Stevie Scribbles: How Friendly Is Too Friendly In Today’s F&B Industry?

Typical Saturday night with the crew. A well meaning catch-up over supper and one innocent drink turns into a rager of no supper but endless shots (proved to be extremely regrettable the next day). The night was young (most definitely not according to Pops Soni); and the jaeger-fuelled mind was clueless about the slightly-flexible closing hours of a thumping establishment. In the interest of time, I texted the establishment’s owner to check if we could duck in for afterhour tipples.

Where is this heading and how is this incident related to the topic at hand?

I texted this restaurateur at an ungodly hour of 2 am, something I regretted the second after the whooshing sound of a text delivered. Yes, he is a dear friend and always will be. No, he didn’t mind me texting him and never will. But what if he was unwell and rudely woken up by a ping asking for information that he shouldn’t be responsible for dissipating. Turned out he was on holiday and thankfully saw my text the next morning. Which clumsily brings me to my question about how friendly is too friendly in today’s F&B industry. The industry where being hospitable is pivotal, the industry where warmth is your key differentiator, the industry where you’re on duty 365x24x7. Over the last 4 years, I have been a keen observer of the holy trinity of the F&B landscape of the capital city – the authorities, the consumer, the restaurateur. Whilst one element of this equation is known for the complete lack of, the other two volley an endless game of table tennis where the ball represents a self-fulfilling circle of the 3 major Fs: familiarity, favours, friendship.

The culinary landscape of this city is seeing a structural shift in the age (number, not period) of the hosting and consuming demographic – it’s gotten significantly younger over the last 7 years. Consumer statistics & research studies suggest that a huge contributing segment to F&B ka-chings are the millennial folk. Therein lies the shifting definitions of friendship & service expectations within the F&B industry. Our parents and their parents built relationships and loyalties with specific chains & chefs. It was a friendship that involved inviting one another to their homes; it was a friendship that was built over the years and not over one supper; it was a friendship with the bedrock of a more formal version of friendship & old-school version of service. Industry stalwarts like Biki Oberoi, Manish Mehrotra, and Nakul Anand have created a legacy of mindful and attentive service that is a stunning interplay of science and art where every person who walks through their establishment’s doors leave as lifelong loyalists. They forge long-lasting relationships that seem familiar and genuine, without an ounce of crowdy stuffiness.

With no formal training or education in hospitality, I have shamelessly used the city’s F&B landscape as my classroom. Certain wizards from this industry became my professors and DSSC became the thesis and submission of my continual learnings. A compelling observation is how friendship between the consumer & owner in today’s times heavily leans towards the tonality of casual, banter-filled and often toeing the lines drawn out by the traditionalists. I’ve sat through an entire supper where an extremely chatty manager plonked himself on the table to quiz me about the Club’s business model. Side note: I was on a date. And on the reverse end of the owner-patron equation, my opening anecdote is a good example of me unconsciously toeing that very line. When does friendly banter become over-familiar awkwardness? For either end of the spectrum: owner and guest.

I offer two examples that have built their trademark version of approachable hospitality peppered with generous amounts of restraint.

Meet Vaibhav Singh, the lean, never-mean, charming machine who is the brains and soul behind Perch, Barback Collective and (soon to be launched) craft Indian gin, Greater Than (>). With a fan base that transcends the borders of the capital city, Singh embodies the perfect marriage of old-school & new-age hospitality. In a noisy landscape where self promotion is the order of the day, his quiet demeanour has built a loyal tribe who subscribe to his version of hospitality. Lending a personal touch to every table that is served at both locations of his establishments, this sartorial gent knows exactly when to exit. He will make you feel like the most special diner/tippler of his establishment with remembering strange quirks and specific dietary requirements. He will indulge in endless banter generously sprinkled with inside jokes but jolly well knows not to sit through a dinner date.

Meet Rahul Khanna, one half of the bulletproof duo of Azure Hospitality (Mamagoto, Rollmaal, Speedy Chow, Sly Storys). Possibly the only gent in the country who rocks floral on floral, Khanna is a fine example of how to think big and not get lost in the easy trappings of early success. All brands in the portfolio mirror new-age India – experimental & unpretentious. His version of hospitality is three pronged – humble, friendly and efficient; something that the management team has successfully trickled down to the service floor. Kabir Suri (co-founder) and Rahul Khanna are instrumental in building an open culture of empowerment, where every chef, manager and server seem to be a testimony of. Which is why their version of approachable but unintrusive service pleases customers (of all ages) and investors alike. 

Since my personal and professional life are one holy union (poor Nani, extremely upset), I draw very heavily from them and examples like these – Rakshay Dhariwal, Kuhu Kochar, Kainaz Contractor, Manu Chandra, Nira Kehar, Arijit Bose, Bani Nanda, Rahul Dua. The list is encouragingly endless, with a strong and blissful representation from Young India. I wonder whether we all have a joint role to play in being mindful, warm, encouraging and respectful of one another. And always knowing when to draw the line.

As for the gent who sat through my date, me & my single friends now call to check if it’s his weekly day off and only then make a reservation.

 

Stevie Scribbles is a monthly feature where Stevie a.k.a Monica a.k.a Tara a.k.a Naina a.k.a Shreya (you get the drift) feels the itch to share her (possibly) wonky observations about the cultural landscape of the city. Please note that all observations and opinions are strictly hers and the Company, affiliates and main boss, Zara, don’t always endorse.

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