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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Pune Food Nostalgia – 1980s Favorites

Posted in Pune, Uncategorized by Amit Paranjape on June 1, 2010

Pune has always been a great place for foodies..for many decades. There are iconic restaurants, bakeries and stores like Cafe Good Luck, Vaishali, Dorabjees or Chitales – that have been favorites of many generations.

Here’s my personal favorite list from the 1980s… Many (if not all) are still very popular today. Unfortunately, some have shutdown. (Note – there are many others from that time frame as well..please add your comments; I will update the blog post)

Vaishali – The classic Pune favorite! Around since the 1960s. Famous for their South Indian and other snacks. Location: FC Road. Read more here: https://aparanjape.wordpress.com/2008/10/07/restaurant-review-vaishali-written-in-1994/

Roopali – Vaishali’s sister restaurant. In addition to the popular Vaishali menu, they also serve a South Indian Thali and Rava Dosa. Location: FC Road.

Darshan – One of the first restaurants in Pune to introduce international fastfood cuisine to Pune (started in 1970s). Famous for a variety of dishes (Indian and Global Cuisine and Fruit Juices/Milk-Shakes). Location: Prabhat Road.

Marz-o-rin – The famous sandwich on M.G.Road. Located in an old historic building. Famous for a variety of sandwiches (must try – chicken sandwich), bakery items and shakes.

Pasteur Bakery – Famous for their cakes and pastries. Location: M.G. Road

Chitale Bandhu Mithaiwale – The quintessential ‘Puneri’ store famous for milk-products, Mithai and other snacks (such as the legendary ‘Bakarwadi’). Locations: Laxmi Road, Deccan

Supreme Pizza  – One of the first places in Pune that offered Pizza (and have maintained that same consistent ‘Indian Pizza’ taste) since the early 1980s. Locations: J.M. Road, Prabhat Road

Santosh Bakery – Famous for Pattice, Cream-Rolls and other bakery items. Location: Apte Road

Hindustan Bakery – Famous for Pattice (originally available only on Sundays, later on available everyday). Location: Laxmi Road

Dorabjees (Store) – The store has been around since the 1920s. (Its entrance was featured in the Raj Kapoor’s 1960s hit movie ‘Sangam’). The store stocked a variety of international and hard to find food items for a long time. Location: Camp.

Dorabjees (Restaurant) –  Dorabjees is a small restaurant in the lane behind the famous Dorabjees Retail Store. Famous for their Biryani. Location: Camp. [Apparently, the Dorabjees Store and Restaurant are not related (not owned by the same family/group. Can someone validate?]

Kayani Bakery – Famous for their famous biscuits. Location: East Street.

Sujata Mastani – Made the ‘Mastani’ (Mango milkshake with mango icecream) famous! Location: Sadashiv Peth, near Bharat Natya Mandir

Bedekar Misal – One of the top ‘Misal’ places in Pune..around for over 50 years. Location: Laxmi Road

Janaseva – Famous for their ‘Sabudana Kichadi’ and ‘Kharvas’ and many other items. Location: Laxmi Road

Appa’s Canteen Deccan Gymkhana – One of the oldest canteens that is still functional (around for 70+ years). Famous for their ‘Khichadi Kakdi’, ‘Batata Vada’ and other items. Location: Deccan Gymkhana Sports Club

Deccan Queen Dining Car – Famous for their unique menu items (dating back to the 1930s/1940s..) – Scrambled Eggs, Chicken Cutlet, Fried Fish, Baked Beans/Toast, etc. Unfortunately, the Dining Car was discontinued a few years back (replaced by a Pantry Car).

Kukuckuku Chicken – One of the early restaurants in the Deccan Area that offered various types of Chicken dishes – Tandoori Chicken, Butter Chicken, Soups, Sandwiches, etc. Location: Deccan Gymkhana.

