Monday, May 30, 2016

A pub crawl and a vital lesson on choosing locations

It was a Saturday night and I was out with friends for a few beers. I opted to go to Roadhouse in Bangalore’s swank Indiranagar. I really like this place, and not just for the great happy hours deals that it has. Roadhouse has a lovely atmosphere, all wood and guitars on the walls. The music is super, especially if you’re a fan of classic rock. The food is several notches above the pub grub you get in most places; there’s plenty of variety and it’s all very well executed. I’ve never had a complaint with the service. And, to top it all, it’s very sensibly priced.
Imagine, then, my dismay at finding just three tables occupied at 9 pm on a Saturday night. My friends wanted more of a buzz and so we headed off down the road. There’s Toit, where the crowds were spilling over onto the pavement. There was no chance of getting a foot in there. Further down, the relatively new Beer Café was also packed and we had to settle for sharing a table in the smoking zone.
I’ve been asking lots of people, especially those in the bar business, to explain this phenomenon: why a really good watering hole that’s doing everything right can’t attract a big enough crowd, while others manage to, seemingly without much effort. Location, they all said. It’s not that Roadhouse is in an out-of-the-way place. It’s right on 100 Feet Road, but on a third floor and the entrance is tucked away at te the side of the building.
Another restaurateur explained further. It’s about visibility or rather being in the line of vision of customers, he said. You walk past Toit or Beer Café, both opening right on to the main thoroughfare, and you can feel the buzz on the street. Naturally, it makes people want to go in and be part of the action, even if it means squeezing into an already crowded place.
In our book ‘Start Up Your Restaurant’ we’ve emphasized the need to be on the main street and to avoid anything other than ground floor locations. Apparently, it’s also great for business if any prospective customer walking or driving past can feel the vibe of the place spilling over, as I discovered on my most recent pub crawl.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Making bread and all food safe

I wasn’t at all surprised by the revelations about potassium bromate in our daily bread. I’ve heard more than a few commercial bakers say that they would never let their families eat the bread they baked; because, they said, they knew of the use of bromates in sliced bread.
 Of course, the debate will continue whether the chemical is indeed a carcinogen and bread manufacturers will cite the US where it’s a permitted additive. It’s pretty similar to the use of MSG with the how-much-is-too-much question still unresolved. However, wouldn’t you say that if there’s even a modicum of doubt about the safety of a food additive it is better to err on the side of caution? After all, food, as one concerned chef told me, is the only thing we buy and ingest. It’s not the same as purchasing apparel, gadgets or even automobiles whose safety seems so much bigger a priority for us.
So, bread makers – whether multi-national brands or neighbourhood bakeries – must now ensure that the daily loaf is free of chemicals suspected of being hazardous to our health. My concern for food safety extends beyond factory-manufactured products to encompass the food that restaurants dish out. Today, with the urban lifestyle dictating that more people eat out or order in than cook at home, restaurants, central kitchens and food delivery business are playing an increasingly significant role in the wellness of their customers.
Given that I get to see up close the goings-on in restaurant kitchens, I’d say there’s huge scope for focusing not just on making food taste good, but also safe, healthy and nutritious. If a customer is ordering your dal makhni twice a week, you should, perhaps, consider reducing the amount of transfat-heavy margarine that goes into it. Yes, some restaurants use margarine in the ‘makhni’. Sure, running restaurants is a business just like any other and profit is the motif. But because, as I mentioned before, diners ingest what these businesses purvey, the onus is on restaurants to ensure that they aren’t masking unhealthy ingredients and cooking practices with their idea of ‘taste’.

It may seem like overreaching optimism, but I dream of a time when restaurants will, indeed, make healthy, local, fresh ingredients and salutary cooking practices their focus and philosophy. Surely, such goodness cannot go unrewarded.