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Theme restaurants are here to stay!

In a country of creativity, expressed within a wide spectrum of forms, restaurateurs are looking to provide that “special ingredient” not only in the form of distinctive cuisines, but also in the concept of the restaurant vis-à-vis the architecture, music, and overall atmosphere. Damayanti Gurtu analyses the reasons behind the spew of theme restaurants in India.

Friday, October 28, 2016, 14:23 Hrs  [IST]

Untitled Document

The Black Pearl Bangalore

When you trade in the stock market, the number of people buying shares in the company is directly proportional to its price. The stock starts at a base price, and increases with a rise in demand. But what if you could trade in stock aka drinks at a pub, instead of a company’s assets like buildings, equipment and trademarks? Just as the market crashing has its pros and cons, in The Bar Stock Exchange (TBSE) Mumbai, trading with alcohol only has its benefits. With a decrease in demand, the price too decreases, ensuring the patron gets his favourite chilled beer at cost price. The concept seems to work well, since TBSE app had 5,000 downloads in the first month of its launch in 2014. “With India’s F&B industry on an all-time high, customers are now ready to be greater experimenters - as long as they perceive a value for their money. Restaurateurs are now becoming bigger risk takers. From a business perspective, a theme restaurant or bar is easy to market; it stimulates the customer’s taste buds and grey cells, making it a winning combination for footfall generation,” says Mihir Desai, Co- Owner, TBSE. In a fast-paced suburban life, customers wish to be enthralled and have a fantastic time each time they visit a restaurant and rightfully so. Theme restaurants, as their gradually increasing presence signifies, can be made into the next big hospitality wave.

Mihir Desai
The Bar Stock Exchange

Viraj Lamba
Funbars Hospitality Pvt. Ltd
Ankit Anand
Owner, Fable

Sandeep Tandon
Old World Hospitality

At FLYP by MTV, a cafe at Delhi NCR, there is a different concept each day of the week. On Tuesdays it is karaoke, on Wednesday there is a live band, usually indie bands, Thursdays are salsa nights, Fridays are for Coke Studio sessions- an experiment with fusion music and Saturdays are greeted with a Bollywood playlist. Music is the biggest pull factor, and the cafe serves as a platform for enthusiasts to showcase their musical abilities. With concept restaurants, it is easy for customers to get bored quickly, thus in an effort to keep them entertained, the team at FLYP has to come up with new and exciting ideas. FLYP, an initiative by Funbars & MTV, receives plenty of millennials, states Viraj Lamba, Co-founder, Funbars Hospitality Pvt. Ltd., and they certainly seem to be responding well to the trend of concept restaurants, he avers.

Concept restaurants are the flavour of the season. With a surge in the entry of such restaurants, competition is inevitable, as each new restaurant of this kind endeavours to attract huge crowds by way of aggressive prices, attractive offers, strategic locations and needless to say, the one-of-a-kind concept, which acts as the USP of the restaurant. But taking all these factors into account, with the inclusion of high real estate costs, what must be done to manage the return on investment? The answer to this, according to Ankit Anand, Owner, Fable - an all-day diner in Mumbai that draws inspiration from books and fables of one’s childhood - is market analysis, needs of customers, focus and patience, adding that a basic love of food and beverage is not enough to ensure success in the restaurant business. “What keeps me awake at night are the million little details we need to take care of before the restaurant opens and each day after that. Investing in a theme restaurant is not an easy-return business investment; it starts from scratch and involves high risk. Aggressive prices, manpower, real estate, local permissions and daily operations cost are fixed monthly obligations apart from cost required for promotions, maintenance etc.,” Anand says.

For Sandeep Tandon, MD, Old World Hospitality- a company which owns Chor Bizarre, Delhi, a restaurant designed to resemble a thieves market; restaurants have to strike a balance between their “pricing, costs and quality.” A tight rein on expenditure, coupled with effective purchase procedures and control measures on utilisation, wastage and pilferage are key to profitability, he points out.

Altogether, it is important to keep purchase costs low, maintain high operational efficiency and spend wisely on overheads like real estate and salaries, in order to secure a higher return on investment.

The ability of such restaurants to attract repeat guests also acts as an impediment; customers might check out such places for novelty once, but keeping their interest levels consistent becomes a sizeable task. The solution to this is to give them authentic tastes and cuisines which strike a chord with their palate, says Rahul Kundan, an ardent believer of the Rastafarian culture, which is reflected in his concept lounge Raasta in Mumbai. “To an extent, it is true that the concept of the restaurant takes priority over everything else and ironical that sometimes food also takes a backseat. However, it is essential that the food, service and music should be given equal importance by the restaurateur,” adds Anand. “When the food touches the soul, there is no stopping the customers from coming to a place as repeat customers,” completes Kundan.

The wishing well at the entrance of Fable, Mumbai

Experimental or exceptionable?
For theme restaurants, sky is the limit, and quite literally; there exists a restaurant elevated 165 feet from the ground, where guests hover while enjoying a luxurious meal. An aquarium styled underwater eatery in Maldives, being served by monkeys at a restaurant in Japan, dining at a restaurant chain in America that rides on the concept of rude staff who intentionally hurl verbal abuses at the customers- all this might not seem odd to adventurous individuals who crave for an unusual experience and would be willing to experiment with places that are not run-of-the-mill. However, in the Indian market, consumers tend to have an apprehension or may not be too open- minded with their food/dining out choices. For example, restaurants where guests can dine in the dark or among the dead.

Rahul Kundan
Co-Owner, Raasta

Vandana Upadhyay
The Black Pearl Bangalore
Aditya Bachhawat
Friends Cafe

Vandana Upadhyay, Owner, The Black Pearl Bangalore, India's largest pirate theme restaurant, too believes that there is no limit to thematic imagination. “All these are interesting attempts but sometimes appeal to a niche clientele. Ask yourself, how frequently would you like to dine with the dead? The challenge is to create a theme that appeals to the larger populace and thereby makes more business sense. The longer the ‘shelf life’ of the concept, the more recognised and profitable your venture will be.”

A great concept with a positive, secure and comfortable atmosphere should be a motive

when setting up such restaurants, says Anand. “After all, people go out to be happy and not to feel troubled.” If a restaurant makes people uncomfortable, it will speedily go out of business, reiterates Tandon. “India is a land of diversity and one should always keep in mind the Indian culture to succeed and prosper. Indian customers will not accept just anything coming their way. Thus, boundaries must be thought of to give the customers an experience worth relishing and these boundaries must be decided after knowing the target customers and their values,” mentions Aditya Bachhawat, owner of the recently opened F.R.I.E.N.D.S CAFE in Kolkata, which is designed along the lines of the popular American television sitcom Friends.

People are always on the lookout for new concepts and ideas and as long as they live up to their quality, there cannot be a downfall. Concept-based eateries are more than just a latest fad and we will continue to see newer and varied theme restaurants cropping up in the near future. But, by all means, only the fittest will survive.

Chor Bizarre Delhi's decor is a mix of memorabilia from the 60s,
sourced from chor bazaars across India & antique shops

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