Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Onam Sadhya and the Leverage of Festivals as big Revenue Generators

I woke up today morning and my wife popped a question - which restaurant are we going for our Onam Sadhya lunch today? What? Do we even know what Onam is and is there a reason for us to have Onam Sadhya?

Rewind to a year ago: A new Kerala restaurant had opened right next to my office and last year on Onam, I had taken my wife there for lunch (she just happened to come to office that day and we decided to try this new place out, which had a big banner outside "Special Onam Sadhya Lunch (Pure Vegetarian) - Just Rs.249". We obviously liked the food. Now it looks like I had unwittingly set a precedent and a practice - we will go out for a Onam Sadhya lunch every year on Onam.

Over the last few years, I have seen a remarkable increase in the number of restaurants offering "Onam Sadhya" - essentially a special lunch to celebrate Onam, Kerala's biggest festival. I overhead a couple of folks at a Coffee Day yesterday planning where to go for the Onam Sadhya team lunch and discussing the pros and cons of the several options available. Zomato, Burrp, Mastmenu etc. all feature Onam Sadhya prominently on their home pages. Newspapers are loaded with Restaurant flyers offering a special "Onam Sadhya" lunch - not just on Onam day, but during the entire week "The Onam Week".

A few years ago, the Onam lunch was a small affair among Keralites in the cities. Cooking the large variety was a tough task - so the homely Kerala restaurants started offering a special take-away Onam lunch pack. As the crowd increased, they intorduced a special Onam lunch at their restaurants. Today, the Onam lunch is a big revenue generator for all Kerala restaurants (infact a lot of south Indian restaurants, multi-cusine restaurants and the 5 star hotel restaurants have also jumped on the bandwagon). You now have Onam Sadhya buffets too for those who want the food, but also the luxury and the convenience.

With restaurants looking at ways to increase sales and drive additional footfalls all the time, the "Onam Sadhya" phenomenon could be used as an example to leverage religious/regional festivals to drive footfalls - A Diwali lunch, A Holi dinner with Bhaang Thandai (the non-narcotic variety), A special Christmas spread, a Krishna Jayanthi lunch targeted at kids, maybe even a Valentine's Day Lover's Candle Light dinner etc. I expect restaurant businesses to up the ante in leveraging religious/regional festivals and other occasions to try and increase footfalls and offer customers another reason to dine with them.

PS 1: For those interested in learning more about Onam Sadhya, you can check the following link out: http://blog.sigsiv.com/2011/09/onam-sadya-sadhya.html

PS 2: Onam is the harvest festival of Kerala, similar to Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Lohri in North India, Sankranti in Bihar and lot of other places, Bhogali Bihu in Assam etc. The way Restaurants have managed to carve out a nice business model out of this regional festival is interesting - Lessons for others to pick up, I guess.


Monday, August 27, 2012

Hiring a Chef for your Restaurant Business

If you are investing in a restaurant business, hiring the right chef is critical for success. Contrary to popular perception, most restaurant business don't need a chef who is a great cook (unless your aim is to do a Michelin Star restaurant - most of these restaurants tend to be chef owned and operated businesses). The primary role of a chef in most restaurants is not to cook the food, but to creatively design a menu, use ingredients that are easily available or ones that can be stored easily, train enough staff to consistently prepare dishes of the same quality quickly and present the dishes in a manner that customers expect.

So what you really need is someone who has spent 5-10 years in a professional restauarant kitchen, is very good in people management and knows business basics (costing, process improvements, managing the kitchen during busy times, wastage reduction etc.). Other than this the attitude and alignment with your operating style are important.

The role of the chef and the kind of person you need will also depend on what you are trying to do. If you are setting a stand-alone single restaurant, then the chef you hire can be extensively involved in the cooking process on a daily basis. But if your aim is to build a scalable restaurant business, then you need to hire someone who can set things up in a manner that the restaurant is be able to function as always even if the chef goes on a month long vacation.

