Amit Paranjape’s Blog

10 Ways In Which Restaurants Need to Improve!

Posted in Hotels & Restaurants by Amit Paranjape on July 16, 2011

How often do you experience this?  You walk into a fancy restaurant for the first time. It is located at a premier address. You notice the distinct grandeur – the lighting, the water-fountains, the expensive art, the music, the fine wine bottles nicely showcased on the wall rack…. You are greeted and taken to your table, and given a menu. You are enjoying the nice ambience, when suddenly you realize that the menu card is torn, soiled and worse(!) – has some food stains on it!
Numerous fancy restaurants have sprung up in Pune and indeed in all major Indian cities, over the past few years. These restaurants spend a lot of money on real-estate and decor, but often times pay scant attention to minor details. Of course, food quality and taste is of paramount importance. But the supporting setting really separates the extraordinary from the ordinary. These supporting items become all the more important when the customer is paying many times over for the same dish, as compared to an ordinary restaurant.
In this article, I am trying to highlight some of these basic things that go a long way in improving customer satisfaction.


1. Menu cards: It’s amazing to note how a restaurant will spend millions on decor and yet completely ignore what is possibly their key interface point with their guest! I don’t care if guests ‘spoil’ the menu cards….print new ones!

2. Service Presentation: These are the basics! Greet the customer, lead them to the table. Offer choice of sitting, make sure they are comfortable, etc. Sounds very simple, right? Many top places don’t do a good job at this.
And I think its a good idea for the Head Chef to once in a while step out of the kitchen and meet some guests. This is the best way to receive feedback, first hand.

3. Service: Communication is key. The lead steward needs to be crisp and clear in welcoming the guests. Neither too aggressive and over-bearing, nor too shy. Being indifferent is even worse. For the lead steward, as well as rest of the serving staff – please make sure that their English is up to mark (especially, if they insist in speaking in English). I have no issues communicating with them in Marathi/Hindi – but some ‘fancy’ places insist that their waiters use English! And please learn the correct pronunciations – the ‘j’ in ‘Fajita’ is pronounced ‘h’!  I think overall, staff training is critical. Top restaurants spend months on staff training even before the opening. Hence they rate much better on the service. Training is not just limited to basics like serving style and ordering communications…but also into the more subtle aspects of customer psychology.

4. Service – Issues Management: Pune Restaurants are quite bad when it comes to ‘Issues Management’. By ‘Issues Management’ I refer to way in which a customer complaint/issue is handled. If a customer doesn’t like a dish/its preparation – don’t spend time arguing and justifying it! First offer to redo it and/or substitute it with something else. After all attempts, if the customer is still not satisfied, provide some discount on the bill. Often times, this is a small price to pay, but good restaurants are not very keen to do this.

5. Seating comfort: I absolutely hate it when real fancy and expensive restaurants offer horrible seating. Sometimes, its in the name of ‘aesthetics’ and sometimes, it just negligence. For those restaurants who think of creating an uncomfortable ‘rural feel’ in their restaurants – just stop and think – did you do away with air-conditioning? Or purified water? Then why create these horrible bench or floor seats??

6. Ambience level: It is very important to get the right ambience level. Not too bright and overbearing, and not too plain. In fact, a little subtle is better. Many restaurants in Pune go overboard with a ‘jazzy look’. Also see my comment on music. Lighting needs to be at the right levels. Most places either err on one side (too bright, or too dim). In general I would prefer bright over dim – I want to see what I am eating 🙂

7. Feedback Process: Getting the right feedback is often times one of the most important ways to drive continuous improvement and course corrections. Yet many restaurants simply boil it down to one feedback form given with the bill! It is important for the manager to regularly (and discretely) check with the customers. However, don’t overdo it. If the customer complains, offer to change it, but don’t explain things (Here we make it this way..etc…).

8. Loyalty: Many restaurants do a bad job of maintaining customer loyality. Some do it quite well. If I visit a place regularly, its a good thing to be greeted by your name. Even better if they know your favorite order. Rewarding loyalty is very important. And its not as simple as giving away free dishes/dinners. Its much more – like getting me a reservation, when its all booked. Or getting me an off-the-menu item.

