The last 2 years have been very tough for every restaurant owner. How have you taken these two years as a new beginning in your venture?
Definitely, on the restaurant front, it was highly challenging. Still, it was the busiest time for us, not because the restaurant was functioning all blown out but because it gave us the breathing space to evaluate our current offerings and curate a new vertical like our Burma Burma Pantry. In a way to bring a bit of Burma to every kitchen. This would not have been possible if we did not get that liberty of time, and this is when the entire team got together to work on this new vertical, and we are excited about the outcome and the scope for growth.
What was the biggest innovation that you did to keep the business afloat?
As our dining revenue had come to a halt due to the pandemic, we had to work hard on our delivery business and increase our delivery channels apart from Swiggy and Zomato. We also entered the DIY kits space, where we serve partially cooked food with excellent packaging and proper instructions so that customers can cook with convenience, in the comfort of their homes and can have it fresh. That was one of our significant innovations during the lockdown, and the other was, ramping up our delivery channels to serve the demand.
It is seen that delivery has emerged as a winning vertical during the pandemic. How are you enrapturing this segment?
Our sales have increased by around 400% due to the delivery channels and even when the markets have opened up, deliveries have remained at that. Though in the interim period for the last two years we suffered losses, delivery as a channel, in the long run, will help us in the increase in sales. Lockdown has in a way changed the behaviour of the guests where they now prefer ordering in the comfort of their space, so I think it's definitely a winning vertical. The way we are planning to grow and capture this vertical is to get into sustainable packaging and also give the guests the same experience they would have when dining at the restaurant. We do many things to make sure the food, when delivered, is in no way compromised of the taste and the experience that guests would have had otherwise. We also provide them with proper instructions, a music playlist, and condiments so that they live the experience of eating at Burma Burma. So these are a few practices we follow to ensure our cliental base and get in new customers.
Where do you see yourself in terms of getting the sales back to the pre-pandemic level?
We have had setbacks due to the various covid hits, and that was when the sales dipped. But in our experience, with every covid hit, the severity of the situation keeps going down. But in terms of sales, since travel has opened and other restrictions have been waived off, there has been a boom in the market, and we are experiencing sales that can be recorded as the all-time highest, and I think they are here to stay.
Today, when there is a sense of revenge dining, what is your dining vs the delivery business ratio?
I have heard about revenge shopping and revenge travelling, but revenge dining is a new concept to me, but I'll say that earlier, our sale ratio was 95% through dining and 5% through delivery. Now the dynamics have completely changed, and it has come to 75% through dining and 25% through delivery, which I feel is here to stay. In terms of revenge dining, I believe due to the pandemic, many restaurants were not open, and people were paranoid about going out, and it's only until the last two months that the fear has gone down after believing the drop in numbers. Even masks are not mandatory. I believe hotel and restaurant businesses are doing well because of people venturing out, including travellers. So, I feel its not revenge dining but the whole post-pandemic dynamic that is leading to the uptick in the guests coming in
Tell us something about Burma Burma Pantry. Why are we seeing more and more restaurant brands taking the FMCG route?
Pantry is an extension of what we have built at Burma Burma. It's what I have grown up eating, and a lot has to do with my mother's pantry, which we aim to serve to consumers all around the country rather than restricting this cuisine to the cities we are present in. My mother used to keep Burmese condiments and spices in small jars, and it was a weekly ritual where the entire family used to come together and prepare tea leaf salad. The inspiration for Burma Burma Pantry came from these experiences from my childhood, and inspired by these moments; we aim to bring a bit of Burma to every kitchen. We curated our first batch of products like the lotus stem chips and the Khowsuey paste, which are unique, niche, and authentic Burmese pantry items.
Many restaurants are taking this route mainly after the lockdown where people started experimenting at home with their cooking skills but couldn't get the same flavour profile and techniques that they would get at a restaurant, and that's when restaurants saw the opportunity to enter the ecom space. In a way, this new vertical helps in growing the brand.
What's your plan to expand the restaurant? New geographies, models, target cities?
We were waiting for the covid hits to subside because opening any restaurant has a lot of financial implications. There was much uncertainty, and that's why we haven't opened any new restaurants in the past two years. However, we plan to open 14-15 outlets in the next 3 to 4 years, in India and even internationally.
We want to venture into newer markets like Hyderabad, Chennai, and Gujrat in India. The plan is ready, and so are the consumers of these places, to venture into this highly experiential cuisine concept like ours. The focus would be on our casual dining restaurant concept like the one we currently have and also to develop a slightly quicker model with probably lesser offerings in high-density areas, such as corporate parks, and bringing a modern approach to it. All of this is in the pipeline.
Also, we see that consumer behavior has changed a lot in the last 2 to 3 years. How are you handling such customers who are very choosy about what they eat and its source?
We are seeing a paradigm shift from what the consumer wanted ten years back to what they want now. There is a rise in veganism, cruelty-free products/restaurants, and places that offer mock meats. These concepts weren't that common earlier, It started from the west and has slowly come to India. Many consumers have become aware of their sensitivity or intolerance to gluten, dairy, and nuts. But luckily for us, we have always had vegan and gluten-free options on our menu. Considering the nature of the cuisine we serve, we have always been able to serve those customers.
Also, we have worked closely with various Burmese chefs to ensure that the ingredients that we use are authentic. We know the source they come from because it's all about transparency with our well-informed and knowledgeable cliental base.
What according to you is the USP of building a brand?
The USP of building a restaurant brand is the food, service, and ambience. These are the three pillars of any restaurant business. Beyond that, if we talk about some aligned USPs, then we can consider brand communications and visuals. The outreach program is very crucial because there should be clarity on what your brand stands for and what it offers, simply for the guest to determine if they should visit a restaurant or not. If there is confusing branding, marketing, and communication, the guest might not consider visiting a restaurant, so that's of utmost importance. Also, to be very active on certain platforms to get visibility because there is a lot of competition in the food industry. To sum up, the main USPs are mainly great food, good service, great ambience, and clear communication.
Reset and recovery, your suggestion to fellow restaurateurs?
I want to tell my fellow restauranteurs to keep travelling, keep exploring, and have a strong sense of inspiration and passion in what they're doing because that would reflect in their work. Work tirelessly, always be intrigued, but in the end, have rest days and detox your mind because that helps increase your bandwidth to improve your skills. Learning will never be enough; always keep learning new skill sets and techniques and acquire knowledge. This is how one evolves, and that's a critical point in the evolution and growth of your business.