One of the youngest and brightest restaurateurs in the country, the man responsible for one of Delhi’s most popular hangout Lights Camera Action-Air Bar, Varun Puri recently launched another outlet in the capital that has become an immediate success. We took this opportunity to congratulate him on his recent venture, and sought to pick his brains and engage him in conversation.
Varun graciously took the time out of his busy schedule, and shared with us his views about the recent trends in the Indian restaurant industry, the challenges faced, and gave pointers on how to overcome them.
POSist: First of all, thanks a lot for taking out the time to talk to us, and hearty congratulations on the spectacular success of your new restaurant venture, Imly which has already attracted rave reviews from everywhere. Would you kindly share how you started your restaurant ventures?
Varun Puri: I have worked in the restaurant industry since a long time, working and nurturing brands like Punjab Grill, Masala Library, Made in Punjab etc, both in India and overseas. However, I always wanted to start my own, and followed my true calling of a restaurateur by opening Lights Camera Action-Air Bar. I launched my company, VIVA hospitality with my expert partner Vivek Bhargava, and together we aim to bring some gastronomic changes in Delhi’s culinary world. I’m pleased to say that our recent venture Imly-Delhi’s Chatpata stopover has already created quite a stir in the restaurant industry.
POSist: What are the usual challenges and warning signs restaurant startups undergo initially? How to overcome those hurdles?
Varun Puri: In my opinion, retaining your resources is the biggest challenge, as some of the employers do not belong to a professional background. Attrition is very high in the industry. All successful restaurant owners know the importance of hiring and training the right employees. Yet the common problem exists as many restaurants hire the wrong people and have a high turnover rate. An incompetent staff can also irreparably damage your current and future customer base.
Therefore, try to inspire your staff as well as your management team. Train them to address any situation, good or bad, that arises. Make sure they are enthusiastic and motivated to pursue your goals and adhere to your restaurant’s unique concept. Always innovate, and keep your team happy.
Secondly Marketing and Branding is also a vital pillar of a restaurant, because in today‘s time everyone goes by what they see. Hence market your product well, with valid information and eye-catching details. Something new, exciting and innovative catches people’s attention as they want to experiment with food, cuisine and theme restaurants. At VIVA, the idea is to promote the brand for the classes as well as masses, fetching esteemed tie- ups and association with the help of guests’ feedback and support.
Lastly, legal framework is also a big challenge in this industry. Lack of comprehensive understanding of the legal issues when starting a restaurant, can be a costly exercise and one that ultimately ends up as a failed business venture.
POSist: What are your views on recent restaurant licensing process with focus on hospitality and dining?
Varun Puri: I am sad to say this but in India, Restaurant Licensing process is a tedious task. It could take from 3 months to 3 years to obtain a license. From zoning laws to negotiating a commercial lease and deciding how to legally structure your business, there are a number of legal decisions and steps you need to follow before you open your brand. I wish to have an online system followed by International countries which is so quick and easily accessible. Here a person can get caught in many formalities- license, permits, insurance and a channel of various authorities who ask for open bribe. Since we follow the system, and don’t get swayed by these ‘temporary bribe temptations’, we have no choice but to wait and acquire a license legally.
We wish the system becomes more transparent. The industry is giving out so much of revenue; measure should be taken to promote new restaurants. There should be a single window concept to make it easier for a new entrance in the business.
POSist: How do you ensure seamless dining and customer experience at your restaurant?
Varun Puri: First impressions are crucial. The way you handle your customers along every step of their dining experience has an impact on whether you’ll retain that customer. If they weren’t greeted when they walked in and when they left, they might mention it in an online review. Poor customer service is often a deal breaker for customers. Your food may be outstanding, your table settings exquisite and your ambiance delightful, but if your service is bad, customers will remember. The key to success is happy customers who want to return again and again. To ensure your success, your entire team – from management to hostess, wait staff to housekeeping – everyone must be dedicated to your customers’ well-being. Every contact your staff makes with customers must be pleasant, welcoming and accommodating. A thorough knowledge of your respective work and always surprising your guests with something new and exciting will make them your loyal customers.
POSist: What are your views on the transformation in the taste of customers in India?
Varun Puri: In today’s day and age customers are becoming very choosy. They expect you to deliver what they are paying you for, and you cannot take them for granted. So if you are promising them the moon, make sure you don’t deliver them stars. Due to the ‘western’ influence, customers want to experiment with different cuisines and menu. I see a major change in their food habits considering there are so many restaurants coming up, each having a different theme and cuisine. People eat with their eyes first; hence presentation, introduction of new concepts and cuisines, and ideas are very important to catch their attention. We feel that constant innovation is the key to win the love of customers.
POSist: According to your experience, what are the food trends to look forward to in future?
Varun Puri: Well currently I think Fusion cooking is really catching up with people. Especially youngsters love dishes that combine several cuisines into a single eating experience. Also our recent experience at IMLY has proved that old Indian recipes are getting back in the menus on the popular demand of guests. Ethnic flavors are being inculcated in modern restaurants, and beverages going to extreme level of experimenting as well.
Secondly, Molecular Gastronomy, which is amalgamation of food + science, is transforming the restaurant industry. It’s a concept of food with technique which has already created waves with LIGHTS CAMERA ACTION-AIR BAR, and is getting appreciated by gourmets, food bloggers, and food lovers. We are glad to inform that all our restaurants will be having all these food trends/ elements to showcase a global world cuisine journey.
POSist: What kind of restaurant management system is necessary to manage and boost diverse areas of restaurants?
Varun Puri: In my opinion, a restaurant should have an integrated system that should be interlinked with all the important departments. This makes it easier for everyone to establish a transparency in the system and be on the same page as well. This leads to easy accountability, authenticity and harmony in the company, and allows us to openly discuss ideas, feedback, suggestions and complaints etc, and rectify them like a team.
POSist: What type of latest restaurant technologies are essential to embed into restaurant management software to automate operations, enhance customer experience and outgrow competition?
Varun Puri: We feel that automation is the need of the hour in the industry. Hence we seek more technical, instead of manual support for the team to save time and energy. We require automation in all the departments, and ‘SAPiszation’ – a method which helps in inventory (management), stock, reduce wastage and loss of revenue helps achieve it.
Additionally we feel the need of Management software in the kitchen to fasten the service and erase any confusion in terms of orders, food delay, etc.
For customers, we run loyalty programs, offer online reservations system, and organize corporate tie ups to make them our regular and most ‘treasured’ guest. The idea is to provide them some special care and extra service without hampering their pockets.