9. Right staffing levels: This is another common problem. In most cases staffing levels are not adjusted to account for the surge traffic. I understand this means extra investment..but this is key for top restaurants.

10. Music: Most Pune restaurants have the music turned on too loud. Music should be soft and preferably instrumental.

11. Let me add a 11th point, before I end this blogpost. The all important  ‘Hygiene’ – Pay attention to small things such as – Stains, Dirt in corners, Plates, Cutlery, glasses. Uniforms of the waiting staff. Common areas, etc.

NOTE – Here I am specifically referring to med to high-priced restaurants. Don’t expect compliance on all these 11 points, at lower priced restaurants – still these are good yardsticks for them to evaluate themselves.

 

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Doolally – Cheers To Pune’s First Micro-Brewery

Posted in Hotels & Restaurants, Pune by Amit Paranjape on October 31, 2009
Doolally - Pune's first micro-brewery

Doolally - Pune's first micro-brewery

Over the past few years, Pune has seen the opening of an array of  fine new hotels, restaurants, casual dining options, bars and fast-food joints. These include iconic international chains like the Hard Rock Cafe. Fine dining restaurants like Stone Water Grill (which also has a fabulous lounge bar). A historic heritage hotel – Fort Jadhavgadh. There are the usual international fast food favorites in McDonalds, Subway, etc. And then there are my personal favorites in my local Deccan Gymkhana neighborhood like the Deccan Rendezvous.

But an important piece was missing…a micro-brewery. Why a micro-brewery in this list? And what is a micro-brewery…you might ask!

A micro-brewery is a place where beer is brewed the old fashioned way. The way it is supposed to be brewed. The way it’s supposed to taste – Fresh, free of synthetic additives, and flavorful. In a micro-brewery, beer is brewed onsite in small batch quantities, unlike large commercial breweries. Micro-breweries are quite popular in the U.S. and Europe. Successful pioneering micro-breweries like Gordon Biersch started in Palo Alto, California 20 years back and now have multiple locations all over the U.S. But this concept is virtually unheard of in India.

Four years back, two ex-IIM entrepreneurs Suketu and Prateek decided to change that. They are well on their way towards creating something special. Their first creation is ‘Doolally’ – Pune’s first micro-brewery (as well one of India’s pioneers in this area), which opened earlier this month. Along this long and interesting entrepreneurial journey, they were also joined by Oliver, a German ‘Brew-Meister’ (The Beer Specialist). Incidentally, Suketu is originally from Nashik (a city about 200 km north of Pune), which is also home to one of India’s premier wineries – Sula Wines. Maybe there’s something in the waters of Godavari there that creates and nurtures these entrepreneurs like Suketu and Rajiv Samant!

Weird name – ‘Doolally’, you might think… but I guess it’s very apt. Doolally is derived from the name ‘Deolali’ – a small army cantonment near Nashik that dates back to the British Raj.  It literally means ‘going insane’! British soldiers used to be stationed in Deolali (often for months) as a staging point before returning back to England. Here they didn’t have any active tasks and some used to go crazy of boredom and the summer heat. Well…coincidently, Doolally is located fairly close to the Pune Cantonment Area. From the point of view of those early 20th century British soldiers – I guess wrong cantonment and wrong century!

Doolally is located in the fabulous new Corinthian Boutique Hotel near NIBM Road, Kondhwa. They have done a great job on the decor. The lighting, the bar stools and the wood panels/floors set the perfect ambience. As you enter you see the huge stainless steel vats where the beer is made. You are greeted by the bar upfront with huge taps serving the different varieties of fresh brew. Presently they are brewing Premium Lager, Dark, Wheat, Rye and a Cider (not technically a beer (tastes more like aerated wine) – but on tap for the occasional rare non beer drinker amongst the patrons). They plan to add more varieties in future. My favorite is the Dark – which has a hint of bitter malt/chocolate like flavor. The Wheat is great as well.  But don’t take my word for it – you need to find out which one’s your favorite! You can try out the different samples before deciding on your order. Pints and Pitchers are available.

