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As an entrepreneur, this is a time for reassessing our priorities, streamlining operations and focus on strategic brand building, believes Varun Behl

24/05/2021
Varun Behl is a Jaipur based restaurateur operating a chain of restaurants and QSRs (Quick Service Restaurants). Varun is a seasoned food & beverage and hospitality management professional with experience spanning over 17 years; a decade of which is with Marriott International in India and its global operations. Food and beverage and entrepreneurship are his forte – which he lives every day

According to you what is the best part of being a ‘restaurateur’?

Varun Behl: The best part of being a restaurateur is to be able to create ‘Happiness for all, which is also our brand mantra. We are in the business of creating happy and unforgettable memories for our guests. Though creating these happy moments are not just limited to our guests.

Our team members learning and growing in this dynamic and creative business is a core focus for us. Suppliers, stakeholders, shareholders and even governments benefit hugely and feel a sense of true content and happiness due to the ever-growing and innovating food and beverage business. As a restaurateur, creating innovation, sharing stories and building a brand through the language of food – that is the best part, for me.

What motivated you to be a ‘restaurateur’?

Varun Behl: Food and beverage is a dynamic business. It is challenging and rewarding, every single day. Food is a basic necessity of life, and when you combine it with business acumen and guest service; it is a heady concoction of grit, ambition and focus.

KCCO India Pvt Ltd, my family business has been dishing our delicious food over the last 18 years, across Rajasthan and few select cities in India. My corporate career with Marriott International helped me to hone my knowledge and insights further. Under KCCO ambit, we have  multiple  brands such as Kebabs and Curries, So-Hi, Rolls by KCCO, Biryani  by  KCCO,   K Fine Catering etc which cater to all possible customer segments in food and beverage in Rajasthan – from fine dining to events.

My business and career background has helped me immensely to fine-tune on my strengths of being a restaurateur. My passion for business, a deep interest in food and beverage and my family brand KCCO (Kebabs and Curries Company) have shaped my decision in being a restaurateur.

The shift in the food and beverage business caused by the unprecedented pandemic has opened up new insights and innovations, how you are planning to grow your company in these difficult times?

Varun Behl: Food and beverage is not a seasonal business, it is an everyday business. The pandemic has fundamentally altered business scenarios and the global economy, bringing an element of uncertainty and unpredictability for the near future. On a positive note; as an entrepreneur, this is also a time for reassessing our priorities, streamlining operations and focus on strategic brand building.

Business slowdown is always a challenge, however we are using this time to realign our business processes. We are judiciously looking at calibrated growth measures, which are aligned to our business goals and are financially sustainable. We are optimistic about the future and the economy will rebound, even if there are speed bumps along the way. We have launched two brands Rolls by KCCO and Biriyanis by KCCO, at select outlets in Jaipur. Keeping with the current trends for delivery and takeaways, these two products are a good match for the ongoing culinary demands of the city.

Growth needs pruning of the inessentials too. This year, outgrowth is in removing the excesses, implementing more process-driven operation, digital brand building and sharing my learnings with more like-minded peers, mentees and aspiring food and beverage entrepreneurs.

What are the advantages of running Mini eateries as compare to full-fledged cafe/restaurants?

Varun Behl: Mini-eateries are more cost-effective, space-efficient and are a low-cost business model as compared to setting up and operating a full-fledged restaurant and café. Location is the key here – to find strategic points across a city where you can operate a mini eatery without being overwhelmed by competition or swamped by similar brands; that remains a challenge.

Mini eateries can operate on a limited, high selling menu and can be listed on food aggregator websites. This amplifies sales without too much marketing investment, as compared to a full-fledged café or restaurant. In the current situation, food and beverage entrepreneurs operate can operate part of their restaurants as mini-eateries, serving only their best selling items, open for deliveries and takeaways.

We have 11 outlets in Jaipur, which operate as mini-eateries (with full compliance to government protocols), which ensure that our guests and patrons still can order their favourites.

In one of your media interaction, you have mentioned that “What’s visible sells more”, what are your marketing strategies for your brand?

Varun Behl: KCCO (Kebabs and Curries Company) is an 18 year old brand. We are building a legacy here. Our guests and patrons vouch for our food and service – the silkiest gravies, fresh meats, the grilled kebabs and lip-smacking curries. Our brand building efforts have been consistent through the years, though we started strategically intensifying our focus  in 2020 to reach out to a wider audience.

KCCO (Kebabs and Curries Company) is focused on digital and technological reach in 2021. We have developed our own food order and delivery application (KCCO App) which recently completed a milestone of 10,000 downloads. Our digital assets are undergoing a revamp and we look to collaborate with and support our media partners judiciously.

