Monday, June 01, 2009

South Indian Restaurants or Multi-cuisine Coffee Shops?

Karaikudi, Anjappar, Aruppukottai, Arasappar. These names if uttered to a Chennaite will stimulate the bile and other gastric juices. These restaurants offer sumptuous spicy and delicious Chettinad food. The crowd never seems to die down in these outlets.

I was having dinner at Karaikudi couple of months back. It was quite late and I think I was down three drinks. Those who drink will agree that stomach prefers hot and spicy food after the walls become intoxicated by fermented and distilled juices.

Not that I hadn't noticed this earlier but guess under the influence of alcohol, my marketing mind started working over time. The menu seemed to irritate me. Why? It was the amount of Chinese and North Indian dishes that were peppered on a Chettinad restaurant’s menu. What's more, even the captain seemed to be suggesting fried rice and some Manchurian dish. Totally unacceptable!

My mind wandered and virtually explored the menu of various North Indian, Chinese and Continental restaurants. I was quite sure that those menu were unadulterated, unlike the liquor at TASMAC outlets and the Chettinad restaurant menu. The exception probably was Kumarakom restaurants that serve food from our neighboring restaurants - Kerala.

Well, I ordered Attu Kaal soup after which I neutralized alcohol with idlies and spicy fish curry. My favorite combo!

While, hunger subsided, the question lingered in my mind along with Chettinad spices.

Would I order Masala Dosa at Cascade? Will I order Naan and Paneer Butter Masala at Tangeriene? Or for that matter Spaghetti Nepolitaine at Dhabha?

Then maybe I thought it was an issue with Chettinad restaurants. But then I proved myself wrong. Saravana Bhavan, Sangeetha, Palimar which are renowned South Indian restaurants serving veg food also where in fact operating like multi cuisine restaurant. Oh by the way, Chettinad restaurants mostly serve non-vegetarian food.

Is it an interesting consumer behavior? Is there something wrong in positioning of these restaurants? Or is it a strategy by restaurants to gather more market share?

In my opinion it is all. First, I think it would be wrong to classify Saravana Bhavan, Sangeetha, Palimar, and the Chetti restaurants as South Indian. They classify better as coffee shops. Open almost round-the-clock. They serve all cuisines. These restaurants have used their brands to tap the market with their South Indian positioning while parallely expanding their servings that address the needs of the varied taste buds. They have successfully managed to get more customers and the eating-out business pie. Important to consider is the price points of these restaurants which necessitates them to focus on volume business.

The niche restaurants on the other hand are rather premium and attract a different set of customers. And as in any business, differentiation is the key for survival. Even in the niche restaurant market, there are differentiated player. Particularly, this is true in the North Indian or Punjabi restaurant segment.

On the consumer side, there was a time when eating out was a big deal. But with a booming economy, money to splurge and changing life style has changed our behavior towards eating out.

With the change in lifestyle and exposure, consumer palette has also become global.

It must be a no-brainer that the reason for eating out and the choice of restaurants has a strong relationship. Here I must mention that the children have a strong opinion nowadays on where to eat. They infact are decision makers in many cases. Now, that is a topic in itself.

Guess, what I would order next time at Karaikudi? May be, a Chicken Manchurian Tikka Masala Kal Dosa! Wow, maybe I should open a fusion food restaurant!
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