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Anoothi Vishal breaks down the business of food in her new book

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Your popularity on social media cannot guarantee consistent customers. This and other findings from Anoothi Vishal, whose new book — Business on a Platter: What Makes Restaurants Sizzle or Fizzle Out — highlights the challenges foodpreneurs face today

Author, analyst and curator — she is the founder of the Great Delhi Pop-up and has events like Johnnie Walker’s Gourmet Experience to her credit — Anoothi Vishal has been observing our F&B industry at close quarters for decades now. Long enough to bring out a book on it. Business on a Platter: What Makes Restaurants Sizzle or Fizzle Out, Vishal’s second book, is a guide of sorts for those looking to wear the hat of a restaurateur. “It is not enough to write about food or restaurants merely as an object of consumption. You need to go deeper into the business of food,” she says, perhaps offering a note of caution to both the influencer and potential foodpreneur. We catch up with her to talk about the changing landscape. Edited excerpts:

Can a home cook be as successful as a restaurateur, with the right marketing and social media?

It is a myth to think that if enough people ‘like’ you on social media, they will be consistent customers. Most metros have similar restaurants with very little qualitative differentiation, who find it impossible to hold on to customers after the initial ‘buzz’ has faded. If the basics are not okay, no amount of social media or marketing can help. They can only assist in growing an already strong product into a brand, not change the game. In fact, I’d advise one to be wary of social media, rather than be bolstered by it.

How are food delivery platforms, like Swiggy and Dunzo, changing the ‘eating out’ experience?

These are convenient platforms for consumers with their readily-available choices. However, when there is deep discounting, it hurts not just the restaurants, but our whole eating-out culture. The truth is that people do not have that much money to spend in restaurants. Instead of having one luxury, high-quality meal in a month, [today] they are happier to spend the same amount of money at lower standard places, four times a month. The discount culture is hard-wired into many of us and online platforms are playing to it. But this needs to be broken, both by aggregators and the restaurants themselves, if the standard is to become better in India.

Anoothi Vishal breaks down the business of food in her new book

The chapter in your book, By the numbers, tells an investor if a restaurant business can be profitable or not.

What I essentially demonstrate is the fact that profitability, especially while scaling up, is a very tricky business. Many have concepts that are inherently unscalable because they are chef-led, do not have a distinct food product, may be in an already cluttered market, or may work only in one market. Private equity in such restaurants may have meant that there is an expansion in terms of number of outlets, but if individual units are not making money, there is trouble. This is a cautioning chapter for an inexperienced entrepreneur to take a hard look at the dynamics involved before investing hard-earned money.

There are many pop-up dinners now by Michelin-star or international celebrity chefs. How do you separate hype from the real deal?

A Michelin star chef visiting India may get some buzz, but it is not necessary for the food to be extraordinary. The checklist for critiquing any food anywhere remains the same: look at the food, and not the reputation of the person associated with it. Is it competently cooked? Is it imaginative? Is it breaking new ground and forcing you to think in new ways? Critics need to be cognisant of all this and not be afraid to say it as they see it.

How has the millennial changed the food industry… and what about the gen Z customer?

As I say in the book, the restaurant boom in India is because of millennials who grew up post-liberalisation, and adopted eating out regularly as part of their lifestyles. The rise of Indian cuisine (both modern and regional), local and seasonal ingredients, international cuisines, and trends that are not bastardised — unlike the Punjabised flavours of old — are all millennial phenomena, because of their aspiration to “experience” newer things and cultural openness. However, we must remember, this is a broad classification. In India, patterns of consumption differs from market to market, even within the same city.

As for Gen Z, it is too early to comment on them as a consumers’ group within the F&B space, and to differentiate between them and millennials in any realistic way. They still have a lot more growing up to do to be able to make generalisations about them that are not tenuous at best.

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Printable version | Dec 6, 2019 6:47:46 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/anoothi-vishal-breaks-down-the-business-of-food-in-her-new-book/article30122589.ece

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