Digital will be our focus this year. We have become netizens and digital residents for now. Our marketing focus for this year is being strategic, keeping it simple and staying committed to being consistent in sharing our brand messages and stories with our guests, and audience. We engage, we listen, and we lead.

How do you see the future of “Miniature takeaway outlets” in India?

Varun Behl: It is a delicious, cost-efficient and smart way of being in the business and staying connected with the guests and patrons. Resilience is the need of the hour today and business sustainability is a key factor to account for. Until the business scenario returns to the pre-pandemic times with guest confidence coming back renewed; miniature takeaways will help keep the food and beverage businesses stay afloat. Certain brands may also opt for smaller spaces in the near future if their business profitability is better off being mini-eateries. Food trucks can also become a viable option for brands to explore, as they are mobile and can easily reach out to guests, more often.

You have great experience in the “food & beverage” sector, how the demand for innovations across all the eateries has changed the dine-in scenario of the country?

Varun Behl: Innovation, renovation and implementation are the three cornerstones of a successful food and beverage business. Consistency is a key factor in food and beverage business, the more consistent the taste, the more uniform the service, the greater guest recall over a period of time. Recounting from a previous media interaction, I’d like to say that robotics and automation can change the food and beverage business and elevate the dining experiences of the guests. As the economy returns back in the days to come, people will engage immediately in food and dining experiences. It is a critical juncture to create new guest experiences which are safe, hygienic and enjoyable. Robotics and automation can bring about this change in the industry in terms of food quality, service consistency and guest experience.

Digital menus which were non-existent a year ago, are today a must. Digital food displays, contactless welcome and delivery is the new norm today. It is an innovation that came about as the industry eased into the post pandemic times. In the days to come, we need to adapt to create momentum for guests to come back and once again enjoy dining out, keeping all safety and hygiene protocols in place and unobtrusive.

What are the changes that have taken placed permanently in the “food & beverage” industry due to this pandemic?

Varun Behl: Over the past one year, food and beverage has had to adapt to being more digital friendly. This goes beyond social media updates, digital advertising and collaborations. It has meant making digital a part of how food and beverage is seen and felt, at every guest interactive touch point.

Digital menus, for reference as well as online ordering is now a mainstay for all restaurants. Technology has moved away from being a marketing must have to being a part of everyday operational detail. From cooking, to ordering, menu changes to billing and delivery; we are seeing a gradual shift towards automation.

Safety, hygiene, cleanliness and food safety are a must in food and beverage business. Over the past one year, these words have become more than just a pre-requisite. It is a key parameter of customer trust and confidence. Now more than ever, quality of food and its hygiene counts for the brand and the customer.

As you have a global experience, what are the changes or revolution, which is still there to be witnessed by the Indian market?

Varun Behl: 2020 has brought about fundamental changes in our lives and lifestyle. As we all navigate the pandemic, the way we used to work, play, socialize and live will have been altered in major ways. Food and beverage consumption has changed, and the industry will need to foresee, adapt and innovate accordingly.

  • A major shift is in progress as we speak towards eating out or ordering in or take-out instead of always cooking at home. Hence there will be a huge increase in F&B business going ahead. At KCCO, we have our own KCCO app too so that we can reach out to more guests and patrons; whenever they are willing to indulge in our culinary offerings.
  • A surge in frozen and packed food at marts and retail for households as well as use of packaged raw materials at F&B outlets and restaurants more than before to manage consistent quality and high levels of hygiene. People are willing to try out cooking new recipes are home, so packaged foods will see steady demand.
  • The Indian palate is developing and opening up to new flavours on a steady basis. The introduction of new cuisines from around the world, fusion food and drinks, new flavours being relished by our country is on the rise. Home cooking too, rise of regional flavours and an emphasis of nutrient rich food is the new mantra. It is an exciting time where Indian kitchens are Indian palates are trying out new recipes while also cooking time-tested ones.
  • Internet connectivity and social media have given a voice and digital space to everyone. Rural areas especially are an explored hotbed of flavours, recipes and culinary talent. While they open up to sharing their traditional culinary knowledge, cooking methods and recipes; it also means that they will open up to trying out newer flavours. Food is the best culinary bridge between people and this is an exciting time to be in the business of food and beverage, as brands grow into tier 2, tier 3 and tie r4 cities and towns.

In the present unprecedented times, what are your suggestions to the government which can supply relaxation to Hotelier and Restaurateur fraternity?

Varun Behl: There global pandemic was unprecedented and no industry stands shielded from its impact. Hospitality and food and beverage have borne the brunt of it over the past year. However, at present, it is first important to focus on restoring consumer confidence and the health of the population before we can focus on restoring business to pre-pandemic levels. Health is paramount today and is the macro component of the economy that first needs to be addressed.

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