Getting the order right
The restaurant marketplace is evolving today and clearly, hotels need something to differentiate their restaurants, because food alone is not enough to wow a guest. Original, unique, attention-seeking, profitable restaurants need to be all this and much more. And that’s where concept restaurants come at the forefront.
Chef Tapas Bhattacharya, chef manager, Machan, The Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi explains, “Concept restaurants come across as more exciting, interesting and visually appealing to guests as they follow a certain theme, idea or context. It definitely is a key differentiator and ensures top-of-the-mind recall. The overlying theme in concept restaurants influences everything – right from the interiors, décor, food, music and overall ambience. The concept is the primary focus when it comes to themed restaurants and everything else is in sync with it.”
However, concepts need not be visible in aesthetics alone. Several disparate ele ments are woven together to create a coherent and captivating picture.As long as an interesting story is being told through it, the concept can be anything. “A concept need not have to be cuisine-driven only. It can also be driven by a chef, by the décor or by more than one factor. For example at Mekong, our Asian restaurant, the concept combines its cuisine and the fact that it’s taking you on a journey down the Mekong River through three countries,” analyses Chef Paul Kinny, group director culinary services, Palladium Hotel, Mumbai.
The average life span of a concept restaurant is about five to seven years and with capital investment being high; it be- comes crucial for a hotel to get it right the first time itself. A thorough research and analysis of the marketplace, identifying potential market segments and matching the food and beverage (F&B) concept to the market are things that need to be considered at the onset. Determining which F&B concept will be most suitable for the location is crucial. Once the concept is finalised, other elements such as design, décor, menu, food draw inspiration from the theme and relevant elements are further dovetailed accordingly.
Kamaljit Singh, executive assistant manager, Alila Diwa Goa, agrees and adds that there are various factors to consider while developing the concept for a restaurant. “The location, type of clientele and the market share around the vicinity play a pivotal role in determining the concept. The establishment has to attract a mass clientele in a minimum 25km radius,” he states.
Bhattacharya of Taj Delhi reiterates, “Successful concept restaurants focus on emerging and popular trends amongst people in a favoured demographic location. Innovation, target segment, geographic and demographic details, budget and pricing, food and beverage offerings and how successfully each element will complement the other, are the key factors that are considered.”
Machan, the 24-hour international eatery, at Taj Mahal Hotel, is one of the oldest and most popular multi-cuisine restaurants in New Delhi. As the name suggests, the decor is based on Indian wildlife, reminiscent of the days where ‘Machans’ were built for game hunting for the Prince. Machans are temporary structures built atop trees to spot the game. The theme of the restaurant is evident in the interiors and décor – images of game hunting with artwork depicting the Indian tiger add to the feel of the restaurant. The menu and food options have also been designed keeping in mind the overall theme.
The Palladium Hotel Mumbai operates an Indian restaurant and bar titled The Sahib Room & Kipling Bar, which is conceptualised around Rudyard Kipling. “Rudyard Kipling seemed to be a perfect choice with his gentlemanly qualities, predisposition to art and all things beautiful. We have worked with the food from the same era; we have his desk, paraphernalia, drinks named after him, etc. We have encapsulated the essence of what he represented into our fusion cocktails with Indian spices and exotic flavours,” quips Kinny.
Sharing the thought behind the concept Kinny elaborates, “We were clear that the hotel needed a good Indian restaurant. While it was tempting to go the ‘nouvelle Indian cuisine’ way, we decided after much R&D that what people want when it comes to Indian food are the classic flavours. So, we set up an Indian restaurant replete with robust flavours. We then decided to break the myth about Indian food not being healthy, and hence focused on lightening the food and using healthier spices with medicinal benefits. The Sahib Room comes primarily from the décor of the space, which is elegant, regal and colonially inspired. Just like all our other restaurants, the ‘story’ behind the restaurant is important to us – we love expressing our style to diners.”
Spice Studio at Alila Diwa Goa too came about after much thought and deliberation. They wanted a concept wherein their chefs would come up with artisan cuisine which maintains its roots, but can also be tweaked a little to excite the guests’ palate. Singh of Alila Diwa explains, “The idea was to provide a homely feel to the diners as if the Chef was welcoming a guest into their home. Our head chef, Edia Cotta, has had no formal training in cooking but has been cooking now for over 35 years. In the course of the dining experience at Spice Studio, Edia takes our guests on a journey that draws them into her ‘home’. She spins little tales of local Goan culture to further enhance the net emotional impact which our guests love. The focal point of Spice Studio is the banyan tree at the centre of the restaurant so we have used this element for the main visual identity. It appears in our logo and menus and other marketing collaterals.”
Concept restaurants may have an edge over other restaurants owing to their special theme and focus on visual appeal and décor, although the concept should not be changed too often. “The concept of a restaurant is its identity and creates the recall value amongst customers. It should be well thought through, right from the conception to execution stage, and should not be changed frequently. While the theme/concept of restaurants majorly remains the same, minor changes and additions, keeping in sync with the original concept, are made taking into consideration guests’ feedback over time,” suggests Chef Bhattacharya.
However, Kinny is of a different view. “Restaurant basics always remain focus- in on good food and good service. The concept, ambience, touch feel factors and identity are pure add-ons. In my opinion, a concept restaurant which lacks the basics will be a complete let down and just a “one time try” restaurant. There is also a thin line between concepts and gimmick concepts, the latter usually don’t last for long.”
As many affluent travellers watch food shows and eat at interesting places while travelling for business, there is steady rise in expectations from restaurants at high- end hotels. Food and beverage can be considered and used as an amenity intended to enhance a hotel’s image and service. Branding continues to grow in importance and is impacting the hotel industry as well. Hotels thus have a different outlook about their restaurants today, and are realising that food and beverage can be a great source for revenue growth, and are happy to do whatever it takes to make it successful.