Baker’s Basket – Introduced in the mid 1980s brought a variety of cakes, pastries’ and baked items (many for the first time …) to Pune. Locations: Multiple locations across the city

Shreyas – Famous for their Maharashtrian Food. Location: Apte Road.

Shabri – Famous for their Maharashtrian Food. Location: F.C. Road.

Sapna – Famous for their Gujrati Food. Location: J.M. Road

Chinese Room Oriental – One of the first places in Pune to specialize in Chinese food. Location: Karve Road

Jayashree PavBhaji – One of the early Pav Bhaji and Juice specialists. Location: Tilak Road (near Sarasbag).

Khyber – Famous for Punjabi food/Tandoor – one of the earliest places in Deccan Gymkhana area (since 1960s)

Kwality – Punjabi and Continental (around since 1960s). Location: East Street

Lateefs

Mona Foods – Famous for their Chana Bhatoras. Location M.G. Road

Coffee House – Famous for their British Menu (dated back to 1930s) – Fish & Chips, Mutton Cutlet, etc. Shutdown in 1980s and was replaced by a South Indian Snacks restaurant (quite popular) with the same name. Location: Camp

Amir Hotel (Peshwa Inn) – One of the best fine multi-cuisine restaurants in Pune of the 1970s/80s. Unfortunately the hotel was shut down in the 1990s.  Was located near Pune Station.

Blue Diamond – Great multi-cuisine restaurant (Ashwamedh) and coffee shop –  back when Pune had only one 5 Star Hotel! The restaurant has since been replaced by a couple of other ones.

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Sri Lanka Trip – 10 Interesting Memories

Posted in Travel by Amit Paranjape on February 10, 2010

We recently made a short 3 day trip to Sri Lanka. Thoroughly enjoyed the visit. Great Nature, Nice People, Good Food and Cost-Effective! Yes…with the current exchange rates – the prevailing prices for hotels, food, transportation, etc. seemed to be a lot cheaper than in India.

Also, in the increasingly painful international visa regulations, Sri Lanka is amongst the few countries where an Indian Passport holder can get a Visa on arrival, if travelling for tourism purposes (with a stay of under 30 days). So you can literally board a plane and get there. And note, the Chennai – Colombo flight roughly takes the same time as Mumbai – Goa.
 
In this blog post, I am highlighting 10 interesting memories from this trip. Frankly, we ran short on time. My recommendation is you plan for at least a 5-6 day trip. We are also looking forward to another trip there soon!

 

 
Old Cars/Vans & Repair Shops
 
Upon landing, as you head on the road from Colombo Airport to the city, you cannot help but notice a series of old-car repair shops. Various car brands (mainly Japanese) replacement chassis are laid out in the front. You also notice that the cars and mini-vans are a lot older than what you would see in India. I guess given the depressed tourist economy during the past 2 decades of civil war, not many new vehicles were imported. Hence these repair shops seem to thrive.
 
Traffic Discipline
 
Most roads are quite tiny, even by Indian standards. Even the major roads, like the Colombo Airport to City Highway, are 2 laned undivided roads. However, the traffic discipline is definitely a notch higher than in India. And the Helmet Rule is extremely well followed! In our 3 days there, we didn’t see a single motor-cycle rider or even the pillion rider, without a helmet. Honking is also quite uncommon (though not as uncommon as in EU/US).
 
Security
 
The long civil war, the Presidential Elections (we were there a week before the elections)  are probably the reasons why we witnessed a lot of security presence in Colombo. Add to that, our hotel was near the Central Business Area that houses a lot of Government Offices. The sight of security personnel with automatic weapons, can be a little disconcerting for a first time tourist!
 
 
Nuwara Eliya – Quaint Old Hotels
 
Nuwara Eliya is a fabulous hill station and an important tea plantation region in Sri Lanka, perched up at an altitude of over 6,000 feet. A 5 hour drive from Colombo through continuously winding roads gets you there. The landscape changes quite drastically as you ascend from the sea-level, into the mountain slopes lined up with tea plantations.
 
