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Interviews

Every F&B operator, small or big, from anywhere in India, should take up the membership of NRAI and add to its muscle: Anurag Katriar

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He continues to be excited about being in the food industry as he believes that eating out will never go out of style. Anurag Katriar, Executive Director & CEO, deGustibus Hospitality, shares his insights with NRAI.

1. Please take us through your journey. Tell us about your restaurants and their expansion plans.

The journey of deGustibus started with Indigo. Somewhere towards the end of 2004, we started contemplating creating a product which was more casual and could cater to a larger mass. Indigo Delicatessen, or Indigo Deli as it is popularly known was a product of this thought process. Launched in June-2005, Indigo Deli was the first delicatessen to come up in the stand-alone category.

In 2005, we also won the right to operate a large integrated F&B facility within the precincts of the Royal Western India Turf Club Ltd. Spread over 30,000 sq ft and comprising of a Fine dine restaurant, a lounge Bar and a banqueting facility, this place was launched in 2009. We called it Tote on the Turf. Almost simultaneously, we also launched an outdoor catering division called The Moveable Feast, which caters to events of any size, across any cuisine and at any location.

The success & popularity of our Indian food in the catering sector, kindled the idea of our next venture called Neel. Neel launched as an Indian fine dine and we subsequently also launched its casual dining version in 2016.

After making our presence felt in the Fine dining, casual dining & bulk-dining categories, we took subtle steps to penetrate the next segment. Positioned somewhere between a casual dining and a QSR, we call this segment the Affordable Casual Diner and launched a brand called D:OH! in February this year. It is driven by the philosophy of food which is “Easy on the Wallet & Easy on the Palate”.

We are also contemplating making an entry into the QSR segment soon in Mumbai. We however plan to limit our geographical growth within the above three cities in the immediate term. We also intend to get into Asian diners at some stage, to complete our cycle across all major cuisines and segments.

2. Your recent venture D:OH! is a limited service all day space and has a grab-tray concept. What prompted you to introduce such a concept?

It was a case of natural progression. Post Indigo Deli & Neel, we wanted to reach the masses without compromising on our basic ethos of serving good food, and therefore a ‘No-frill” diner came across as the best fit. It captures the basic essence of a casual diner like good wholesome food and a comfortable upmarket ambience, but it also uses the prime aspects of a QSR operation like quick disposal of product and limited service on the tables.

3. How do you keep yourself ahead in this competitive time?

Some factors like low entry barrier, easy access to international culinary trends and advent of some very creative chefs has significantly changed the contours of this trade. There is a lot of innovation, fierce competition and consumers are spoilt for choice. We therefore adapted a two-pronged strategy, i.e., make sure that our existing brands remain consistent with their food and service delivery and secondly, continue to innovate to remain current with the changing trends. We invest heavily in training and skill enhancement of our employees to achieve these objectives.

4. You are an industry stalwart. Can you brief us on your major learnings as a restaurateur?

My biggest learning is that it is a very difficult trade to be in despite all the glamour and hype attached to it! The failure rate is frighteningly high, shelf life of a restaurant is very short and therefore one has to spend a considerable amount of time creating right (read low-risk) business models.

You have to continuously innovate and therefore talent retention & nurturing is extremely critical.

I also reckon that food that is high on the style quotient and low on substance is likely to have a shorter shelf life as against a good product, which may not be very high on glamour. Both are important and therefore, it’s critical to create the right balance between style and substance.

5. What do you do to unwind yourself? How do you keep a balance between your personal and professional life?

I read a lot to unwind and I read about almost every subject. I travel a bit to recharge. I eat out quite a bit; its almost therapeutic. Most importantly, I spend lots of quality family time as I find it is the biggest stress-buster. Playing with numbers can be fun but playing with your child is bliss!!

6. How have you been involved with NRAI? What more can be done through the association for strengthening the restaurant sector?

We have been members of NRAI for quite some time. While I am not involved with NRAI activities on a day-to-day basis or in any official capacity, I do try to participate in any initiatives or discussions that the NRAI leadership team might like me to be a part of. They know I am available whenever they need me.

I am a firm believer that the restaurant sector needs a sharper representation in policy-making for the F&B trade, independent of larger Hotel & Tourism bodies. This is where NRAI comes in; it has to become the most important voice of the F&B sector and I firmly believe that it is heading in that direction. I urge every F&B operator, small or big, from anywhere in India, to take up the membership of NRAI and add to its muscle.

7. One tip you would like to offer to youngsters aspiring to enter the restaurant business?

I urge all budding restaurateurs to spend as much time in developing the right business model as they spend on product development and space design. You may believe in your product but if it doesn’t make business sense, tweak it if not abandon it entirely. I also advise every aspiring restaurateur to go Asset-light and low-risk when they start. Once you have found your footings in the trade, you can take bigger risks and experiment more.

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