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. 

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Eulogising Friendship, one cup at a time!

Like so many other western concepts, Indians have been celebrating Friendship Day on the first Sunday of August for over 2 decades or more now, quite actively. It was in the late 90s when films eulogising Friendship grew and carved a niche for their attention-grabbing scenes, dialogues and songs. 


So much so that the song “Yeh bandhan to, pyar ka bandhan hai” from the film “Karan Arjun” feat. Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan went on to become a super-duper hit for the then generation which probably wouldn’t have been privy to the iconic “Yeh Dosti” song from the Hindi film Sholay. Similarly, films of all languages had their own friendship songs and AR Rahman’s “Mustafa Mustafa” was perhaps the most hummed friendship song in South India, especially in Tamil Nadu, thanks to the immense popularity of the 1999 film “Kadal Desam” which was among the first films of a three-way love story and each friend making a sacrifice for the other in a round-robin fashion. On the other hand, retailers like Landmark, Odyssey, Crossword, etc. selling greeting cards took cognisance to this fad, which was originally conceptualised by none other than the Founder of Hallmark Cards, Joyce Hall in 1930, only to promote the concept of sharing Greeting Cards for various occasions, thanks to a falling interest and demand for greeting cards in the US during the 19z. Much later in the year 1998, Nane Annan, wife of Kofi Annan, former UN General Secretary named “Winnie the Pooh” as World’s Ambassador of Friendship at the United Nations. Although the concept doesn’t have much takers worldwide over the past half-century, I guess Indian Consumers have taken this “social festival” actively, thanks to a full-pronged promotion by Films, Brands and Retailers.


In the 90s, it was quite popular in India for friends to buy greeting cards and send to each other, some by post and others passed on in person (this was when post cards and inland letters were fading off). Although it was gender agnostic, it was mostly to the opposite gender – what would later on become a dating fad to the generation in the 80s, 90s and early millennium. Those days, due to the lack of social networking Apps like Facebook or Dating Apps like Tinder, people would actually see, meet, greet and spend time with each other in person (as ironic as it sounds today!). 

And the most common meeting point was none other than a Café Coffee Day outlet (of course, temples, churches and other social places like parks were common too). As the by-line of the iconic retailer read, “A Lot can happen over Coffee”, many people took it too seriously to meet their loved ones at a café and would go on to propose their love and their intention to marry. While I do not have data to correlate how many such proposals would have been received at CCDs over the past 2 decades and how many were converted (!!!) to become marriages and how many would eventually become break-ups or even end up at divorces. But CCD played an important role in this real-life social networking.


The Greeting Cards industry was perhaps the biggest beneficiary because in the 90s, a large sized Greeting card would cost more than a Coffee at CCD (or any other equivalent such café, probably). There were variations in sizes – the shape of Alphabets, Cartoon Characters, pets and of course that of a heart. Archies, Hallmark and even UNICEF which worked closely with so many corporates for meaningful collaborations made a windfall during their peak years by encouraging patrons to buy greeting cards to wish one another. However, the proposition of exchanging cards became irrelevant over time, thanks to the advent and advancement of technology, especially with emails and early social sites like Orkut gaining popularity. Today, e-cards are a norm and there are hundreds of Apps which help users to create fantastic digital cards for various occasions and not just for Friendship Day, perhaps. However, CCD remains an icon for friendship and even their interiors / graphics inside the cafes portray young ones, what with the designs only getting more contemporary over the years.


From salons to cafes, restaurants to Malls, Friendship Day is a large and still untapped marketing opportunity. How I wish Marketeers create a larger than life consumption opportunity around this day which celebrates the spirit of Friendship & Camaraderie which traverses across professional and social boundaries. 

Wish people could discuss this over coffee – after all, A lot can happen over Coffee!