s IT workforce and its linkages with the Silicon Valley.

"The fundamental economic story is compelling, with more people eating out in aspirational restaurant brands," said Jai Singh co-founder & ED of JSM Corp, which brought Hard Rock Cafe and California Pizza Kitchen to India. JSM Corp operates a network of 12 restaurants, including five Hard Rock Cafes, and will add at least six new doors in the current year. "We could be looking at 80-100 outlets of California Pizza Kitchen over the next five to six years," Jai Singh said.

His peer and restaurant entrepreneur Anjan Chatterjee is planning to list his company Speciality Restaurants, which owns brands such as Mainland China and Oh! Calcutta, on the bourses this year.

India’s top twelve F&B brands together reported revenues in excess of Rs 5,000 crore during 2010, according to retail and mall management consultants Asipac. "There is a fairly significant market opening up for fine dining brands even as fast food chains like KFC and McDonald’s could be reporting annualized revenue in excess of $1 billion each by 2016," said Asipac MD Amit Bagaria.

The fine dining brands entering India will be tweaking their price and menu—upma is a breakfast special at Le Pain, for instance—for enticing the still conservative Indian households. Holding on to their international price was not an option here with the market for niche restaurant brands just opening up, said a restaurant entrepreneur who did not wish to be named. Eating out and entertainment are estimated to account for 5% of the Indian household’s expenses.

Pawanjit Singh, who is behind bringing Le Pain Quotidien to the country, said the Indian market was ready for a lot of niche international concepts in the F&B space. "We have seen a lot of international chains with mass appeal come to India in the past decade. As the Indian consumers become aware through their international travels about more exclusive concepts, it is the right time for such outfits to enter the country." Le Pain currently has one store in Mumbai and will look to consolidate here before expanding to other cities. It will soon be competing with another Belgian artisanal patisserie Debailleul, positioned as luxury food delivery and take-out service with limited seating and high-end prices. Le Pain, which has remained a neighborhood bakery with only 150 outlets globally in the past 20 years, will follow a similar strategy in India and not take the mass expansion route.

"While the restaurant business is seen as being glamorous, the statistics are stacked up against it. Nine out of ten chains that start meet with failure as real estate and labour costs are steep in the country. And the space is only getting more competitive," JSM Corp’s Jai Singh added.

Source : Times of India

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