A lot of the chefs nowadays are quite active in Monster, Naukri etc. You should be able to find resumes there. Another way is to ask some chefs you know to refer someone suitable for your business/context. A great poaching ground for chefs is young staff at the 5 star hotel restaurants - especially the Taj, the Oberoi and the ITC hotels. If you search hard enough, you should be able to find some young enterprising folks out there. For a restaurant chef, you should look at candidates who are currently at a Sous Chef/Junior Sous Chef level at these hotel restaurants.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

What's in a name? Bakasura, Vaango & Graffitea

I am generally of the opinion that spending too much time on restaurant names and taglines does not make a difference. That's probably because I am not too creative and have strong belief that if something is successful, it will start sounding good - e.g. McDonald's, Saravana Bhavan, Subway etc. and Google, Cisco, Microsoft in the non-restaurant space.

But once in a while, I come across some names which makes me go "Why didn't I think of that?". A day ago, I saw a new restaurant just launched with a sign-board "Bakasur" with a nicely done logo. What a great name for a restaurant - especially if what they offer is a really big buffet all day, everyday (Those who have seen my previous posts know my keen interest in an all-day buffet place in India). When I mentioned this to a friend, he told me that this name was reflective of the evolution of the Indian consumer - a few years ago, no one would think of naming their business after a demon. But now being bad is cool.
A few other names I really like are "Vaango" - the South Indian brand of the Devyani group (which owns several franchisees of Pizza Hut, Costa Coffee, Svensens etc. in India).  "Vaango" in tamil literally means "Welcome". I also like the name for the quaint little Delhi cafe "Graffitea" - a great name for a cool cafe targeted at collee kids that has a huge graffiti wall and serves tea and snacks.
Maybe there is something to a Name.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Great Indian Biryani Race

With the Olympics going on now, everyone is talking about races. There is a race in the Indian Restaurant industry that is now getting larger with big bucks starting to find its way and the key players beginning to press the accelerator - The race to create a large Biryani brand.

Why Biryani?

I believe that what happened to Pizza in the 1960s/70s in the US will happen to Biryani in India in the 2010s/20s.
  • This is a single product based (Biryani) model
  • Biryani is a complete meal in itself
  • Suits multiple sales channels - Dine-in, Take-away, Delivery, Party Catering. The product is easy to serve, pack, carry and deliver
  • Suits Indian palates
  • Cannot be made easily made at home
  • Based on the staple of Indian food - Rice (a.k.a Pizza - Bread)
  • The customer is willing a price that makes reasonable business sense - Even a road-side Biryani place is able to sell Biryani at 50-60 bucks.
  • There are no international brands in this space - So this has got to be a home-grown Indian brand
Who are the contestants in the race?

1) Paradise Hyderabad - The Usain Bolt of the race (though this is probably a 10 year marathon rather than a 100 day race). Has a great fan following, undoubtedly the most well known Biryani brand in India, based out of the Biryani Mecca - Hyderabad. They are starting to flex their muscles and expand with significant interest coming from Private Equity players. Expect to see an announcement soon about a Private Equity fund investing a significant amount of money in Paradise.

2) Ammi's Biryani, Bangalore - The new modern kid on the block rocked the boat with their exceptional packaging and marketing. Now with a 40 Crore investment from a PE player (Saif Partners), they have the means the press the pedal and surge ahead.

3) Thalapakatti Biryani, Dindigul - Born in a small town in Tamil Nadu, they are now expanding aggressively in Tamil Nadu. Their Biryani style may not appeal to customers across India as they use the smaller Jeera Samba rice and not the Basmati Rice, but their legacy & unique taste may create a fan following.

4) Jaffer Bhai's Delhi Darbar, Mumbai - They claim to be Biryani King of Mumbai. If they truly are, then they have every chance to replicate the model in other cities where cost of doing business is presumably lower.

5) Viva Hyderabad, NCR - While not making a lot of noise, they operate 12 outlets in the NCR region. Again like Jaffer Bhai's if they have a model that works in NCR, they should be able to replicate it in other markets.

