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So, you want to start your own restaurant?


India’s top restaurateurs tell you what you need to know before taking the plunge

Wanted: A hard-working, committed applicant willing to work long hours, give up weekends, public holidays and a social life. Candidate must be able to do physically hard, manual labour such as standing for hours, lifting heavy packages and dealing with fire on an everyday basis. Those interested may send in their applications to imlivingmydream@nopainnogain.com.

If there were a job description for restaurateurs, this is probably how it would read. The idea of fancy food, parties and pretty people all feels glamourous, but those in the know swear that’s not even half the picture. “About 97% of all restaurants shut down in the first two years of operations. It’s one of the riskiest businesses on the planet,” says ace chef Ritu Dalmia, owner of the Diva restaurant chain in Delhi.


Diva – The Italian Restaurant, Delhi (Photo: bookingdiva)

And yet, if the dream of running your own kitchen is too alluring to resist, here’s what you need to know:

Try it before you buy it

If you’re new to the space, it’s a good idea to experiment with a franchise before you launch your own, offers AD Singh, MD, Olive Bar & Kitchen. This way, you can learn the business the easy way, without taking too many risks.

Olive- AD Singh

Olive Bar & Kitchen, Mumbai (Photo: blog.trulymadly)


Before all else, decide why would people walk in through that door. We spent a long time assessing the market and found that no one thinks of an Indian restaurant when they’re going out,” says Sameer Seth of The Bombay Canteen (TBC). “This was one of our main inspirations. We wanted to build a restaurant that had social and cultural relevance.” Chef Manu Chandra, who helms a range of restaurants including the Monkey Bar, also insists that concept come first. “Your USP should be clear,” he says. “That is where everything about your business will stem from.”

The Bombay Canteen

The boys at The Bombay Canteen spent over six months looking for the right venue.


Concept set, the next big decision you need to make is location. “They don’t say location, location, location for nothing,” says Riyaaz Amlani, CEO, Impresario Entertainment and Hospitality. “If it’s a casual, quick service place, you want to identify spots with high footfalls. For a fine-dining, upscale restaurant, the location becomes a destination that people drive to.” Prices may be steep in a “landlord’s market”, but don’t be pressurised into locking in on a place quickly.

Smoke House Deli

  The Smokehouse Deli, Bombay (Photo: jointhebusride)


“Once you’ve locked on concept and location, you can start working out the costs. There’s the rent, the deposit (usually six months of rent), licenses, government fees, pre-operating costs like salaries, apart from the regular overheads like electricity and everything else,” explains Chef Manu. “In a city like Mumbai, don’t spend more than Rs15 lakh on rent. Most restaurants try to break even in two years.”
For that to happen, you need a business plan. “Entrepreneurs are excited about a dream, but a plan is what will take you forward,” says AD Singh. “It’s imperative that you don’t cross over Rs2 crore in total as an investment for an upscale restaurant. People respond to new ideas and innovation, not extravagance.”

While Chef Ritu Dalmia has never had a business plan (and doesn’t see the need for one), she does agree with AD about trimming the splurge. “You don’t really need to waste your cash on Italian lights and designer tiles. But you absolutely cannot compromise on your basic services. At the end of the day, people care about the product, and not some fancy chandelier.”

Business plan or not, restaurateurs swear that it is their own instinct that will propel them to the top. “You’re opening a restaurant, not a factory. It’s run by so many variables, the most important being people,” says Yash Bhanage of The Bombay Canteen.

The red-tape

Expectedly, licenses are a huge expense and a drain on time. “You never know what’s coming,” says Chef Manu. “There are way too many egos and authorities to be pacified, all the time.” To understand all these intricacies, be prepared to run the business bottom up, not top down. “There was a time when people were hiring CEO’s, but that just doesn’t make sense in this kind of environment.”

Budding restaurateurs can lean on the National Restaurants Association of India. The NRAI offers assistance and consultants who can maneuver the murky licensing waters and help fledgling restaurateurs set up shop.

The customer

…is king. Except when they cross the line, as they sometimes do. “In most cases, we bend over backwards to please the guests,” Amlani says. “But there are always those lovely people who will drop a hair or bits of glass or even worms into a plate just to score a free meal.” An upset customer is always an opportunity to either make an enemy or a loyal patron for life. People always respond well to heartfelt apologies, so if you have screwed up, be man enough to own your error, he adds.

“A lot of people threaten us with Zomato. Yes, feedback is important, but trust your gut to judge your own customers. We once had someone who walked in and was extremely rude to the staff and caused a lot of chaos. Eventually, he was shown the door,” says Dalmia.

And then there are the reviews. “Critics can’t make or break your restaurant. Sure, a good review may help with creating an initial buzz, but eventually if you’re doing a good job and have a great product, success isn’t very far away,” say the boys at TBC.

Adds Manu: “You can’t possibly please everyone. Ultimately, an entrepreneur needs to choose between being populist and being truly disruptive.”

Easier said than done? Perhaps. “It’s like jumping off a bridge,” says Amlani, “…and building your wings along the way.”

Source: Conde Nast Traveller
(Photos: Conde Nast Traveller)