When Personality is the Theme

By Swarnendu Biswas

The Indian restaurant business is complex, nuanced, challenging and interesting. The Indian food service business these days is not only hopping from one exciting trend to another, but is also imbibing different and often conflicting trends at a given point of time. This reflects not only maturity but also hugely diverse nature of restaurant guests in our country, which of course, is natural, considering diversity is an integral part of India’s essentially pluralistic cultural fabric. 

One of the interesting developments that we are witnessing to germinate in the fast evolving Indian food service business, and which has immense potential to develop as a full-fledged trend in the industry in the near future, is the reality of personality-based restaurants.    

Projecting the Image

It is not easy to define a personality-based restaurant, but here I would like to make an attempt towards a rough description. Personality-based restaurant can be construed as a restaurant where the market image and/or work and/or memorabilia associated with a renowned person (who can come from different walks of life) are being showcased in the ambience and décor of the given restaurant to generate interest among the consumers in general and among the renowned person’s fan following in particular.

Succinctly, in a personality-based restaurant, the ambience and décor should reflect the market image or work or memorable events and/or items or all of them together associated with a given personality. Ideally, the market image and/or work and/or memorabilia of a renowned person in a personality-based restaurant should not only be reflected in the ambience and décor of the restaurant, but also in its menu, in its live performances if any, and in other facets of the given restaurant, if possible. In the personality-based restaurants, the central theme is the personality of the renowned person who could be a celebrity too.

This is a very nascent development in the Indian restaurant business. Two such apt examples of personality-based restaurants in the context of the Indian food service industry are the two Garam Dharam Dhaba Te Theka outlets, located in Connaught Place and Rajouri Garden. Both these localities are in Delhi.

Innovative Developments

Garam Dharam restaurant brand is inspired by the renowned Bollywood star of yesteryears, Dharmendra, who was splendid at action roles and also good at loud comedies. He went on to gain enduring nationwide popularity. He is still popular across several generations, and his popularity has been explored to develop this restaurant brand. In 2015, when the first Garam Dharam outlet came into being, it was hugely uncommon in the Indian food service industry to have a restaurant themed on a Bollywood personality. It still is.

The casual dining outlet at Connaught Place with its rustic ambience effectively masquerades as an opulent dhaba, with images of Dharmendra adorning the apparently rough brick walls. Movie posters and dialogues and records of popular movies of Dharmendra are part of the décor, as is the replica of the famous Sholay motorbike with side car. The rustic and down-to-earth ambience reflects the projected image of Dharmendra in most of his films. The cuisine on focus at Garam Dharam, as expected, is pure north Indian.

As discussed before, there is another Garam Dharam outlet at Rajouri Garden, which also embodies the same theme, with posters of the movies of the popular actor being integral part of the restaurant’s décor, and walls showing the actor’s popular dialogues. The Rajouri Garden outlet too has a replica of the famous Sholay motorbike as part of the decor.

Some of the interesting names of the items of the menu of the restaurant chain are also reminiscent of Dharmendra’s films. The family naan is named as the Mai Balwan Family Naan, the Shalgam Gosht dish is named Mere Humdum Mere Gosht, Masala Tandoori Jhinga is named Jheel ke Uss Paar, and Makki di Roti Sarson da Saag seasonal dish is named Mera Gaon Mera Desh. The restaurants also serve desi mocktails. 

The Connaught Place outlet of Garam Dharam was opened in September 2015 and the Rajouri Garden outlet became reality in 2016.

Then there is Calendar’s Kitchen by Satish Kaushik in Rajouri Garden, where the popular Bollywod comedian and director Satish Kaushik’s screen personality has been showcased as the theme of the restaurant. In the popular so called sci-fi film of 1987, Mr.India, Satish Kaushik played a memorable comic character who was called in the screen as ‘Calendar.’ The still images of Satish Kaushik’s many screen roles are part of the multi-cuisine restaurant’s ambience. When this writer visited the outlet, he tasted lip smacking Murgh Malai Tikka, Dahi Ke Kebab and Mutton Rogan Josh. The mocktails were also delightful.

In Bandra, Mumbai, there is a Salman Khan inspired restaurant named Bhaijaanz. It is probably the first famous personality-based restaurant in India. Of course, the décor of the restaurant has immense influence of Salman Khan’s screen persona, with stills and posters from his movies being an integral part of the character of the restaurant. Currency notes with their serial numbers corresponding with Salman’s films’ release dates can be construed as an interesting facet of the restaurant. A balcony at the restaurant simulates the star’s balcony at his home, where he comes out to greet his fans.

Gauging the Potential

One can say that if personality-based restaurants are carefully and exhaustively developed with the right amount of detail and with active involvement of the personalities concerned, without compromising on the quality of food and service, then they have chances of being enduring success stories in the fast evolving Indian restaurant business.

“Associating a famous name with your restaurant brand can have positive impact as people can instantly connect with that famous personality and moreover, fans naturally get drawn to visit the place that is inspired from their idol,” explained Umang Tewari, the Chairman and Founder of Big Fish Ventures. Big Fish Ventures has several restaurant brands within its ambit, which includes Garam Dharam among others. According to him, the success of Garam Dharam has been greatly contributed by Dharmendra’s enduring popularity across the country.

 “Garam Dharam outlets have become popular dining out choice for Delhites. Both the restaurants generate an average footfall of about 200 per day. The unique concept has been appreciated by many,” Tewari observed. 

“We are taking the Garam Dharam brand further to enhance our presence in the market. We are planning to open a dhaba version of Garam Dharam in Murthal in Haryana, on the very famous GT Karnal road,” informed the savvy entrepreneur.