Doolally - Handcrafted Beer On Tap

Doolally - Handcrafted Beer On Tap

The food menu is a little limited and primarily consists of snacks such as wraps and sandwiches. We understand that plans are afoot to extend this menu and introduce more conventional bar snacks such as Chicken Wings, Nachos, Chips, etc. On a side note – the Greek & Mediterranean restaurant ‘Salsa’ located right besides Doolally serves an excellent multi-cuisine menu. The Greek food we had there was probably the best in Pune. The Corinthian Hotel & Club complex presents a great location on top of a small hillock. The outdoor sitting of Doolally is also nice and Pune’s perfect weather, especially at this time of the year, is an added bonus.

My only initial reluctance in going to Doolally was the distance. Yes, in the minds of many Punekars, Kondhwa/NIBM Road area is virtually a different city, tucked away in the remote South-East corner. I myself ventured there for the first time in over a decade. However, now I realize that it is not that bad. At a distance of about 14 km from Deccan Gymkhana and only 7 km from M.G. Road – it will take you anywhere between 30 min – 1 hour, depending on traffic. Aundh, Baner residents have a slightly longer drive, but I am sure it will be worth it.

Doolally also plans to have live music on certain weekends. Check with them regarding the exact dates and artists. While Doolally is a perfect place to hangout with friends, it can also be a nice place for entertaining corporate guests, and for team events. One important note – do check if there’s a ‘Dry Day’, before you head over there – else you might be disappointed.

Some closing comments – Drink responsibly and enjoy! Don’t drink and drive. Have a designated driver.

 ‘Cheers’!

General Information

Web:   http://www.doolally.in/home.html

Address: Doolally, Corinthians Boutique Hotel, NIBM Road, Kondhwa, Pune

Phone: 020-2695 2226

Map (courtesy Sadakmap.com): http://www.sadakmap.com/p/Doolally-Micro-Brewery/

Timings: 7:30pm onwards

Hard Rock Cafe Pune

Posted in Hotels & Restaurants, Pune by Amit Paranjape on March 16, 2009

Recently, I got a chance to visit the newly opened Hard Rock Cafe, Pune. This is their fourth location in India. Having previously visited this restaurant in Dallas and Tokyo, I was looking forward to my visit to the Pune location. I am a fan of the typical American Food (if there is such a thing!) that you get at Hard Rock Cafe. And having not traveled to US in a while, I was dying for some good Chicken Wings and Burgers! I guess you do get these things in Pune, and they are ok – however I was missing that ‘authentic’ American taste. Hard Rock Café, Pune didn’t disappoint me at all. But more about the food a little later in this review.

 

Hard Rock Cafe is located in the same complex as ‘Stone Water Grill’ (another favorite of mine), off North Main Road in Koregaon Park. In another few months a huge Westin will be opening nearby. Talk about a great restaurant & hotel alley in Pune!

 

As you enter, you see the Hard Rock Cafe store (a standard feature in all Hard Rock Cafes. It sells branded merchandize…). I haven’t yet seen anyone wearing the ‘Hard Rock Cafe – Pune’ T-Shirt J . Hard Rock Café – Las Vegas, Hard Rock Café – Miami, that sounds a bit familiar… and now Hard Rock Café – Pune… Somehow it sounds a little weird…but I for one am definitely not complaining!

 

As you enter the main restaurant, you will see a huge (and I mean HUGE) hall. The walls are decorated with classic Hard Rock artists’ memorabilia – Bob Dylan, U2, to name a few. The central area has bar-stools for sitting. The regular tables are arranged around the periphery. The ambience is typical Hard Rock Café – the star attraction being the loud rock music playing in the background (yes, this is not the place to go, if you want to have a ‘quiet’ dinner J  ).  They have live performances on certain days. The décor is quite contemporary and simple. The one-thing that really appeals to you is the level of standardization these American restaurants try to achieve across their chain restaurants. This goes down all the way to the plates, glasses, and cutlery.

 

We arrived a little early in the evening and the place was reasonably empty (note – it did get nearly full by the time we left…and it was a week-day). They didn’t have live music that day, but the DJ was playing a nice selection. I was also able to provide him some requests and he promptly obliged. It’s always great listening to Eagles and Queen!

