Why the future of F&B in India’s hospitality segment is bespoke and experiential

Newfangled dining experiences offered by big hotel groups are ingenious and innovative and are now becomming a necessity.

Innovative and strong concepts help redefine the F&B experience, which can make or break a hotel. The concept could be thematic, it could be strong on culinary heritage, or it c ould epitomise new-fangled gourmet experimentations.

Hotels that are doing F&B right are mixing trends with experiences to yield high-margin operations. The hotels under IHCL pioneered several dynamic F&B concepts and were the first to introduce Sichuan, contemporary Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese cuisines to India. Golden Dragon was India’s first Sichuan restaurant at The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai, which also houses Mumbai’s first licensed bar—Harbour Bar and India’s first 24-hour coffee shop—Shamiana that serves the Taj Autograph menu or signature dishes curated by Taj chefs from the group’s international hotels.

In the elegant heritage hotel Taj Connemara, the conceptually strong The Lady Connemara Bar and Lounge is the destination for a variety of teas and coffees, such as a biscuity-floral Connemara Velonie Gold Tea, citrus-tasting Ceylon Gold Tea, pleasantly charred Monsoon Malabar AAA Coffee and the Connemara Single Estate Microlot Selection Coffee from Yemmigoondi Estate, Coorg. “The ‘Best of Madras Afternoon Tea’ menu manifests our chef’s love for hand-made crisps, gunpowder-tossed pickle-stuffed idlis, mini Adais, palm-jaggery Mysore Pak pops and other old Madras treasures,” says Verma.

ITC Bukhara

Ziya, Michelin-star chef Vineet Bhatia’s restaurant at The Oberoi Mumbai, marries elegance, comfort and surprise. The chefs scour local markets and small towns in search of interesting ingredients and guarded recipes to ensure the menu reflects the freshest and the finest. Sourcing from local markets is at the core of The Oberoi, Mumbai’s strategy; Chef Satbir Bakshi assists local farmers to grow a supply of indigenous ingredients such as coloured baby carrots, baby beetroots and baby radishes. The hotel was the first to introduce the rare Kadaknath chicken at Fenix, a poultry breed native to Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh with a meat high on protein and low on fat.

Paying tribute to the best of India’s culinary and world traditions have paid rich dividends at The Oberoi. “At Baoshuan, our rooftop Chinese speciality restaurant, the experience centres around sharing plates,” says Chef Gambhir. “Signature dishes include Crispy Lamb, a spicy lamb dish cooked in tempura and coated in chilli caramel, a recipe historically enjoyed within The Forbidden City Palace in Beijing.” Conceptually strong restaurants at hotels often introduce new cuisines to the markets they are in, like the silk and teak-swathed Blue Ginger at Taj West End, Race Course Road, Bengaluru, the first restaurant to serve Vietnamese cuisine, where Master Chef Dao leads the brigade. Often, restaurants concepts are influenced by the markets the hotels are in. The Westin Mumbai Garden City, another upscale brand under the Marriott umbrella, has introduced a range of dining concepts that appeal to an audience beyond the leisure audience, says F&B Manager Akshay Sood. “Bento Box, a dine-by-design concept, is a hit with the many corporate clients in and around the vicinity.”

A recent upstart on the hospitality scene is Andaz Delhi, where F&B concepts have broken new grounds. Madhav Sehgal, the General Manager of the hotel, contends, “Our distinct F&B venues—The Hong Kong Club, AnnaMaya and Juniper Bar—cater to a diverse audience. The F&B landscape at our hotel helps reinstate the brand ethos and philosophy. In fact, F&B at Andaz Delhi has helped capture a larger target audience across Delhi/NCR, as well as in key feeder markets across the country.” AnnaMaya, aEuropean-style food hall, takes a deep-dive into conscious, collaborative eating. “There is an inexplicable feel-good factor that echoes from within after indulging in food that’s responsibly sourced,” says Sehgal.

Chef Dewan

Hospitality giants have fine-tuned their F&B offerings to fit in with this new wave of experimentation. Sofitel Mumbai, BKC, offers a cross-section of dining options, but by far its most popular format its French épicerie, pâtisserie, chocolaterie, Artisan. This is where you can listen to jazz music even as you play board games, a rather old-world concept in this tech-driven world. “At Jyran, our Tandoor Dining and Lounge, we feature the cuisine of the poets and warriors from the north-west frontiers of India. Recently, we launched the opulent Gin Bar by Jyran, the only 5-star Gin Bar in the city featuring 30 unique gins that are sourced from 11 countries and infused with an array of special garnishes,” says F&B Manager Manoj Jangid.

Hospitality majors are spearheading trendsetting F&B formats to stay ahead in the game. Neeraj Tyagi of Shangri-La Eros, New Delhi puts 39th Shang Palace on top of the list of conceptual restaurants, which brought the “mystical cuisine of Yunnan by Chinese specialty chefs to the food connoisseurs of New Delhi.”

Interesting food experiences drive the F&B segment in hotels. At The Park Hyatt, Kolkata, Chef Dewan’s team has a range of dining experiences to choose from—earthy cooking in bamboo from Andhra Pradesh’s Araku valley as well as reintroducing ancient cooking methods such as pickling, slow cooking, cooking in mud pots and smoking with specific grass/wood or herb.

Le Méridien Goa banks on the soothing notes of jazz music and grills to draw in the premium crowd. Saurabh Bhatnagar, Director – F&B, delineates, “It is Goa’s first whiskey bar featuring over 40 labels of whiskeys.” At Park Hyatt, Hyderabad, Dinesh Sathiyanathan, Director – F&B points towards RIKA, the newly opened modern Asian restaurant, where food revolves around the one ingredient most Indians are obsessed with—chillies.

At Hilton Bangalore Embassy Golflinks, The Salt Grill, an al-fresco dining venue, makes a statement by its servings of global grills on pink Himalayan salt slabs. Executive Sous Chef Balaji Srinivasan of Hilton Mumbai International Airport puts forward the introduction of unexplored West African and Bhutanese cuisine in Mumbai as a successful venture. “We have also introduced set menus for single travellers as an experiential at Imperial China,” a move that has created an entirely new profit centre.

Sunday Brunches as Profit Centres

Over the years, long leisurely brunches have another source of profits. One of the most enticing qualities of brunch is that there is something for everyone. Bhatnagar says that Le Méridien Goa leverages the Sunday Brunch as a tool to establish their positioning in the market and drive preference among local residents. “Eighty percent of our brunch audience are local residents who have visited the hotel for the first time for our brunch and have then become patrons.” For Conrad Pune, the weekend not just summates the hotel’s revenues but also has multiple other effects. “The team gets to exhibit their talent in terms of presentation and uniqueness of concept. In fact, the soaring success of Sunday brunch made us add a Saturday brunch too,” says Director – F&B Rahul Bhagat.

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