Opening a Restaurant at the Worst Possible Time: Part 1
30 days, 70 Uber trips, 3 states, and 1 restaurant.
This is the first in a series of long-form write-ups on my experiences in helping out in the food & beverage industry in a developing country. This particular section includes the preface and the first week of this hectic project.
1. Introduction, The First Week & Bargaining 101 — you are here
2. Licenses, The Bridge Conundrum & Picking Potted Plants
3. Locked Social Media Accounts, Staffing, Utensil Shopping & PR nightmares
4. The Menu, First Look (Video), COVID-19, Kitchen Setup & Bulk Computer Equipment
5. Some Statistics, A Failure, Stopping the Bleeding & Future Plans
19th December 2019: I was wrapping up my contract work with PwC and was planning on my return to the States so that I could finish my degree. I had a few weeks of downtime, and one of my close friends mentioned he needed a hand opening up a restaurant in New Delhi.
‘You don’t know anything about opening a brick & mortar — everything you’ve ever done is either online or entirely intangible.’
HURTFUL and RUDE — but another year, another challenge, especially in an industry where I had no practical and relevant experience. Takes a villager et all. Onwards.
I also realized this would be my only opportunity to get my hands dirty and learn from some of the most experienced people in this field, with a crash course in the inner workings of the food and beverage industry in a developing country. Hop to the Bargaining section for clarity.
You couldn’t subscribe to this on Udemy even if you tried.
I was relatively well-versed in the overall progress of the restaurant. I had an affinity for focusing my general interest on projects I had no interest in knowing. I’d mentioned off-hand I could be the guy if he ever needed technological assistance - but some of the red flags before I joined was evidence of some broader issues at hand —
11th August 2019: kicked off conversations regarding interior design/ style, including mise en place. There was no structure and overall aesthetic.
All through September: food trials and testing (read: poaching of chefs) from well-known establishments all around the NCR region.
13th October: the hideous previous logo (which would eventually be swapped out for the newer format) was revealed. I pushed back heavily, with good reason.
16th November: India Cocktail Week - establishing partnerships with up and coming brands and figuring out the initial draft of a cocktail menu.
3rd December: I found out the two Arowanas, and Sting Ray — which were delivered from Mumbai — was dead on arrival. Huge blow on morale; less of an economic loss but a loss nevertheless. The desensitization would help shortly.
16th December: substantial competitive analysis for the food menu, looking at the top F&B places in the US/ APAC region, focusing on New York and Hong Kong.
I slowly realized we had a lot of work to do — this was no means an easy task. I was apprehensive, but situations pushed me to focus my entire efforts on this project, and I was happy with the outcome.
Tide House, Tidy Mind
22nd December 2019: Since I had kept a tight feedback loop with my friend, I tackled this project as any other — created a priority list subdivided into each focus category and generated a Gantt chart, adding a buffer of a few days for each task. The opening date was tentatively Feb 1st, and my data was showing mid-April.
I knocked out the easy stuff first, focusing on my strengths — building an online presence and targeting the specific keywords capturing the top SERP. Domain was registered, and mailing redirects were set up, saving on G Suite costs.
It also definitely helped to leverage the Google Maps clout I’ve so carefully cultivated over the past four years, which grants me the ability to add locations effortlessly.
The City of Ceramics & Cracked Dreams
The priority spreadsheet would define the next 30 days on what tasks to run in parallel and where our focus would lie. 23rd December I received a call at night after finishing a 12 hour day on tomorrow’s agenda. 24th would be a field trip of sorts - going to Khurja, in the state of Uttar Pradesh: known for its affinity and mass production of ceramics. This trip would mean I would be getting up at 5 in the morning and spend the whole day looking at bowls. I had already reached a turning point.
Note: We were attempting to open up the restaurant bang in the middle of the ongoing CAA protests, which meant disruptions on all major interconnected roads and inroads into Delhi. I’m not trying to be dramatic, but life and death situation?
I knew I didn’t want to half-ass this project, and the only way to justice to myself was to treat it like a full 9-6 job. The moment we arrived, we were subjected to a wide-scale internet shutdown, which meant we all instantly lost access to data and were scrambling to organize a rendezvous point. We eventually managed to get our bearings straight and visited the manufacturers, who treated us to fantastic chai and chole bhature to die for - which we even ended up packing and taking back with us.
A critical aspect of the food and beverage industry people fail to realize is the concept of par, which is:
expected cover for the restaurant * 2 or 3 depending on size and seating
Which would be the number of utensils and cutlery you would expect to have at any given time. Flashback to Ocean’s 11, where Terry Benedict discreetly announces the amount hidden in the vault in the event of gambling losses and potential payouts.
Example: A headcount (or # of seats) of 100 people at a restaurant requires 250-300 utensils, cutlery, and plates, respectively. You can see how they’re some scaling issues, and the Law of Large Numbers doesn’t come into play here.
This isn’t AWS - we don’t have enough EC2 instances for this.
By my rough estimates, management saved approximately 40% by traveling south of New Delhi for a few hours and ordering directly from the manufacturer.
I handled the purchase order book, and eventual organization of each item ordered, keeping track of inventory and samples while handling contact information. We locked in three manufacturers and placed orders with a delivery date of the start of February. (Looping back, if you recall, the restaurant had to open mid-Feb).
If there is one thing you get out of this essay, it should be this section. My friend’s father, the owner of this fine establishment, had an affinity towards psychological pricing/ end-pricing, from both a buyers and seller’s perspective. Fifty-two years of combined industry experience — with the first hotel opening in 1968 — was channeled towards one goal: bringing down the overall cost through discounting and deals.
The keyword management used to negotiate was never to use the word ‘negotiate’ or ‘bargain’ ever.
Instead, the methodology of bringing down the price was only for the mutual respect the seller had for my close friend’s father, even though they had no previous relationship, to begin with.
That was essentially the beauty of it - by commanding the room, leveraging the success of his previous ventures, and not leaving before the deal directly benefited management either economically or socially* - he always managed to tip the scales.
I’ve seen him do this not only with manufacturers and employees but also with me. He got me to work for a month for zero pay. I can’t.
* Socially in this context would be in regards to favors.
In the next part, I’ll go into how we successfully got the DPCC license, added steps to a bridge, reverse-engineered the largest alcohol distributor’s pricing strategy, and attempted (and failed) to negotiate while purchasing plants for the pond.