Bangalore: Be it the Jamavar at The Leela Palace, Bangalore, or Bukhara at the ITC Maurya, Delhi, or Wasabi at the Taj Mahal Palace & Towers, Mumbai, they all have one thing in common — the ‘fivestar restaurant power’ of attracting consumers . And while these restaurants have built strong niche markets for themselves, giving them a run for their money are the new breed of standalone fine dining restaurants. In Bangalore, restaurants at five-star hotels, which typically account for 40% of a hotel’s revenues, have seen a drop in sales by 20%-25 % over the last year.
On the contrary, for standalone restaurants , the sales are up. “Sales in the past eight months alone are higher by at least 15%,” says Sunil Kapur, MD of Blue Food, which runs restaurants like Copper Chimney, Spaghetti Kitchen and Noodle Bar. “People are increasingly drawn to speciality standalone restaurants as we’re on par with the five-star hotel restaurants on quality and quantity of food, ambience and service . So if a customer gets a five-star experience on three-star pricing, why wouldn’t he come to us?” Besides, with inflation soaring, people are seen to be getting more conscious about what they pay
Most fine dining restaurants are driven by chefs who were formerly with star hotels. Like Venkatesh Bhatt, who was formerly the head chef at The Leela Palace and opened speciality south Indian vegetarian restaurant South Indies 20 months ago. Its success spurred Bhatt to start Bon South, a south Indian non-veg restaurant earlier this week. “Restaurants run by chefs with experience in luxury hotels have an advantage as the chefs blend their culinary skills along with providing quality service ,” says Mohan Kumar, GM of Taj Properties , Bangalore. “Whether it is corporate czars hosting private or business lunches or socialites throwing a dinner party, standalone restaurants are increasingly becoming the preferred choice. In Bangalore, our customers rate Mainland China on par if not higher than the Taj’s Memories of China,” says Anjan Chatterjee, CMD of Speciality Restaurants that runs Mainland China and Oh! Calcutta. “Only actors or celebrities might still pick a fivestar hotel restaurant for the privacy they might offer, but standalone restaurants are catching up there too.”
He says that hotels have to work harder at building and more importantly sustaining , the brands of their restaurants. But it’s not all rosy for standalone restaurants either. “For fine dining restaurants to survive, they need to be positioned as specialty restaurants. Over 60% of the 100-odd such restaurants in Bangalore serve the same north Indian food. We have no fine dining restaurants catering to niche areas like say, northeastern food,” says Bhatt. Besides, standalone restaurants have to look into other facilities like parking, waiting areas and location, besides constantly innovating on their menu. And unlike the hotels, they have no captive audience. “It’s only a myth that we have lower costs,” says Chatterjee. “Be it in service, training or ingredients, our investments are the same. Besides, five-star hotels have the advantage of higher margins. Restaurants come under greater pressure to function on the premise of value and are driven more by volumes
Bhatt also feels that standalone fine dining restaurants still have some way to go to catch up with their star hotel counterparts in terms of gourmet appeal . “Taj West End’s latest offering, The Masala Klub, which is Indian food served with a contemporary flair of lightness, has just raised the level of fusion cuisine . It would take any restaurateur at least two years to achieve that quality,” says Bhatt. That possibly explains why when it comes to awards, it’s the restaurants at star hotels that get all the accolades. The Graze at Taj Residency Bangalore was featured in the Conde Nast Traveller , USA Hot List Tables 2008. Last year, The Jamavar at The Leela Palace had been ranked by Forbes among the world’s top 10 restaurants and the Bukhara at the ITC Maurya has been rated for the fourth consecutive year as the best Indian restaurant in the world by Acqua Panna.