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Working it: Office buddy gangs are changing Mumbai’s restaurant game


Ganesh Thapa, a server who has been working at Khar Social for 18 months, knows exactly how to tell if a group of diners are friends or an office gang.

“When I serve numerous drinks and finger foods to a group of 30 and they want separate bills at the end, we know it is a bunch of colleagues,” he says. “For them we have to remember what each person ordered through the evening.”

Thapa has tweaked his service for office goers, but across Mumbai, entire restaurants are adapting to a growing after-work crowd that is looking for a different dining experience than families, dates or buddies.

These establishments are close to office hubs in Lower Parel and BKC, have large rooms, big tables, wide-choice menus, and, crucially, affordable drinks.

In here, you won’t be forced to listen to what your next-table neighbours are discussing, you won’t fall off a dainty chair or worry about spilling drinks on the table linen.

Boisterous office groups can gossip about their bosses, unwind after a hard day and go home slightly buzzed but not broke.

Previous generations made do with permit rooms, cramped seating, whiskies and pomfret fry.

New places like Tamasha, the chain of Socials, The Barking Deer, Bar Stock Exchanges and The Good Wife are making post-work tipples pretty hip.

Work and play, side by side

Even five years ago, if you wanted to celebrate a promotion or successful deal with the whole department, plus the guys from another team, it was nearly impossible to find a decent place close to work. “People would hire small banquet rooms for office parties.

But that needed planning, advance reservation, and catering,” says Mihir Desai, co-owner of Bar Stock Exchange. Their Lower Parel branch seats 350; the one in BKC can accommodate 250. “Much of the corporate crowd uses public transport, so if your place is near a metro station or train station, nothing like it.”

“We call our repeat customers Ladlas and have a 3 R policy for them — Recognise, Retain, Revert,” says Riyaaz Amlani, who runs the chain of Socials.
It’s raining offers!

Large format restaurants are now so popular that many won’t seat a group of eight or more without a reservation, even on a Wednesday evening. Part of the draw is the cheap booze.

Ashley Suvarna, marketing coordinator of The Barking Deer, says restaurants like theirs start happy hours from as early as noon. “So lunch parties are not something you need to plan weeks in advance,” he says. The Barking Deer, seats 130.

Then, there are special deals on drinks. Discounts for media professionals abound. At The Barking Deer, drinks prices for women drop steeply once a week, and depend on the date. If it’s 10th, for instance, women get their first drink for Rs 10.

“Large groups spend a lot of money for food and drinks so they appreciate discounts,” says Yamnath Gaudel, restaurant manager of The Good Wife. Even their food menu comes with discounts, which office-goers appreciate.

Familiarity is the key

After they leave their cubicles, white-collar folks tend to seek a comfortable buffer of entertainment before heading home. Once they’ve found that place, they tend to return. Social, the casual dining and pub chain, knows how to respond to them.

“We call our repeaters Ladlas and have 3 R policy for them — Recognise, Retain, Revert,” says Riyaaz Amlani, CEO of Impresario, which runs the chain. Social’s Todi Mill branch seats 220 and the familiars get free drinks in a special bottle especially kept aside for them.

“They’re like a set of babies. They need to be pampered with special attention, prompt service and special rates,” says Saloni Rupani, owner of Dishkiyaoon in BKC.
“They love us for that,” says Amlani. At Tamasha, Lower Parel, which seats 220, customers who work close by are identified as Neighbours. “Our Neighbours can come here, flash their office ID and get a discount,” says Ganesh Bangera, the manager.

Big places, big demands

Colleagues tend to want a different experience from big families, or kitty parties. “They’re like a set of babies, they need to be pampered with special attention, prompt service and special rates,” says Saloni Rupani, owner of Dishkiyaoon in BKC which can seat 120 people. “When I have big corporate crowd at lunch, I instruct all my chefs not to delay their orders more than 10-12 minutes as they’re on the clock and won’t tolerate delays.” Compensation, if that happens is prompt – with a discount or free dessert. Servers, like Ganesh at Social, are trained to manage large groups.

Paulina Elm Agren, head of marketing, The White Owl: Brewery & Bistro in Lower Parel says the place can seat 100 but hold 300 for a private party. “The repeaters expect that our stewards or servers recognise them after they’ve been here twice,” she says. “They also expect us to remember their favourite drinks or dishes. So our servers work hard to remember faces and their choices. This trick makes them return.”

And keeps cash registers ringing.

Source:  Hindustan Times

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