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Striking Out

The lure of being your own boss has created many a restaurateur.

Written by Leher Kala |
August 30, 2010 4:30:06 am

The lure of being your own boss has created many a restaurateur. Geoffrey’s,an inconspicuous restaurant on the second floor at Select Citywalk mall in Delhi has a deadly offer for weekday lunches: soup,salad,main course,dessert and coffee for Rs 500,including taxes. It’s great quality and good value,but it’s pretty much empty besides the occasional moviegoer popping in for a drink,or a gang of ladies,lunching. I’ve never understood the economics of running a restaurant but I’m sure it must be a very lucrative business since so many new ones are springing up all over the place.

Over the years I’ve met many regular folks,who,fed up by the daily drudgery of hauling themselves to an office,have plunged into hospitality with varying degrees of success. Like many people fantasise about writing a book,there are many romantic notions out there,about running an eatery or café. Think the movie Chocolat. Or Cocktail.

I knew a Palo Alto based successful entrepreneur,an ex-Delhiite,who,in a burst of enthusiasm opened something called Bed,a resto-bar in Lado Sarai,where there were no chairs or sofas,only beds. Every single item in Bed was white,right from the fish in the aquarium,to the hookahs and the stereo system. The lighting was such that even Aishwarya Rai would look like Dracula in there. Predictably,it lasted six months. The entrepreneur was thoroughly disillusioned and beat it back to the States,complaining that Delhi is a village and people here would never get his concept,which is to be completely relaxed on a bed when you go out. Similarly,I had a friend in advertising in Calcutta who came into a rather substantial inheritance. A foodie herself,she wanted to set up a fine-dining British era-style restaurant in Delhi. When she asked me for my opinion I advised her to put the money in a fixed deposit,live off the interest,and be in the enviable position of being able to chuck up her career anytime. Of course she disregarded my advice and to her credit,appears to be doing quite well.

The happiest restaurant story I can recall is of an ex-colleague in television who spent about three years on the night shift in the control room of a news channel,monitoring all the ad breaks and flow of visuals. It’s an extremely stressful job,and as he put it,his career was going “absolutely nowhere”. On a whim he quit and found himself in Manali,where he runs a restaurant by the Beas called Lazy Dog,now listed in Lonely Planet.

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I can’t think of any other career other than hospitality with this kind of pressure,where you’re entirely at the mercy of your customer. One lousy meal means he’s never coming back,besides the fact he’ll tell everyone he knows not to venture near the place. Post the economic slowdown,the rules of hospitality have changed,worldwide. These days as much as 30 to 40 per cent of a restaurant’s income can come from private parties. In an era of cost conscious,frugal diners,even the hippest places give out their spaces on weekends to survive.

(hutkayfilms@gmail.com)

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