Specialist Spotlight: An Interview With The Expert – Rifaquat Mirza!

What, according to you, are the five industry secrets every restaurant must adopt for success?

I don’t know if there are secrets left in the restaurant trade. My answers are more insider tips or best practices I have observed over the years, which may aid in a restaurant’s success. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, but the F & B fraternity agrees that these work for the most part.

1) Put a face to the place: It makes a big difference if chefs or restaurant owners become the face of the business and are active on social media. It’s also fine if they choose to hang back while someone else (preferably from the team) takes over the spotlight. The bottom line is, patrons need to be able to associate a brand with a familiar face.

2) Exaggerated Revenue Figures: I’ve noticed the ‘top revenue recall’ phenomenon when I ask about sales figures. People almost always quote their peak sales rather than their average sales. It’s not a conscious effort to create a favorable impression, but it happens. I have been guilty of it too. Just do not use these figures to create or compare your business plans unless you have access to the books!

3) Pre-manufactured surprises or customisation: Create surprises like an unlisted amuse-bouche or a special dish just for kids that’s not on the menu. Systematically incorporate these into your process without letting diners know, so when you present it, your customers will be thrilled.

4) Run all briefs parallelly and concurrently: Successful restaurants design their restaurants around the cuisine, service, and aesthetic requirements of the brand simultaneously when opening a new venture or renovating an older property. For instance, the kitchen should be designed in consultation with the chef, so that all the equipment and counters are in the optimal position for the team to run efficiently and comfortably. Similarly, the bar should be designed to avoid bottlenecks in service even on the busiest of nights. Replicating this across all the facets of a restaurant will help you make the most of the infrastructure into which you are moving.

5) Share financials judiciously: I see a lot of restaurant owners withhold financial information from their top management while some have their figures all over the place. It’s essential to share enough to set reasonably challenging targets. Income and cost statements are not representative of past performance alone, but also a means to assess future goals. The process used to disseminate this information is up to the restaurant owners. The late-night WhatsApp on the day’s performance seems to be ubiquitous, but successful restaurants have regular, formatted meetings for a good reason. Choose not to broadcast the information formally if you feel unsure, but keep management informed. They need to know.

Describe Five industry trends that you see taking off in the next five years.

I won’t pretend to be prophetic to forecast trends for five years in advance, but I will try and share some ideas of what I feel seems to be emerging based on observations, data, and personal and shared insights.

1) Psychographics v/s Demographics: I think there is going to be a higher emphasis on the psychological connection of food and restaurants with their patrons. There will be a lot of ‘philosophical’ restaurants coming to the fore that connect to a particular sense of being, be that sustainability, or underground musical or cultural movements.

2) India will create new service trends: Over the past few decades, we often heard that trends in the US or Europe come to India in a certain number of years, which used to be around 10, now down to two years or less. Besides our cuisine, I believe we will soon be exporting our unique service offerings to the west. Why wouldn’t a Spanish chef incorporate our South Indian sit-down, banana leaf service style? While we market our Indian tapas-style menu, I see American chefs with Tex Mex Tiffins. This could be the new frontier.

3) The All pervasiveness of Technology – 360 degrees adoption: One might say I’m stating the obvious, but technology is progressing at a faster pace than we could ever predict, and restaurants need to ride this wave!

If a restaurant does not invest holistically in a comprehensive technology platform immediately, they will be left behind. PASSION IS GREAT; GUT FEEL IS NOT. If you run your restaurant on instinct rather than data, efficiency and effectiveness will both be equally affected negatively. Use technology to help you with wait-list and table management, home deliveries, POS activities, loyalty programmes, and marketing. Having multi-outlet and multi-delivery model functions are essential. The right tech will give you a wealth of usable data that will help you become more analytical of your business and give you an understanding of how to make diners’ experiences more vibrant, more personalized and more rewarding.

4) Restaurant Renaissance and Recession Simultaneously: These are exciting times for restaurants as all kinds of service models and culinary palettes are emerging, but the forecast of growth doesn’t exist for several reasons, mostly due to internal decisions rather than macro factors. The paradox will continue to play out for the next few years. True-blue organic, growth-led restaurants will lead the way, steaming ahead of cookie-cutter-creativity.

