Thursday, October 1, 2015

From concept to opening: An expert guide

During my early peeks into the new Shangri-La hotel in Bangalore I happened to meet a most interesting hotel professional with an even more interesting job description. He’s ‎Director of Corporate Food and Beverage - Projects and Development, or the ‘Openings Specialist’, if you will.
Anurag Bali’s enthusiasm for what he does is infectious and he’s an expert on planning new restaurants and getting them off the ground. Even if he specialises in restaurants within hotels, I thought his insights would be valuable to aspiring restaurateurs out there. Here, in his words, is a blue print for starting a restaurant, from concept to opening:
“Restaurants in five-star hotels can no longer be the stiff, starched, formal spaces they once were. With such a creative surge  in the standalone restaurant business, it’s important to create concepts that are approachable, fun, even quirky.
With that premise, we first set out to understand the markets which we are planning to enter. What are the existing restaurants serving? What are people eating? How price-sensitive are diners in a particular geography? What’s the local produce like? It’s important to ask and find answers to these questions.
Based on these inputs, we come up with a positioning statement – a one-page concept and, simultaneously, the finance team puts the numbers to this plan. This articulation of concept happens, ideally, about 20 months ahead of the opening.
This is followed by a detailed design brief being shared with the interior décor company we choose to work with. USPs or memory-makers, as we call them, are a key aspect at this stage of planning. The menu is also articulated as a one-page concept, outlining the food and beverages – not just what these will be, but also the presentation style. It must all tie in with the overall mood you wish to create.
We then handhold the interior design team while they come up with a vision and layout plan. Everything, down to the type of seating, is discussed and agreed upon at this stage. The colour palette is chosen – and I personally am not a fan of white – and other décor elements are finalised.
The next step is to fine-tune the operating brief and the operations team comes in. All the while, you are putting all the elements together, from selecting service ware to how the flow around you buffet stations will move.
The various teams then bring it all together and we begin working towards the opening. Because leadership teams can change, we create and sign off on what’s known as a ‘venue promise document’, so that the core concept remains unaltered for a reasonable length of time. Any changes must be backed with solid reasons.
In the days before opening, we invite various groups to simulated dining sessions. At the end of these, diners are given exhaustive feedback forms to fill, asking them to rate the entire experience, with details such as how they were received at the entrance and whether foods were served at the correct temperature.
Then you open and see your dream restaurant become reality. If you’ve done your job properly and left almost nothing to chance, it should work, and well.”