 

The bar menu is nice – Quite a decent list of cocktails and other drinks. The appetizers are one of the star attractions. The main-course menu has a big selection of typical American dishes (Burgers, Steaks, Some Mexican Fare, Chicken-Wings, Salads, etc.) I know that Hard Rock Café tries to have a little localization in the menu, but was still surprised to find a fairly extensive list of Indian Food Items?! I wonder who would eat Roti/Butter Chicken at Hard Rock Café  J. And on top of it, they called it ‘Puneri Menu’ or something like that? Really odd!

 

 

 

I liked their Margarita. Most Pune restaurants don’t make it that well. For appetizers, we had the Chicken Tenders and Potato Skins. Both were awesome. I enjoyed the Bleu Cheese dressing with the Chicken after a long time. For main-course we tried a couple of fairly simple and standard dishes – Chicken Sandwich and Fajitas. The nicely grilled Chicken Sandwich came in a portion size that you rarely see outside of America. And the dish was packed with Fries…health food is definitely not a specialty here! We also tried the Fajitas – this was the only item we found to be average. The grilled Fajita Chicken was great; however the Tortillas weren’t. And they didn’t serve Mexican Rice with the Fajitas. Hope they improve on it.

 

The appetizers and main-course did leave us stuffed, and with no room for desserts. The dessert menu did look quite interesting…definitely something for the next visit.

 

The service was excellent. In fact, one of the senior serving staff members explained to us how they went through a long and comprehensive training program, before the restaurant opened. It definitely made a difference.

 

For its brand and iconic status, Hard Rock Café Pune was not outrageously expensive. A dinner for two, with drinks would run into Rs. 1400 – Rs. 1800; comparable with other similar restaurants in Pune. Reservations are recommended. If you enjoy live music, check their performance calendar.

 

Here’s some general information about the restaurant:

 

Type of Restaurant: Casual Dining

Type of Cuisine: American

Phone: (20) 40158888

Spot it on SadakMap: http://www.sadakmap.com/p/Hard-Rock-Cafe-2/

Location: Located on the River Front on North Main Road, Koregaon Park.

Directions: Continue past ABC Farms and Army Sports Institute on North Main Road and then take a left (there is a sign for the restaurant and Hard Rock Café. On the right hand side – you will notice a restaurant, ‘Chillies’). Common parking lot for Stone Water Grill and Hard Rock Café.

 

Other Hotel & Restaurant Reviews

If you like this review, you might want to checkout my other Hotel & Restaurant Reviews: 

 

Stone Water Grill

Fort Jadhavgadh Resort

Deccan Rendezvous

Le Meridien – Spice Island

Vaishali

 

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Restaurant Review – Stone Water Grill

Posted in Hotels & Restaurants, Pune by Amit Paranjape on February 9, 2009

For those of you, who are still not convinced about Pune’s entry into the big league of metros in India, take a look at the fine dining options, and the brand new five star hotels here!

 

As you continue past the Kalyani Nagar Bridge on North Main Road, Koregaon Park you will drive past a massive Westin Hotel that is nearing completion. I am sure, given Westin’s worldwide standards – this place will soon take over as Pune’s best Hotel. Continue further east, and you enter a complex that has Stone Water Grill and Hard Rock Cafe restaurants. Quite an exciting choice!

  

We got there a little before 8pm and were greeted by great music in their open air lounge bar. The setting and the ambience of this place is simply spectacular. The outdoor bar area uses a nice square design pattern and an interesting lighting. A small flight of stairs takes you to a lower level that is directly overlooking the river. The bar has a fabulous collection of wines and spirits, and a nice appetizer and snack menu. Stone Water Grill also has a slightly more formal (though by international standards, I would still classify it as ‘upscale casual dining’) restaurant.

 

The ambience inside the restaurant is simple and yet extremely well done. It’s definitely a contrast to the outside bar area. Other than some common menu items, you get a distinct feeling that the Stone Water Grill is really made up of two different constituents.

