Opening a Restaurant at the Worst Possible Time: Part 4

A healthy amount of skepticism towards tech guys

7-min read

This is the fourth 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 dives into how we delegated, set up the PoS system, possibly got scammed again while bulk-purchasing computer equipment, and broke into a laptop.

1. Introduction, The First Week & Bargaining 101
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 PC’s — you are here
5. Some Statistics, A Failure, Stopping the Bleeding & Future Plans

Groundhog Month

I find delegating responsibility challenging and with my flight to New York around the corner, I wanted to achieve as much as possible. I went full throttle. My day started at 9 with rounds — either checking the progress on equipment installation or following up on interiors — and ended at midnight. I remember reaching home and immediately having to jump on a call for a couple of hours to plan out the next day.

My main responsibility was to assist in overseeing all managerial operations, but because of constant delays, we weren’t hitting our deadlines on time. While we could complete most of our tasks with a little bit of googling, delegation, and what we call jugaad, the remaining bits had to be outsourced to people more capable than us who knew what they were doing. To reduce our workload, I brought on as many people as we could rely on. The previous logo was swapped out with this current iteration (props to Angad, our in-house designer).

It took four hours to convince the owner to accept our new logo before he finally succumbed, which might have taken longer than the actual redesign itself.

After having gone through many rounds of tastings and after finalizing most of our dishes, the menu design had to come together. We roped in Dhruv, a writer from Columbia and our resident NRI pal, to draft the prose poem for the bar leaflet.

As we were still waiting on our Excise License, we couldn’t officially taste the cocktails we had curated. Drawing inspiration from the speakeasies of Hong Kong, New York, and Bangkok, we formed a drink list that had an international appeal but was still rooted at home:

Setting expectations and having a tight feedback loop was essential in hitting our daily goals, but there was always a crisis of faith. The artist who had been commissioned to paint murals of cherry blossoms behind the bar had messed up. We had envisioned an entirely different outcome for the blossoms that we saw on the day she told us she had finished, and she was charging a higher rate to redo the work. Instead of passing on blame, we took it upon ourselves to compromise — and requested her to extend the branches to hide the dearth of flowers.

Going back to our priority list time and time again was essential. Slowly, but surely, everything was coming together.

Videos are Worth a Thousand Pictures

I've written a lot about my experience at Maruchi, and after three articles without giving you a clear image, I hope you wouldn't mind watching a 30-second teaser of the place:

Nothing is Certain but Death & Taxes

From the video, you will see the restaurant is massive — sprawling over 10,000 square feet in the center of Delhi. Four floors are demarcated into the main, alfresco, bar, glasshouse, private lounge, and underground space. The place is so huge that the Indian government said they couldn’t provide service to the area, which meant internet services would be run via broadband dongles. Since the pond is right above the wine cellar and the administrative office, my civil experience was put to test — how do I prevent water leaking into the sub-basements without cramping the koi?

Problems I never thought I’d have to face cropped up everywhere, and I absorbed more experience about this industry than my previous consulting stint.

Restaurant kitchens are divided into multiple sections for efficiency and management. A pre-COVID operation would have designated areas for a service station, dispatching counter, stewarding (dishwashing area), and food preparation. Even with all of this ready, the pandemic wiped out any possibility of the restaurant opening up in the first quarter of 2020. Now, running lean was paramount to keeping our heads above water. Three kitchens turned into one and the staff was furloughed until further notice. Coming to terms with the pandemic was tough on management, who had been working on this project for the better part of a year. Watching them let go of employees who they had hired mere months ago was humbling. Fortunately, family values run deep and we provided them with as much of a monetary buffer as was humanly possible to offset the loss of their job. We had no choice but to trudge on and to work on the remaining tasks at hand. We had to be transparent — with ourselves and with the remaining staff. But how could we be transparent when we weren’t even sure if we could survive the coming months?

Running the Pass

Ten minutes. Ten minutes is sort of our internal standard for how long from when a ticket comes into the kitchen till the food is sent out — every single dish at the restaurant should be completed within this allotted time, which means a lot of prep work. A Point of Sale system is essential to mitigate mistakes, as well as increase effectiveness. Each different station (whether this is Poissonnier, Rotisseur, Entremetier, or Pâtissier) figured out how to get all their different dishes to a table at a specific time. Gordon Ramsey has a great writeup explaining the specifics in his restaurant.

Orders come into the PoS system from the waiters at a table and are inputted in by the expeditor (usually the sous chef or someone from the front of the house), who then coordinates with the cooks that work on the other side of the line. This is also known as ‘running the pass.’ Management had a great relationship with IDS, one of the premier players in the hospitality solution software industry, and we wanted to integrate their platform into our ecosystem. We also wanted a way to keep track of our most loyal patrons. A third-party firm, EZ Dining, allowed us to do just that. Our requirements were case-specific —

  1. Loyalty integration for customers (OTP, mobile #, DOB, anniversary) + SMS notifications for special events

  2. Customer analytics. How much they spent, how frequently they visited, and how many people they brought to the restaurant

  3. Variable discount rates

At any given time, numerous waiters were running around, and we needed an appropriate number of tablets to handle the influx of orders. Prep happened in the basement, which also housed the Commissary, Butchery, Bakery, Dry Store, Liquor Store, and walk-in fridge. Each store also needed a computer to manage inventory. Ideally, we wouldn’t want to walk up and down between prep and service, but the blueprint of the restaurant gave us no choice. Communication was key.

A keen eye would realize this means a lot of tablets and computers would need to be purchased to digitize the entire operation. By my estimates, we required 4 (3 + 1 standby) desktops, 5 Samsung tablets, and one store controller to back everything up. It was time to go shopping.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (at Nehru Place)

The moment had arrived — we were ready to get scammed again and this time it was closer to home. Nehru Place: an amalgamation of multiple shops stacked on top of each other, where you can find everything you’re looking for if you know where to search. We decided to go to this discount version of an IT hub with Dhruv and my owner friend. As soon as we entered, we were surrounded by hawkers hoping to offload their miscellaneous trash.

Fortunately for them, we had come for exactly that purpose. To buy their trash, to bulk order second-hand computers, and to pick up some new tablets. But as always nothing went as planned. We had only walked a few steps when we lost my friend to a store with bright, flashing lights. His excuse was that he needed to purchase some iPhone charging cables because his pet chihuahua, Waffles, had obliterated his cables at home. I recommended sticking to originals or at the very least purchasing from a reputable shop, but he came back giddily, saying he’d got a great deal and that he had picked up three wires for the price of one. Not to be deterred, and knowing I would ask for warranty information, he swiftly pulled out the card info. We ended up eating at a local South Indian joint and called it a day. The wires lasted approximately eight hours before short-circuiting.

We went back, more determined than ever, after having purchased the required components for assembling. I was also assigned a mission: to break into a laptop. A bit of history: before this restaurant, the property was leased out to a bunch of people who had run the place to the ground. There was a court case between the owner (my friend) and the renters.  I can’t speak much about the court case, but the previous tenant’s laptop had fallen into our hands when they had vacated the premises. The problem wasn’t that it was running an older Windows system but that we didn’t have the charger — which meant the shady places at Nehru place would prove to be useful. For the low price of $10, we made an exact duplicate of the contents of the hard drive while we waited for our computers to get assembled.

In the next and final part, I’ll talk about future plans, and what I learned from this experience. TL;DR, we failed. I go into how and why we failed below.