Travelling and exposure, key factors stimulating transformation in the f&b industry: Ajit Shah

Ajit Shah, F&B Angel Investor and Designated Partner at White Panda Hospitality is the man behind Delhi’s finest restaurants such as Kiko-Ba, Tera Vita and Dadel. His admiration for food and travelling tempted him to look for opportunities in the F&B and hospitality spaces. White Panda Hospitality plans to invest Rs. 50 crores in F&B ventures and have a footprint in all verticals of F&B (restaurants, bars, pubs, lounges and cloud kitchens). Ajit talks about the versatile dining trends, his global expansion plans and much more…

With your expertise in the sector, how have you seen the F&B industry change over a decade?

The last decade has seen a tremendous change in the F&B industry. Both customers and restaurateurs alike have seen a drastic increase in their spending powers and the dispensable per capita income. We can say that the industry has largely prospered in the last 10 years, which is serious business with budding restaurateurs creating a differential market. They are constantly experimenting with new ideas and introducing different cuisines. For example, veganism has become a concept that has seen so much growth and potential, robata grills have come up and seen immense popularity, and so on.

It’s safe to say that international cuisines are not region-specific anymore; we can find everything everywhere. You can find a niche Korean restaurant in New Delhi, or a Korean supermarket in Chennai, or even Maharashtrian restaurant in the heart of London!F&B marketing has gone global and international cuisines are easily accessible in most parts of the world.

This kind of accessibility can also be correlated to the travel and exposure that customers are getting with the increase in their spending powers. People are constantly on the go, travelling globally and trying different cuisines, which has encouraged the f&b industry to introduce delicacies from all parts of the world.

With such a versatile range of restaurants, what are the factors that affect your conceptualizing since a lot of work goes into creating new concepts?

A very versatile range of restaurants has come up across the world, especially in India. Each restaurant is working towards adding that extra edge to differentiate it from its competitors be it in terms of aesthetics or ambience. Restaurants like Tera Vita, Dadel and Kiko-Ba are attempting to focus on the overall dining experience, from the music, the lighting, cutlery, server uniforms and other minute details. This sets the mood for the customer to enjoy their meal to the fullest as I strongly feel that customers do not just pay for the food at restaurants now, but for the whole experience that comes with it. For example, when you enter an American diner, you expect vibrant colours, huge portions, pop music and comfortable seating where you can chat for hours. Contrary to this, when you go to a Japanese restaurant, the music and lighting are very different; it’s much more subtle and sober with smaller portions of food.

One of the major challenges that interior designers face in order to give customers a great dining experience is how to set the mood right with aesthetics, ambience and food. Additionally, a restaurant’s success also lies in giving customers an authentic taste of food by procuring ingredients from the country of origin. The perfect dish is the result of the right blend of spices and raw materials which, if sourced properly, then mesmerizes the tastebuds of customers.

What are the latest F&B trends? What are millennials’ and post-millennials current favourites?  

There are a couple of trends that I would like to highlight here which I feel have a lot of potential in the f&b industry. The first is people moving towards simpler food items as they are trying to uncomplicate their meals. Customers prefer going to restaurants to unwind and enjoy a fuss-free yet hearty meal. Therefore, my suggestion to restaurateurs is that they should not complicate dishes by using complicated dish names.

Another trend that is popular with millennials is to try international cuisines, especially grills. So, non-vegetarians could surely explore different grills like an Argentinian grill or a Brazilian grill which have become increasingly popular in recent times. And of course, we cannot deny the ever-increasing popularity of vegan food.

Lastly, I would like to mention that there is a rapid growth in the demand for local cuisines as people want to try rare delicacies from small towns and remote areas of the country. This has slowly but surely paved the way for opening specialty restaurants which not just serve international cuisines, but also revive local ones.

The pandemic has swiftly changed the dynamics of the F&B sector. With health and safety being the utmost priority, how is White Panda Hospitality currently handling the situation?

Generally speaking, the F&B industry has taken a big hit because of the pandemic where so many restaurants had to shut shop and small businesses closed due to zero sales. We saw a rise in cloud kitchens, takeaways, and limited seating capacity but now, restaurants are slowly going back to operating at 100% capacity.


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