The British clearly loved this place and setup quite a few retreats here in the 19th century.  These include the summer residence of the British governor-general. This royal residence has now been converted to a beautiful hotel, quite aptly named ‘The Grand’. Upon entering it, you literally experience the grandeur of the British Era. In this remote place, they have built an amazing place with huge halls, lobbies and regal rooms. The Hotel has done a great job in maintaining the historic residence – with the artifacts, wooden floors, fire places and decorative glass windows.  The grand ball room is quite impressive.
  
This royal residence literally transferred me to that era, and I couldn’t help but draw parallels between a similar residence in Pune – the British Governer’s mansion that is now the main building of the Pune University. Unfortunately, the Pune University Building is not anywhere in the same state as the Grand Hotel – given that both were probably identical in 1947.
 
We stayed at the St. Andrews Hotel – a much smaller hotel but equally beautiful. This was built initially as a residence by a Scotsman who was clearly a Golf Fan. No prizes for guessing the origin of the hotel’s name!
 
This hotel’s main lobby also dates back to 1875 and is very well-maintained. The multi-course European Dinner served at this seemingly remote Hotel/Town was simply exquisite! This hotel also has its own garden where they grow their own herbs and vegetables.
 
Nuwara Eliya – Tea Estates
 
Nuwara Eliya has many tea estates, and we visited one of the more prominent ones – Mackwoods Tea.
 
They provide a nice tour of the tea-making process.  They also have an excellent tea tasting room, as well as a great gift shop.
 
Shopping/Prices
 
While I am not much of a shopping enthusiast myself, couldn’t help noticing the attractive prices of various items: especially apparel. Two large stores/malls that we visited (recommended) in Colombo were: House Of Fashion and Odel.
 
Promenade by the sea  in Colombo
 
The central business area in Colombo has a beautiful promenade by the sea – somewhat like Mumbai’s Marine Drive. The major hotels (Taj, Intercontinental,Hilton, etc.) and Government Offices are in close proximity. There are street food vendors that sell seafood and other local snacks (no BhelPuri/Chaat here 🙂  ). This place is quite popular with tourists as well as locals.
 
Friendly People
 
Based on our experiences (many tourists I spoke with concur!) – Sri Lankans are nice and friendly people. Our first experience started at the airport. The immigration officer was very friendly – not a common experience 🙂 . Maybe we were there during the peak wedding season…wedding celebrations were everywhere. Our hotel had 3-4 wedding related events everyday. Got a chance to understand a bit about their unique wedding customs that differ by religion/ethnicity/etc. Though irrespective of these differences, the weddings were grand parties in general!
 
I asked our car’s driver about the cricket – clearly Sri Lankans are very passionate about cricket and their team. Was a bit surprised to hear that the most popular player in Sri Lanka right now is not Sangakara, Jayawardhane, Jayasuriya or Murali… Its Dilshan! Also, the most popular Indian cricketer in Sri Lanka right now is Sehwag.
 
Food
 
I am not any expert in Sri Lankan cuisine, but from what I sampled there, got an impression that there are distinct influences from South India and East Asia. I liked the Hoppers (a rice ‘Dosa’ like preparation, sometimes also made with rice and eggs) as well as String Hoppers (somewhat like thin rice noodles). The Curries were quite tasty and reminded me of the Thai/Malaysian Curries. No surprises that most major hotels have excellent selections of continental and Indian cuisines available.
 
The Historic City Of Kandy
 
We spent the least amount of time in Kandy, something we definitely need to rectify when we visit next. This historic city was the capital of Sri Lanka before the British Era began in 1815. There are many historical monuments, the star attraction being the old Palace. We heard that the botanical garden there is also extremely impressive – unfortunately, didn’t have time to visit.
 
 
Notes
 
Photo Credits: Sarika Phatak
 
Useful links about Sri Lanka:
 
 
 
 
 

 

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

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