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Foodservice's Latest Offering: Premium casual dining

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The momentum in premium casual dining may be hard to explain given the price-sensitivity of Indian diners. But restaurants in this segment appeal to consumers looking for an exciting and distinctive dining experience at a lower cost than fine dining. Nivedita Jayaram Pawar takes a closer look at this new, emerging segment…
A new trend in casual dining is sweeping both operators and consumers alike. And that’s premium casual dining. “Hidden within the casual dining category, premium casual dining has emerged as a fast-growing subset that has high potential for growth. Restaurants offering Italian, European, Pan Asian and Indian cuisines are doing well in this segment,” confirms industry veteran Samir Kuckreja, who is also the founder and CEO of Tasanaya Hospitality, a boutique consulting firm.
The Concept: Old barriers between fine-dining and casual-dining are blurring. Premium casual dining now makes it possible to combine the two. “It offers a casual yet superior dining experience to customers who want to enjoy fresh flavours through the latest preparation techniques, but don’t have a whole afternoon or evening to spend at a restaurant,” explains , Head Chef – The Korner House By Vicky Ratnani, Vicky Ratnani.
Aided by a refreshing new menu, evolved restaurant design and a refined service style, premium casual dining restaurants are now trying to appeal to both the younger generation and families. Brands like Social, Sodabottleopenerwala, Farzi Café and The Korner House By Vicky Ratnani have been pushing the casual dining model and putting a greater focus on hospitality and restaurant design, thereby gaining popularity and expanding consistently.
The Target: The premium casual dining segment is primarily targeted at HNIs (including professionals and young, working individuals). This is also the segment that is well-travelled and experienced, understands the work-life balance and is open to different cuisines from around the world.
“These are people who believe in working hard and partying harder! They eat out at least 10 times a month. But we still have a long way to go and grow, considering the fact that people in China eat out 22 times in a month!” says restaurateur and Director of Silver Beach Entertainment and Hospitality, Hitesh Keswani.
The quest to try new places and the desire to experience a good ambiance at affordable prices are aiding the growth of the sector. “Consumers are increasingly looking for both value and quality and are expecting a lot from their eating out experience,” says Ratnani.
“The modern diner searches for excitement and something new, every time he dines out. Restaurants are now both the provider of tasty food and drinks as well as a social experience.”
Location Matters: Most players in this segment are scattered in high-income urban locations, which can draw customers from a large surrounding area. These establishments serve as a post work choice of unwinding. “Our guests love good food, great cocktails and are not very price sensitive, nor are they into fine dining. They want a casual place to hang out with good quality and great service,” says Keswani.
Points of Differentiation: Premium casual joints offer an exciting and distinctive dining experience. They appeal to consumers who want to avoid making truly extravagant restaurant choices, while still indulging in a unique, social dining experience that feels worthy of the cost. Though the lines are now blurring, there are some basic differences between casual and premium casual dining.
Consumers have responded very positively to the combination of top chefs, great plating, an extensive wine list, large and highly indulgent dessert menu and a reservation policy. In addition, these venues score when it comes to special occasion eating out like anniversaries and birthdays as consumers find them unobtrusive but with attentive service and probably less formality.
But the clincher is the price point. Premium casual dining restaurants are leaving no stone unturned with prices that are almost at par with casual dining to attract guests and give them high quality at affordable rates. At Rs 1,500 to 2,000 (cost for two), this segment is perfectly priced midway between a very casual restaurant and fine dining and doesn’t pinch the pocket too much. It creates an illusion of going to a premium place (without shelling out 5 star restaurant rates).
They’re also good family options, something that’s top of mind for many diners. “Pricing it affordable is the key as it enables people to eat out more often, thus helping the industry as a whole. We have a fantastic middle class and a young demographic which I believe will fuel the growth in this segment,” says serial restaurateur Riyaaz Amlani.
Healthy Is In: In today’s environment of evolving consumer expectations and increased dietary preferences, restaurants can no longer afford to ignore the importance of health and nutrition. The shift is driven largely by millennials, who not only eat out more than their parents, they also deem healthy food as fresh, less processed, and containing fewer artificial ingredients. Players in the premium dining category have re-engineered their menus to appeal to quality-conscious consumers.
“We are definitely seeing a health movement, not a fad,” says Lead chef – Nom Nom and Ministry of Salad, Rohan D’souza. “Gluten free, low fat and lots of steamed stuff is what I construct for this kind of clientele. One of the most popular items is a one pot meal of kale, spinach, broccoli and Chinese cabbage stir fried in a mild broth with brown rice and a bit of tofu. The non vegetarian version is a lean grilled chicken breast with lemon paprika and garlic on a quinoa, green apple salad with a organic honey lemon dressing.”
Outlook: Premium casual dining is certainly a key concept to watch out for as the success of this format reveals the eagerness of high-income consumers for exciting and innovative dining experiences in a slower, more luxurious and more socially-oriented package.
As we head into 2017, it’s becoming clear that these upscale, casual concepts are no longer one-off novelties confined to urban foodie meccas. As the economy improves and consumers become increasingly interested in convenient, quality food, in a comforting ambience, the opportunities for premium dining restaurants will be greater than ever.

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