 

The restaurant has some of the best table settings I have seen in Pune. Complete with various different types of cutlery and wine glasses. One cannot think of too many places in Pune that have separate wine glasses- by wine types, and specialized cutlery for oysters and other seafood. The tables are very well spaced, and sitting is very comfortable. The menu has a nice international flavor with a slight concentration towards Mediterranean cuisine. The wine and cocktail selection is very nice.

 

They have added some interesting and yet simple concepts in their presentation. For example, the bread basket (which by the way, was simply terrific – a variety of different breads, hot and fresh from the oven) is served in a small well insulated ‘bag’ made of jute and cloth. The regular water is served from a bottle with basil leaves! Haven’t had ‘basil flavored water’ anywhere before.

 

Along with the drinks, we ordered one of our all-time favorites – Mezze Platter as an appetizer. It was very well done. The Caesar Salad and the Soups were also quite good. The bread basket literally fills you up. So if you want to do justice to your main-course, avoid the bread! For someone like me though, who loves various varieties of bread – this almost ended up being the main-course! We did try a Chicken dish, ‘Tequila Chicken Satay’, an interesting fusion dish that is served on a bed of mashed potatoes. It is worthwhile mentioning that the menu is a little light on choice as far as Chicken dishes are concerned.

 

This time around, we didn’t have any room for the desserts, though the menu looked quite good. Maybe next time!

 

Overall, I would say that Stone Water Grill’s ambience is their best asset. The service was prompt and excellent. The restaurant menu is quite interesting, with a tilt towards seafood. This probably is not surprising since I believe their sister concern in Mumbai – Salt Water Grill is quite well known for their seafood. 

 

The prices are comparatively a little on the higher side – but then you are paying for the ‘experience’. A dinner for two, with drinks could run into Rs. 1500-2000. While still new, the restaurant was nearly full; by the time we left around 10pm. Reservations are definitely recommended. Next time around, we do hope to try out the outdoor lounge bar.

 

Here is some general information about the restaurant:

 

Type of Restaurant: Casual Fine Dining Restaurant and Open-Air Lounge Bar.

Type of Cuisine: Predominantly Mediterranean with some focus on Sea-Food.

Phone: 20-41030303

Spot it on SadakMap : http://www.sadakmap.com/p/Stone-Water-Grill/

Location: Located on the River Front on North Main Road, Koregaon Park.

Directions: Continue past ABC Farms and Army Sports Institute on North Main Road and then take a left (there is a sign for the restaurant and Hard Rock Café. On the right hand side – you will notice a restaurant, ‘Chillies’). Common parking lot for Stone Water Grill and Hard Rock Café.

 

 

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Hotel Review – Fort Jadhavgadh Heritage Hotel

Posted in Hotels & Restaurants, Pune by Amit Paranjape on November 4, 2008

 

Fort Jadhavgadh – A fantastic confluence of history and modern luxury

 

Finally, after years of admiring those beautiful heritage hotels of Rajasthan, we have something similar in Maharashtra as well. Punekars would understand the analogy here…What would you call an interesting amalgamation of ‘Shaniwar Wada’, ‘Raja Kelkar Museum’ and a luxurious five star hotel? Fort Jadhavgadh Heritage Hotel is such a fantastic confluence of Maratha history and modern luxury. And it is only an hour’s drive from Pune! I heard about this place for the first time a couple of weeks back from a friend, and the brief description definitely got me interested to learn more. At the first opportunity, we decided to drive down there.

 

Jadhavgadh is not a grand fort perched up on top of steep mountains. People who go there expecting a Sinhagad or Raigad type of a setting will be disappointed. Also remember that this was not built as a grand palace, but more as a fortified residence of a powerful Maratha Sardar. It is a relatively small fort (A ‘Gadhi’ in Marathi…) built in the early part of the 18th century, on top of a small hill. As you approach it, you will notice the impressive stone fortifications, typical of forts of that time. The ramparts still look quite impressive. The restoration work is simply fabulous. From the walls, to the wooden doors, to the stairways, to the main entrance – small minute details have been taken into account in this terrific refurbishment project. Looking at it, one really wishes that someday, the Shaniwar Wada could be restored to this standard!

