THE RANCHI HOP­PIPOLA HAS SOME­THING OTHER OUT­LETS DON’T — A COVER CHARGE. IT ALSO HAS MORE BOUNC­ERS; EIGHT, TO MUM­BAI’S THREE, AND IS CLOSED TO STAGS

Hindustan Times ST (Jaipur) - - Nation -

Delhi and Mum­bai for our brands is also talked about in smaller cities. We re­ceive re­quests for fran­chisees and col­lab­o­ra­tion be­cause peo­ple want this vibe there.”

Does that mean lo­cals in Tier-2 cities are eat­ing out as much as their metro coun­ter­parts? Not re­ally, says Am­lani. “On av­er­age, in Mum­bai and Delhi, a per­son dines out eight times a month. In Tier-2 cities, they may eat out only four times a month.”

Yet, adds Kalra, it’s pos­si­ble to turn a profit be­cause the over­heads are lower. The monthly rent of The Fly­ing Saucer Café out­lets at Con­naught Place and Nehru Place in Delhi amount to Rs 18 lakh. The Luc­know coun­ter­part op­er­ates at Rs 6 lakh. “The salary brack­ets are also lower. So, while a Delhi out­let might do 25% more busi­ness, the profit mar­gins in Luc­know, will roughly be the same,” says Sukhija.

Ac­cord­ing to Am­lani, the restau­rant boom in the Tier-2 cities be­gan in the late 2000s. His com­pany Im­pre­sario first took Mocha to small cities like Pune, Guwa­hati, In­dore, Agra, Ahmed­abad and Nag­pur. Four years ago, they also opened the café in Raipur in Ch­hat­tis­garh. Soon, they will set foot in Gand­hi­na­gar and Bhopal.

He at­tributes this ex­pan­sion to the chang­ing life­style of non-metro din­ers. “With the pen­e­tra­tion of so­cial me­dia in smaller towns, peo­ple’s pref­er­ences are be­com­ing univer­sal,” he says. “A food trend would take five or six years to catch on in a Tier-2 city. Now, it takes a year.”

At Mocha out­lets in smaller towns, Asian dishes like Burmese khow suey and Thai green curry are just as pop­u­lar as they are in the big cities.

KEEP IT LO­CAL

In small-town restau­rant edi­tions, about 20 to 35% of the menu is cus­tomised to lo­cal palates, like the Farzi Café’s ka­chori and ghe­war. The decor makes al­lowances for so­cial dy­nam­ics too. “We found that in Chandi­garh, groups of young­sters and fam­i­lies come to the same place,” says Aayushi Ma­lik, the com­pany’s in-house ar­chi­tect and de­signer. “We sec­tioned the restau­rant to of­fer pri­vacy to each seg­ment.”

Un­like the other Hop­pipo­las, the one in Ranchi has a cover charge (Rs 500 on week- days, Rs 1,500 on week­ends). It also has more bounc­ers; eight, to Mum­bai’s three. And there’s no en­try for stags so fe­male pa­trons are not ha­rassed.

At 7 pm on a Wed­nes­day, three tables are oc­cu­pied by the pa­trons all in their early 20s. Sev­eral are dressed in tra­di­tional wear. It’s a mar­riage of cul­tures that is vis­i­ble in the menu and the decor.

“Among the most pop­u­lar selfie spots is the smok­ing area on the ter­race,” says Sri­jesh Kol­lum, 23, who is on the wait staff. “It’s a tiny space that is also quite windy, but peo­ple squeeze in to smoke and get hair­flow­ing self­ies with a cig­a­rette.”

Com­merce stu­dent Ujan Kalwa, 22 is a reg­u­lar. “I am glad that Ranchi has moved be­yond cafés,” he says. “Here we can fi­nally get a cou­ple of drinks, good Bol­ly­wood mu­sic and fancy food.” The venue is pop­u­lar for cor­po­rate lunches and birth­day par­ties, events that would oth­er­wise be held in ban­quet halls and mall food courts.

The own­ers are also hir­ing lo­cal staff. Some sim­ply re­turn to the home­town edi­tions of the city restau­rants they’d worked at. Oth­ers find op­por­tu­ni­ties closer home.

TAK­ING RISKS

The need for re­source­ful, lo­cal part­ners is driv­ing restau­ra­teurs to opt for fran­chise mod­els in Tier-2 cities. “We vet each fran­chise owner,” says Am­lani, who has adapted the model for the ex­pan­sion of Mocha Café. “We dis­miss those who are only in­ter­ested in brag­ging rights. They need to view it as a se­ri­ous busi­ness.”

Other chal­lenges in­clude sourc­ing skilled man­power, spe­cialised kitchen equip­ment and in­gre­di­ents like porcini mush­room or bhut jolokia, which may not be avail­able in a small city. So ex­penses can rise by 10%, say restau­ra­teurs.

Smaller cities are also picked based on their ease-of-busi­ness in terms of li­cens­ing. And Gu­jarat, be­ing a dry state, re­mains off the radar for most restau­rants that are driven by al­co­hol sales.

The main risk is en­sur­ing a com­mon stan­dard in cities big and small, says Rahul Singh, pres­i­dent, Na­tional Restau­rant As­so­ci­a­tion of In­dia (NRAI) and founderCEO of The Beer Café, which is present in 11 cities, in­clud­ing Mo­hali, Lud­hi­ana and Am­rit­sar. “A cus­tomer ex­pects the same ex­pe­ri­ence. He vis­its your restau­rant be­cause he has seen you in a big­ger city or at least heard about you,” he says. “In a big city, pa­trons can flit from one restau­rant to an­other. In a smaller town, loy­alty mat­ters. A restau­rant’s oc­cu­pancy rate is lower than in a metro. So, if you don’t of­fer great food and vibe, you will lose your cus­tomer and it will af­fect busi­ness.”

SANCHIT KHANNA, DHRUBA DUTTA, KARUN SHARMA/HT PHO­TOS

(Clock­wise from top) A favourite with un­der­25s and present in six other cities, Hop­pipola is Ranchi’s first restopub.Riyaaz Am­lani took the fran­chis­ing route to launch Mocha Café and Bar in small cities like Guwa­hati.A mod­ernised ver­sion of sar­son ka saag­makki roti served as a Turk­ish pide at Farzi Café in Chandi­garh.

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