6) Bawarchi, Hyderabad - While they have been stubborn about keeping themselves as a single unit and are not as commercially successful as Paradise, Biryani connoisseurs will tell you that they probably serve the best Biryani commercially available anywhere in India at ridiculously low prices. With the brand power and a formidable offering that they have, it shouldn't take them much time and effort to wake up from slumber and be a part of the race, if they choose to. Theirs is a case of them wanting to be a part of the race.

7) Hyderabad House - They have tried to expand geographically much faster than any other Biryani brand. It may be a case of them running a 100 m sprint, while the actual race is the marathon. Having said that, they should be able to get their act right in time as the race heats up.

8) Star Briyani Ambur - This little town on the Bangalore-Chennai highway is dotted with Biryani joints - all with the same name - Star Briyani (no typo on the spelling). The next generation of this 100+ year old brand is now starting to explore growth.

9) Several others across India attempting to qualify for the race - hopefully a few of them will end up participating in the race and who knows, maybe spring a surprise or two on the biggies.

This race is abolsutely exciting to me as all the racers are pretty much in the starting blocks with some having a reasonable upfront lead and muscle power to back them. It will be interesting to review this space in a few years to see how the race has progressed.

If I were to place my bets today, it would be on Paradise winning the gold medal, but they need to execute really well and not let their current stature and success get in the way. The field is open for the silver, bronze and possibly, several other medals.

Disclosure: I run a tiny Biryani business in Bangalore (www.manis.in) and we are like this small town kid with virtually no backing and resources, but with dreams of winning an Olympic medal. So we are one among the several others I have talked about above.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Poll Results: Time within which customers expect delivery orders to reach them

The first poll I ran on this blog received 43 responses in about a week. Moving forward I am planning to run a poll every month and collect some emprical data on customer expectations, industry persepctives.

POll 1 Question:
If you order food for home delivery, what is the reasonable time in which you expect the food to be delivered to your home?

Though the sample size is small to make firm conclusions, it is apparent from the above data that 45 minutes is the maximum a restaurant business can take to deliver food to the customer's door-step, after the order has been placed, to create a good customer experience. This is not a easy thing to do consistently, especially during busy times (weekends).

Monday, August 6, 2012

Ammi's Biryani gets INR 40 Cr funding from SAIF Partners

SAIF Partners has just announed a INR 40 Cr investment in Bangalore's Quick Service Food brand "Ammi's Biryani". Ammi's redefined the Biryani space in Bangalore with aggressive and exceptionally well executed marketing and branding - large scale bill-board and road median boards advertising, call centre for customer orders, well designed & attractive store-fronts and of course a great name for their Biryani brand - Ammi's Biryani. Their highly convenient, attractive and hygienic packaging is still their main draw. While critics may still question their business model (central kitchen with simple sales kiosks and delivery), this investment will give a further boost in their arm to expand and build on their brand.

To me Ammi's represents a new breed of startup restaurant brands in India which want to create a brand of global quality and one that can stand right next to the McDonald's and Pizza Huts. The capital investment, operational expenses and the effort that has probably gone into their concept design, central kitchen, experimental stores, overall branding and marketing is significant. It is great to see investors backing such efforts. All the best Ammi's.

Image Sources:
1) http://www.crazeal.com/deals/bangalore/ammi-s-biryani/54158
2) http://halalfoodguideindia.blogspot.in/2012/04/halal-ammis-biryani.html
3) http://www.ammisbiryani.com/our_gallery.aspx
4) http://www.saifpartners.com/

Thursday, August 2, 2012


I just noticed that the blog has crossed 50,000 Pageviews. A Big Thanks to all of you for taking time out to read what I write and encouraging me with your kind emails & comments, providing the energy required to sustain the momentum with this blog. Thanks.

PS: A Reader just dropped an email telling me that it is also 500 days since I wrote the first post on March 20, 2011. Guess that's a nice coincidence.