Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Food Fiesta! But Free Food?

My favourite haunt in Chennai for a great Filter Coffee & South Indian snacks continues to be the iconic “Woodlands Restaurant” on RK Salai, Chennai which doesn’t have a towering personality quite literally (pun intended) like it’s neighbour Hotel Savera (which is among the first 5-Star Hotels in the city). But patrons and lovers of the third generation restaurant brand which runs a single branch in the city for over 5 decades is a sight to reckon. On a Weekend, one has to wait at least 30 mins if you are in a group of 4 or more, especially after 7pm. Around 9.15pm, the Manager would courteously inform you to look out elsewhere for dinner since the restaurant would take its last order by 10pm and that there would be no space for seating anymore. Call it brand arrogance or customer affinity; I term it the latter. For the love of Customers, that they would either come in early and dine their heart full or stay and dine, whichever suits them from time to time. Trust me, dining here isn't cheap; a table for four adults could cost upwards of Rs. 1,500 for dinner. Also, this is perhaps the only standalone restaurants in Chennai (or even in India) where you would hardly find boys in T-Shirts of various colours, Orange or Red or Black waiting to pick up food. For, this one restaurant never “logged in” to the Food Apps or their Loyalty Programs (namesake I say!). 


Two weekends back, we went for a family dinner at a leading Chinese restaurant in town. We logged on to an App which offered FLAT 50% off the Bill if we purchased an entry fee of Rs. 25 for each of us. Apparently, they termed is as Table Reservation Fee, which we anyway accepted. To our bad luck, there were only 3 coupons left to buy but we were 4. So I called the restaurant and requested if they could accommodate us. My friendly bangali babu accepted to allow the 4 of against 3 coupons and to my surprise, we saved a whopping 50% off the bill on a cheque of Rs. 2,200. The next week, I went out again with my classmates where I carefully booked a popular restaurant in the heart of South Chennai, known for its exotic fare and of course obnoxious prices. Again, I saved over Rs. 1,000 during this outing. At both instances, the restaurant was not even 25% full - the former was a dinner & the latter was Luncheon. Just when I was planning the next visit last weekend with an extended family and close friends (a larger crowd, perhaps), the NRAI announced a “Logout” Campaign to reduce their losses. Thankfully. For there was no end to this practise of subsidising patrons for what they would ideally charge others. Membership or otherwise, a 50% off on Bill was simply too much to give away as discounts.

Now compare the two glaring examples. As I always say, it’s a game of David Vs. Goliath, with the smaller, less-organised players being the Goliath collectively. How does it make sense to offer a food item on a discount when it is cooked with loads of investment - time and money included and of course with a lot of passion and love! It makes no sense to offer F&B at lower prices than what they are meant to be, except for lean times such as Happy Hours when people would prefer not to consume or to sell-out certain items at a discount to ensure there was no wastage at the end of the business day. From the beginning, I have watched closely how restaurants were getting caught in the whirlwind that the Food Aggregators were hatching on them, sadly. A friend who runs a large restaurant chain in Coimbatore was clear that he would neither discount their signature food nor allow the Apps to do so. And he, along with the local Federation members has been successful till date, save for a 10% discount once in a while. 


Most Restaurants complain that their bottomline has not seen a significant leap although the turnover has gone up significantly, helping them to reach more customers including many new users although there’s no guarantee that they would order at full price or even visit the restaurants. My hunch has been right – when there are no discounts, people order less frequently and lesser portion sizes. And the opposite in the contrary. This is not specific to India but a human quality called “greed”. Isn't it not common that we see people buying a lot more clothes during End of Season Sale even though they may not be sure whether they would ever wear it, even once. 

I have never believed personally in the theory of discounting in Retail, be it Grocery or Fashion, Food or Furniture. Some products like Electronics outdate faster or Room Inventory at Hotels perish, so perhaps yes. But then, most businesses believe Discounts attract Customers more than their products. I think it’s otherwise. If a user doesn’t see value in your pricing, then don’t decrease it, rather increase the value offering. 

After all,

Price is what you Pay;
Value is what you derive.