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Restaurant consultants have their plates full

October 20, 2003 09:09 IST

They are the new foodies. With the booming food business in the country, restaurant consultants of all hues have their plates full.

In the last couple of years, the restaurant business has enticed businessmen like Vikram Thapar, Ajay Bijli, Amit Burman and VN Dalmia, Bollywood personalities Asha Bhosle, Sunil Shetty and Amisha Patel and national icon Sachin Tendulkar.

This eclectic lot has big bucks, but neither the acumen nor the palate to set up the business. That's where the consultants come in.

All you need is to arrange the money and they will take care of the rest, right from managing your food supply chain to planning the facility, designing the bar, doing the interiors and drawing up the menu.

With the business all set to swell from the current Rs 900 crore (Rs 9 billion) to Rs 5,000 crore (Rs 50 billion) in the next five years, their numbers are rising by the day.

Heading the menu are facility planners like Narinder Verma, Rishi Dayal and Ram Vithal Rao. They help restaurant owners do up the kitchen (some of them own fabrication units where they make all the equipment required in a kitchen), air-conditioning, power back-up and the works.

Rao, for instance, charges Rs 400,000-500,000 for a restaurant and takes care of all facilities, including back support areas and sales planning.

Then come the food consultants like Marut Sikka (he has floated a 50:50 joint venture, Bawarchi Tolla, with gourmet Jiggs Kalra), Sanjay Narang and Sanjeev Kapoor.

They draw up the menu, depending on the theme and ambience of the restaurant, and also train the chefs.

Bawarchi Tolla's services can be engaged for a fixed cut from sales or Rs 100,000-150,000 a month. Sikka says he gets at least three business proposals every day.

There are also bar specialists like Shathbi Basu, Yangdup Lama and Sandy Verma. Their expertise lies in designing the bar layout, procuring equipment, drawing up the bar menu as well as training the bartenders.

While Basu also runs a bartending institute, Lama and Verma are bartenders turned consultants.

Next in queue are the architects and interior designers like Sarabjit Singh, Sumeet Nath, Ashish Anand, Sudhir Sharma and Rohit Matil.

They design and procure the paraphernalia for the restaurant interiors, giving shape to the owner's dream.

Consultants like Sharma charge 5-7 per cent of the restaurant cost as fees. An upscale restaurant typically costs between Rs 75 lakh (Rs 7.5 million) and Rs 1 crore (Rs 10 million).

Mumbai-based RK Foodland specialises in managing the food supply chain.

"We provide the entire supply chain from the farm to the plate," says the company's chairman, Raju Shete.

Restaurants all over the country, Shete says, have realised the importance of safe hygienic food and have therefore turned to companies like RK Foodland.

"We bring the same standards in the supply chain as are prevalent in the US and Europe," he adds. Shete has already tied up with about 60 restaurants, including Indigo and Copper Chimney in Mumbai.

And there is at least one company -- Under One Roof Consultants -- which provides the whole range of services except design and interiors for Rs 500,000-600,000.

It also does feasibility reports and financial projections for restaurants, at times even drawing up a report for the bankers.

It has a well-stacked library about the culture and cuisine of the whole world, which helps it draw themes for new restaurants.

The company, claims its managing director Manu Mohindru, is working on no less than 30 new projects at present. "We guarantee breakeven to our clients in 18 months," says he.

With huge investments, which yield post tax returns of up to 30 per cent lined up in the sector, these consultants are riding the gravy train.

While Vikram Thapar is planning to invest Rs 100 crore (R 1 billion) in setting up a chain of 85 Tiger Bay restaurants, Amisha Patel is investing Rs 12-15 crore (Rs 120-150 million) in a dozen-odd Kebab & Curry joints.

Architect Mohit Gujral is pumping Rs 15-20 crore (Rs 150-200 million) in his highway diners and Amit Burman has allocated Rs 3 crore (Rs 30 million) for his upcoming fusion cuisine eatery in Delhi.

Says Dalmia, who wants to set up an all-India restaurant chain, Good Karma: "The rush is because the restaurant owner gets instant cash, pays its suppliers after 60 days and the profitability is as high as 40 per cent."

This, however, is just the beginning and there could soon be a shakeout, warn experts. Homi Aibara, head of Mumbai-based consultancy Mahajan & Aibara, warns against the shortening life span of restaurants. "Even in New York, the average life is 2-3 years," he says.

At the moment though, it's party time for restaurant consultants.
Parul Gupta