How is The Park brand of hotels positioned in India’s food service market?
The Park (a member of design hotels ™) is considered the pioneer of luxury boutique hotels. It has properties in India’s major cities and leisure destinations. All the hotels are situated in prime locations, and they house some of India’s most innovative restaurants, liveliest bars and nightclubs. These hotels are currently in Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kochi, Kolkata, Navi Mumbai, New Delhi and Visakhapatnam. More are slated to open soon in Kochi, Pune and Jaipur.The hotel chain owes its unique design and architecture to Conran & Partners, UK. The Park in New Delhi, for instance, is inspired by the five elements of Nature (water, fire, air, earth and space) drawn from the Hindu science of Vastu Shastra.
Please elaborate on the different restaurant formats at The Park, New Delhi, and their USP, including the cuisines specific to each
FIRE is a contemporary Indian restaurant situated at the lobby level. An arresting element of the design is the curved bronze wall separating AGNI and FIRE . The continuous window gives glimpses of the bar through a unique simulated barrier of raging fire, specially created by LEDS and Perspex. Fire has been awarded the best Indian restaurant for the third year running. The restaurant serves traditional, authentic Indian food, albeit with a contemporary twist.
AGNI is our award-winning bar at the lobby level. It exudes energy, and celebrates life. At its 35 feet long bar, mixologists in uniforms styled by Rohit Bal, create old time favourites along with new concoctions like Rose Martinis, Love Junk and Seasonal Fruit Margaritas. A dance floor with the resident DJ’s picks from world music completes the experience.
Then there is MIST – an all-hours dining restaurant, with an element of ‘water’ in its design. With a predominantly Italian menu and a wide selection of Asian and Mediterranean dishes, the restaurant offers a relaxed and contemporary ambience. It has a special confectionary counter offering fresh cakes, breads and chocolates made from traditional European recipes.
AQUA is another award wining poolside space, offering a glamorous alfresco experience. A landscaped garden terrace opens directly from MIST, offering an unusual outdoor dining experience. Its international menu comprises of Mediterranean and barbeque dishes prepared from traditional recipes, spice mixes, marinade and unique flavours.
Then there are three banquet halls: Mantra, Yantra I and Yantra II with a combined capacity of 700 covers. These multifunctional contemporary spaces are suitable for business meetings, cocktail dinners, and fashion events. The Terrace, overlooking the pool and the adjoining garden, is ideal for a gathering of 40 to 50 people. Aqua Garden is an extension of the alfresco dining space and suitable for an open-air private function, an informal fashion walk through, or a small cocktail party. Designed for 150 people, it offers a live grill and barbeque counters.
The food service sector in India is seeing new cooking equipments and advanced technology based machines. How is this impacting your F&B business?
The spectrum of food preparation has definitely evolved. Five star hotels are now on the same platform and the same purchasing capabilities with respect to the latest cooking equipments from combiovens to dishwashers as the high-end standalone restaurants like Olive Bar, Mamagota, etc, which are offering the same quality of well prepared dishes, but at half the cost.
However, 5-star hotels have an advantage over them when it comes to hygiene, security and safety. Standalone restaurants are located in high streets, and even though they may be in upscale markets, there are still open drains outside and the market’s general unhygienic condition. In a hotel such as ours, all food is prepared in-house from start to finish. The expats and foreigners especially prefer dining at our restaurants for reasons of hygiene and safety. We have 100% external audit conducted by the ISO, FHRAI, and HACCP, etc, who monitor our kitchens and restaurants on a regular basis.
At The Park, what we look for in our cooking equipments is their warranty, insurance and maintenance (the last should be within 10 km of the hotel). We use a mix of international and locally assembled/fabricated brands, which include names such as Samsung (microwaves), WMF (coffee machines), Cimballi (Italian brand for.coffee machines), Electrolux (for F&B support equipment), Rite Equipment, Hobart, and Robocoupe. Brands are selected after a market recce by a team comprising of the executive chef, the purchase manager and the F&B manager.
India’s food service sector is beset by multiple multiple taxes. Is there a solution to this issue?
There have been several forums over the years and across the country where the tax issue has been raised and debated time and again. Representations have been made for a single window clearance. In my view, a developing country like India must adapt to the taxations and not take a negative approach. Taxes such as the VAT, on liquor, service, education cess as part of the hotel’s CSR activities, will continue to be there as part of the country’s growth journey and as a part of its taxation policy, till we become a developed country. In the USA, for instance, restaurants levy only two taxes.
In India, the service tax varies from 4.80 to 4.95% on the total value of the meal and covers all restaurants that are air-conditioned, and which serve liquor. While it is necessary to show the service tax separately on invoices, some restaurants may not show the service tax separately but would still be liable to pay it to the government. VAT is usually levied at 5 to 20% but only on certain items, and it varies from state to state. VAT is levied on the bill and is also applicable to the service charge. Restaurants that levy service tax below 4.95% are obliged to levy two education-related cesses. If service tax is levied at 4.80% on food and beverage, the restaurant levies an education cess of 2% and an education cess of 1% on the total bill. Then there is the service charge, which is usually levied at 5 to10%, but there is no minimum or maximum. The final amount is meant to be shared by the staff, and this is where the restaurant’s honesty/transparency comes in. Five-star hotels like ours do not levy a service charge on the invoice. Tips given to stewards in a F&B outlet by the guests are kept in a pool and distributed at the end of the month to all the staff in the particular outlet.
Please share your views on the food laws and regulations stipulated by the FSSAI, and the impact on the F&B business.
As a food service operator and like most firms chasing vendors, we are not at par with global standards. Why should we accept products that have been banned in other countries, or are nearing their expiry date? FSSAI has come up (almost overnight) with their rules and regulations on imported food, which have affected businesses, but we should look at the larger picture and take a long term view as we are actually headed towards a more structured import -export business scenario.
No doubt the FSSAI holding back consignments of imported goods at various ports because they do not meet their labelling laws, etc, has impacted our business adversely. Products for our hotel come through duty-free channels and through stipulated vendors. We purchase our liquor directly from an external distributor or through the online channel. We source a mix of local produce and imported products depending on the cuisine and outlet, for instance, we have bookings for very high-end banqueting, especially during the winter months, when our purchase of imported/gourmet products go up significantly.
What new trends do you envisage for the food service sector of India?
With so many options from cuisines to food service formats available to consumers now, retaining them is the biggest challenge. At The Park, we believe in loyalty build up. If out of 100 guests, 40 are repeat guests, it would make business stable. To cater to varied tastes and preferences, our various restaurant formats offer different cuisines. In fact, The Park is known for creating food fusions, but more than fusion, we believe in creating concepts such as pool side Mediterranean or barbeques, Chettinad festival at Fire, and so on depending on the seasonality. The concepts keep changing so that our guests have something new to look forward to.
A soft corner in India is the rise in the popularity of Asian foods. Two years ago, sushi and other Oriental foods were very popular. But it is the Pan Asian cuisine more than Asian that will do better and sustain consumer interest .Currently, American food is seeing a huge influx from burgers and fries to hot dogs, etc. Fair trade products (such as Starbucks coffee), and organic products are also seeing demand from the more aware and health conscious segment of consumers, so healthy food could become a major trend.