However, many in the Indian food service industry are not very much enthusiastic about the idea of the personality-based restaurants, particularly if they are not backed up by great food and great service. “Restaurants based on personalities & not on food tend to have a very short life,” asserted Rajesh Khanna, F&B Head, The Metropolitan Hotel & Spa.

“Furthermore, there is lot of money involved in opening of these types of personality-based restaurants, and though their ROI in the beginning is likely to be impressive but after 2-3 years, it has potential to drop with the decrease in the craze of these types of restaurants. Only the quality of food and the service can make the restaurants’ image enduringly good or bad in the market. If you want to have a restaurant with long life; good service, good food, good ambiance, and good marketing are few tools to keep the restaurant moving ahead,” Khanna elaborated.

Praveen Patni, the Vice-President of Ambrosia Bliss, the huge and classy 280-seat restaurant in Connaught Place, also sounded his critical views about restaurants where a given personality is the focal theme. “The idea needs more detailed execution,” he said. Patni rightly believes that for personality-based restaurants to achieve its business objective among today’s savvy consumers, the direct interaction of the personalities concerned with the guests is necessary. “Just the presence of the images of celebrities in terms of ambience and décor would not suffice to draw additional crowd after a point of time,” Patni pointed out.

Of course, showcasing various facets of the personality or her/his works through the restaurant’s ambience and décor is a necessary condition for personality-based restaurants, but by no means it is a sufficient condition for the enduring success of personality-based restaurants.

Direct Involvement

Of course, according to Patni, the personality-based restaurant would draw its own set of guests if its food, service and ambience are great, but in the same breath he maintained that “the restaurant would not generate extra crowd due to its association with a celebrity after a point of time, if the involvement of the celebrity’s persona is only confined to the ambience and décor. However, the royalty cost, over and above the other day-to-day costs of running the personality-based restaurant, would continue.”   

And how the direct involvement of the celebrities can take place? For example, tomorrow there comes a restaurant themed on Madhuri Dixit. Ideally, in that restaurant (let us name the restaurant as MD), the Bollywood diva should not only be represented through stills of her movies, and film posters and huge cut outs, but from time to time (say once a month), the great Madhuri Dixit should also ideally come to the restaurant concerned too and chat, laugh, eat and overall mingle with the guests.

It is better if the dates of her coming to the imaginary restaurant are not announced beforehand, as then everyday people would be induced to visit the place with the hope of meeting and personally interacting with the diva. The personality-based restaurants should tailor their contracts with the celebrities in such a way that the direct interaction of the celebrity with the guests is part of the guest expectations.

Challenges Offered

One of the challenges of developing a personality-based restaurant, according to Patni, “would be to match the ambience and décor of the entire place with the stature of that personality.” 

 “The restaurant has to exude the essence of the renowned personality concerned. It should be evident in a single look that who the inspiration is behind the concept, and getting that right does get challenging,” affirmed Tewari while adding, “attention to detail is fundamental for the success of any personality-based eating out venture.” He elaborated in this regard. “Take the example of the replica of motorcycle from Sholay at Garam Dharam. Little details that remind of that famous personality is a must to incorporate into the overall theme of the place,” he expressed.

Furthermore, different celebrities may be idolised by different segments of people. For example, the universe of people who would be besotted with the raw sexuality of Sunny Leone  is expected to be different from the universe of the people who would idolise the  nuanced acting talent of Shabana Azmi, though there is every likelihood that there may be many people who would belong to both these distinct universes. 

What I mean to say is that the former universe would be much greater and have mass appeal, and the second universe is only likely to have market appeal among classy and aesthetically inclined  people.

In this regard, Patni pragmatically suggested that entrepreneurs or would be entrepreneurs thinking of coming up with personality-based restaurant/s “should do considerable prior R&D to clearly gauge which particular segment of the population they are catering to.” 

The ambience, décor and food should of course, be also dependent on the guests’ profile and not only on the basis of the concerned renowned person’s personality. This is another challenge that the entrepreneur or the future entrepreneur needs to keep in mind before embarking on such an adventurous enterprise.

Extending the Purview

It is seen that the few personality-based restaurants which have come into being in the Indian food service industry till now, only showcase living personalities. One can also have personality-based restaurants on deceased iconic personalities like Tagore or RD Burman, etc. where their pioneering works can be showcased through the ambience and décor. The scope of live performances is also there in such restaurants.

For example, in a Tagore themed restaurant, eminent literary figures and Rabindrasangeet singers can be invited from time to time by the management of the restaurant concerned. They can host erudite discussions on Indian literature, do poetry recitals or give musical performances. Of course, such a restaurant would attract only a refined type of crowd, and it is preferable that such a restaurant be a fine dining restaurant focusing on authentic Bengali cuisine.   

Similarly, in a RD Burman themed restaurant, talented young singers who are  wanting to make it big in Bollywood can be invited to perform RD Burman’s songs. This type of restaurant could be a fine dining or a casual dining one, as this type of restaurant would attract mixed crowd. However, it is preferable if such a proposed restaurant is a multi-cuisine one, with focus on Mumbai food.

Conclusion

Overall, we can infer that personality-based restaurants do have potential to  succeed as people in India have a strong tendency to hero worship and they shower their adulation on their idols liberally and consistently. However, they can succeed only if the food and service of these restaurants are great or at least good and are in line with the theme and guest profile of these restaurants concerned.

Without great food and service no amount of fancy concept can salvage a restaurant project in today’s India. And even if the food and service are impeccable, the concerned personality-based restaurant is not likely to draw additional crowd solely because of its personality-based theme in the long-run, if the influence of personality concerned in the given restaurant is only reflected through its ambience and décor, without any live interactions with the guests.

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