When it comes to opening a restaurant, nothing is easy. From deciding the right cutlery or table linen to hiring staff to negotiate with vendors for consistent supply of grocery, each step leads to bigger and bigger hurdles. What is the solution, then? The solution is meticulous planning, says Chef Sabyasachi Gorai.
A solid, creative menu is a must for a successful restaurant, of course. However, to open a restaurant and run it successfully, you need more than your culinary prowess.
“Opening a restaurant is nowhere close to replicating your culinary skills in your kitchen to make money,” says Chef Sabyasachi Gorai, aka Saby. “You may think if you can prepare dal and chappati at home easily, why can’t you do the same in a restaurant?
How difficult would it be? Well, imagine making the same thing 120 times for individual guests. Serving hot chappatis and dal every time is a different game of mathematics altogether,” he cautions.
It’s not easy, but it can be done. Gorai explains how. “First, and the most important, have a wish list. Whatever you want, whatever you plan, write it down. Nothing should be left to the last minute,” he says, adding, “when you are planning a restaurant, you cannot afford to just throw in something last minute.”
Stressing on the importance of planning, Saby says, with the basics in place and with a wish list that covers all aspects of the restaurant, the risk factor, as well as possible mistakes can be avoided. “While creating the wish list, you have to be clear what you want,” says Gorai. “Restaurant is a living space and it has to be done methodically. Nothing can be done in the last minute. If you want a bookcase, for example, in one corner of the room, it should be in your wish list.”
As a mentor at Fabrica by Chef Saby, with more than 20 years of experience in Indian as well as international hotels and restaurants, Gorai should know. So, you ask, what does the planning entail? He breaks it down to three important components – facility planning, hygiene, and menu planning
Starting the Project
Facility planning is about starting a project. Opening a restaurant is not a one-man show. One needs to have a proper team in place, where the members share the same passion. “Everybody should be aligned to the view to what the project is all about. Understanding the goal and aligning to it is very important,” Gorai says. For this, he suggests hiring experts, such as kitchen consultants.
“Professional advice is important as you may go wrong, as a result of which you may end up wasting a lot of money and creating a facility that is not enough,” he adds. According to him, the core team in the facility planning should have the following designations – director, interior designer, architect, engineers, food service facility, design consultant, and general contractor.
He may be a celebrated chef, but Gorai does not believe that a chef is the only key person behind a successful restaurant. For him, what matters most is the plan in its entirety, where each role and responsibility has been clearly defined.
“It is important to talk of your budgets, evaluate the spaces available, design to be adopted, furniture, equipment and so on,” he says.
He says it’s also important to conduct an inspection during the execution stage, and it is always a good idea to hire a PMC (Project Management Company) to undertake audits of what is happening.
Maintaining the Space
“Just wearing a cap doesn’t make a chef clean,” argues Gorai. He adds how in India the concept of hygiene is the most neglected area, not just in restaurants, but in all aspects of life.
“Internationally, people take a shower and change clothes during each shift before entering the kitchen,” he adds. He offers a checklist to maintain hygiene in a restaurant. One, maintain a security cabin as a one-point entry for internal guests (staff).
Two, there must be a designated storage area which can hold dry grocery for at least a week. If the restaurant serves international cuisines, then the ingredients exported from abroad need to be stocked well in advance, and that too, at least for a month, considering the cost of airfare and logistics. If space is a constraint, and one cannot afford a dedicated storage area within the restaurant, one should have a designated place elsewhere. In a mall, it can be the basement. An air-conditioned car can be deployed for pick-up and drop if the store is located away from the restaurant. Three, there should be a linen room, which would house the staff uniform, table linen, cushions and so on.
In the Indian context, where temperatures soar more than 40 degrees, one cannot and should not expect the staff to wear the uniform and travel. Internationally, restaurants offer a changing room facility and a shower to ensure that the staff appearance is fresh and neat.
Four, have a plan for disposing leftover food. It is not an easy task to dispose food waste, and so, a restaurant needs to be prepared for it from the planning stage. Five, offices and work desk also need to find a place within the restaurant, as the restaurant manager and the chef need to sit for a while and plan. A sit down place for the internal staff is also important.
Six, and the most important, training of the staff. According to Gorai, good interiors, proper ambiance, good food, all will fail if the serving staff is not up to the mark. Training is extremely important. Nobody comes groomed as per the vision of the restaurant owner. Thus, a restaurateur must train his people according to his own ideas and goals.
Now comes the issues of the menu, the soul of a restaurant. The only way you can ensure a return visit from your patron is to have a menu that sets you apart from the rest. For this, Gorai says, menu engineering has to be thoughtful and well planned. He rues the fact that majority of Indian restaurants have failed to bring out a good menu. He explains, “You have to be clear with the menu. It is supposed to be self-explanatory. There is no need to use flowery language, but it should read enticing.”
And, the look of the menu is important too. “It is always better to begin with pastel colours and then move towards darker shades,” says Gorai. “Similarly, when it comes to deciding on the pricing, it should go from lower to higher.” He says, menu engineering is an art in itself and needs a lot of planning, as it is based on the menu that a guest will be comfortable to experiment with food that he is not familiar with.
When it comes to running the business, Gorai argues that to take care of the success of the restaurant business, there should be a strong operational budget in place. “Ideally, it is advisable to keep a budget for six months handy,” he says, adding that it is better
if one can make it one year. With real estate prices and salaries going up, which take up almost 6070 per cent of the business, budgeting is extremely important. Again, while the chef is an important component of a restaurant, Gorai asks restaurateurs not to rely completely on the chef during the restaurant planning.
“Unless the head chef is married to you or is your brother, you are better off with a consultant,” he says. “The head chef can be used for kitchen design, if he is your partner. You have to have the assurance that he will not leave you and go. Chefs need to understand the value of money. If restaurants make money, they make more money.”
Now, your restaurant is ready to serve. How do you go about attracting your clientele? “Marketing events are very important,” says Gorai, considering that products are getting more and more common. “It is all about how you market yourself. Engaging customers is a large part of the restaurant business,” he adds. In this, he says, events play an important role. “Have an event, book reading or yoga session, flea market or Sufi nights, DJ nights… Restaurants have become multidimensional spaces of events. You have to have some activities and you have to use the social media or other mediums to communicate to your target audience,” he says.
To attract footfall, one must ensure that the restaurant is visually appealing. “This also includes the presence it has on social media platforms, as people usually like to take pictures of what they eat and post in on their social media pages,” he says.
He gives the example of a waffle chain he is part of, where the entire marketing is based on aroma. “We are not doing anything special. We just make sure that when we bake waffles, the aroma travels to the patrons. It has become our selling point,” he concludes.