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
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. 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- n 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. 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.”
(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.