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Drive-in is the in-thing now

September 12, 2007 03:40 IST

Family restaurant chains are hitting the road at full speed after the improved infrastructure on highways. Chains like Barista, Cafe Coffee Day, Kwality restaurants and Yo! China are all looking at multiplying the number of their highway outlets.

Barista, for instance, plans to open around 50 more outlets on highways over the next five years -- an increase of over 12 times from its present capacity of mere four joints on the highways. Similarly, Cafe Coffee Day is looking at opening around 100 cafes in the next five years -- a ten-fold increase from its present capacity of 10 outlets on the highways.

Delhi-based Kwality Group which runs restaurants like Chopsticks Express, a Chinese fast food joint, and Kwality Express, an Indian fast food restaurant chain, plans to open 20 more outlets on various highways by next year.
The company now has a restaurant on the Karnal-Haryana highway and one on the Delhi-Chandigarh highway.
Partha Dattagupta, CEO, Barista, believes that nothing else drives domestic tourism as much as highways.

"Enhanced road network has lead to more and more people use the highway, especially for closer destinations. A long drive also forms part of a good weekend getaway for many professionals," he says.

At present, India has a 3.3 million-km road network, second largest after the United States of America. According to the National Highways Authority of India, of the entire travel that people undertake, about 85 percent of the passengers and 70 percent of the freight traffic use roads.

In fact, the NHAI is reportedly tying up with oil companies, such as Reliance Industries, Hindustan Petroleum Corporation and Essar, to develop wayside amenities that will not only provide fuel but also offer food and recreational facilities.

Says Dhruv Lamba of Kwality group, "Anywhere else in the world, you see people hitting the roads more than use any other means of travel. Given a choice, here too, one would rather drive down to Chandigarh from Delhi than take a flight."

And for food, though highways are sprinkled with many dhabas and local inns or restaurants, the market is highly unorganised.

"This segment holds a lot of potential -- one that has not been explored at all. The highway gets a lot of traffic particularly on the weekends and we plan to enter the market where ever we have density," says A Venu Madhav, head operations, Café Coffee Day.

Many players are in talks with malls that plan to come up on the highways. However, there are others who plan to do it solo by opening kiosks or outlets under their brand name. Kwality, for instance, will be tying up with malls.
"A lot of people have contacted us to build food courts. But, while we are definitely looking at malls, we are also in talks with Reliance A1 Plazas also for setting up food courts or kiosks," said Lamba.

Cafe Coffee Day, however, is comfortable with both models. Cost of setting up one Kwality kiosk is Rs 15 lakh whereas a Café Coffee Day outlet costs anywhere between 25-30 lakh to set up.
But more than eating out, the outlets on highways are also about giving the customer a different experience altogether.

"We want to offer our customers a typical Barista experience. As more and more people travel, there is a need for stopover at a hygienic place that offers food and at affordable price," says Dattagupta. In few of its highway outlets, Barista also plans to experiment with food options.
Yo! China on the other hand is developing a commissary to specifically support its operations on the highways.

"We are looking at opportunities of tying up with the Haryana Tourism Board as well as individual developers that are coming up at such destinations," says its new channel sale and franchising head.

Highway destination for most of these companies include, Delhi-Agra, Delhi-Jaipur, Delhi-Chandigarh, Ludhiana-Amritsar, Bombay-Pune, Ahmadabad-Baroda, Bangalore-Tirupati, Bangalore-Mysore and Chennai-Bangalore and with improved infrastructure, more transport and personal vehicles on the highways, these companies know it's a win-win deal ahead.

Kalpana Pathak in Mumbai