 

There is an entrance charge of Rs. 500 per person that is adjustable against your restaurant bill. As you enter through the main entrance, you are greeted by traditionally dressed ‘Mavles’ (Maratha soldiers from the Shivaji/Peshwe era…). You also might encounter another interesting surprise or two…I will leave that for you to find it for yourself…

 

The entrance is like a typical fort entrances of those times. The impressive wooden main door leads into a small passage that takes right angle turns. This was standard design practice to slowdown the advance of an attacking army. The main entrance also has the manager office, quite aptly named, the ‘Killedar’ (Chief of the fort). Some carefully preserved artifacts line the main stairway, which leads to the main courtyard. This courtyard is where you get the first glimpse of 21st century luxury in the midst of this 18th century structure. Modern hotel rooms are located along the periphery, and one side of this quadrangular area has the coffee shop and the conference rooms. The next layer of fortifications can be seen in the middle courtyard. A small stairway leads to the top of this fortified structure, and to the topmost point inside this fort. This level has a swimming pool and an open air barbeque restaurant. The view from up here is pretty nice.

 

We had a good leisurely lunch at the Coffee Shop ‘Chajja’ sitting in the balcony that is located directly above the fort’s main entrance. There was a pleasant breeze that made sitting outside a better option. We ordered from the Ala Carte menu. On weekends, they also have a buffet. The menu is fairly limited, but does have the common North Indian dishes and basic sandwiches and breakfast items. They also have a few traditional Maharashtrian dishes. We ordered some Tandoori dishes and a ‘Methi Dal’. All of them were pretty decent. The only disappointment was the Maharashtrian ‘Flower Batata Rassa’. Its taste was distinctively Punjabi with no hint of any Maharashtrian flavor. Something for them to improve on…since one definitely expects good Maharashtrian food at such a historic Maratha place! The prices are on the higher side (lunch for two would run into Rs.1000 -1500), but then I guess that’s the price to pay for getting this type of service in these surroundings!

 

We briefly looked at the hotel rooms and they looked quite good. It is great to observe how they have created all the modern day luxuries and five star comforts inside this historic fort. In the evenings, the barbeque restaurant on the rooftop is an added attraction. Jadhavgadh heritage hotel is targeting the luxury retreat traveler, as well as the business traveler – specifically for off-site seminars and meetings.

 

Overall, the hotel is excellent, especially given that it is the first luxury heritage hotel in Maharashtra. There is room for some small improvements in certain areas.

 

The best part of this heritage hotel complex though is not the hotel itself. It is the amazing Maratha artifacts museum that showcases a small percentage of the collection of Mr. Kamat (owner of the Jadhavgadh Hotel and the Orchid Group). Various objects from the 18th, 19th and early 20th century have been carefully preserved, restored and demonstrated behind glass panes, in an air-conditioned environment. Objects include Nut-Crackers, Kitchen Equipment, Tobacco Pipes, Jewellery Boxes, Mirrors, etc. This place really reminds you of a smaller version of the Raja Kelkar museum. This museum is located in the old stable, just outside the fort. The stable building has been beautifully restored to look like an impressive ‘Wada’. For this, various original wood building pieces such as columns, balconies and other pieces have been obtained from other old and decrepit Wadas elsewhere in Maharashtra. They have been carefully restored and assembled here. This building probably provides the best view anywhere in Maharashtra of how the grand Wadas of Maratha Sardars once looked! It literally takes you to that period.

 

Overall, Jadhavgadh was a great experience for us, and we do plan to visit this place regularly. To reach there from Pune, first head towards Hadapsar, and then turn towards Fursungi onto the Saswad Road. This is the traditional ‘Palkhi’ route. After about 30 min, you start climbing the Dive Ghat. The Jadhavgadh heritage hotel is located just after the end of this Ghat. Prominent road signs will guide you towards the fort.

 

Link to Fort Jadhavgadh website, click here.

Location on Sadakmap: Click here, to checkout the location on sadakmap.com

Contact Number: +91 2115 238 475

 

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