5) The emergence of domestic restaurant chains as regional, national and international players:  We already see a slowdown in the entry of foreign brands. The larger well-established QSR chains from the US are mainly the ones gaining traction. They mastered the art of franchising and growth, but leading Indian restaurant chains are now boasting of best-in-class systems, procedures, and franchising models. Honestly, they have become more economically viable while the allure of a ‘foreign’ chain has lost its shine. These chains are becoming regional and national; notwithstanding the challenges they face when growing out of their local strongholds. Restauranteurs have learned from their earlier international forays, and I bet the big guys will go beyond our borders with great success.

Which, according to you, are the top 3 restaurants in the India today?

I am not ranking these, but rather listing three restaurants that have caught my fancy. A disclaimer: These are my thoughts based on an obvious bias, but I have thought this through. Also, this is from a particular perspective in the context of this interview.  My answers would be different if I were given other parameters.

  1. Dumpukht. ITC Maurya. New Delhi

This much-celebrated restaurant’s cuisine has stood the test of time. They have perfected every dish on the menu and, for me, the single most important factor is that their senior master chef, Chef Ghulam Qureshi, oversees every portion served to their discerning and loyal clientele. It’s not easy to consistently serve with their high standards considering the sourcing of the produce and the delicate nature of the cooking, not to mention the pressure of meeting the high expectations from the diners.

The service is elegantly classy fashioned after the refined art of “mehmanawazi” befitting the patrons and the hotel in which it resides. This place is as close as you can get to the ‘good old days’.

2) Agashiye. House of Mangaldas. Ahmedabad.

Having been born and brought up in Ahmedabad and then grown into a professional hotelier, it has always been on my agenda to showcase Gujrat’s culinary legacy beyond the “sweet daal” and the claim that every food is sweetened.

Agashiye (literally meaning ‘at the rooftop’) is the distillate of home-cooked Gujarati food showcased through a dynamic Thali menu prepared in the manner of Abhay Mangaldas’s household. Abhay is the scion of a renowned business family who converted this historic family mansion into the new showcase for Gujarati culture. The food is simply fantastic, and the part that steals my heart is the traditional mi casa warmth blended with excellent service – the latter being a rarity in Ahmedabad for discerning patrons.

No wonder he recently hosted the Japanese PM along with our PM for lunch, and even though the Taj chefs had curated a Japanese meal for him, the Japanese PM preferred the local fare. He has re-invented two havelis in the ‘pols’ of Ahmedabad and a 3rd one recently. He wears his (and his restaurant’s) fame quite lightly and goes about his business reviving and projecting the grand legacy of Ahmedabad.

When I asked him about his motivation behind this, there were no proclamations of changing mindsets or starting a movement. He just said ‘It’s not always easy for us to serve homely food to people considering the logistics…’ or the cuisine being ‘ just home food from our kitchens.’ Restaurants that aid tourism, go beyond food, and deliver consistently brilliant service over the years,  will always have my vote. His eco-friendly packaged ‘Bhathu’ meal for one and the day’s menu in a large tiffin to serve four are clear winners for me.

3) Social. ( From Impressario Hospitality). All over India.

Riyaz told me about this huge space he had in Hauz Khas Village overlooking the lake where he wanted to do something interesting back in 2013. I didn’t know then that he was on the verge of starting a new trend.

While I was playing around with the ‘third place’ concept with a new chain of hotels, they’ve got the ‘second place’ concept bang on. Years before coworking became the new working; they had already got the place set up as a hybrid concept with multiple-dimensions as the day progresses. Work + Play manifested in a unique model.

I love the food and its universal all-day appeal and consistency. People love the price points. They have ‘culture managers’ who befriend single person start-ups and DJs alike. Their success is well known: the quirky outlet-specific themes lend that extra bit of character while keeping the brand DNA up front and alive. Social is a restaurant that brings its branding to life like never before. Nomenclature is easy, but extrapolating it through street art, curations and being a local magnet is what gets my vote.

 

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