Tarun Sibal is a product specialist with 19 years of experience having core competence in the food and beverage category across production, operations, food heritage, and food and liquid culture. He is the Co-Founder of Titlie, a culinary bar in Goa and Street Storyss, his vegetarian craft kitchen in Bangalore. Besides these, he has been the Consulting Chef for Sidecar, Café Staywoke, Ministry Of Sound, Loft by The Clocktower, and more. His personal food philosophy is ‘Gourmet Casual’ which makes the unfamiliar more inviting and the familiar more exciting.
The restaurant industry is one of the riskiest to be in, more so in our country. The adage ‘customer is king’ holds especially true in a field that is as subjective as it is competitive. Every day is different and I would go as far as to say that F&B is the antonym of stability. We cannot survive and thrive here if we are not deeply passionate about the food business and the business of food.
If you’re thinking of venturing into this industry, here are a few things to get you started on the right track. This is a framework that led me to create successful brands and establishments. It also got me a lot of love from my patrons and guests.
Be true to your creation
Listen to your customers but stay true to yourself. Perseverance is the name of the game. Others might not be able to see what you do right off the bat but sticking to your gut will pay off in the long run. A distinct idea takes time to blossom and gain acceptance. Keep at it. Rome wasn’t fed in a day.
Intent to serve
The hospitality industry is called the ‘service’ industry for a reason. We’re always ‘at your service’. If you’re serving your guest with the right intention, it shows on the plate. As does lethargy. Every customer who walks in is the most important customer and it’s important to make him/her believe this. “Intent” should be the only reason we are doing this; we should believe that the guest is the reason we are at play. Sending my guests back with a smile helps me sleep happy.
Distinctive food philosophy
Each brand I do is a reflection of my food philosophy. It’s an extension of what and how I feel for a particular brand or product. Fleshing and detailing out that philosophy is extremely important or else you are like any other place in that genre. Making the unfamiliar approachable, and the familiar more exciting has been my go-to philosophy. Gourmet Casual along with Collaborative Cuisine are two big drivers of what I do food-wise. Each entity should have a distinctive food philosophy, and it could be chef-driven, consumer-driven or brand-driven.
Getting the vibe right, so to say, is crucial. Between the moment a customer enters your space and the moment he/she exits, there needs to be consistency in their experience. The same brand voice needs to be applied through the food, the customer interaction, the packaging, the décor. People connect with brands, not products. Make sure you give them something to hold on to. The story I tell at Titlie, my Culinary Bar in Goa, is completely different to what my guests get at Street Storyss Bangalore which is a vegetarian craft kitchen.
More than selling food and beverage or entertainment, aim to communicate yourself to your guests. The more you connect with them, the more they will get to know you, the more they will be in a position to appreciate what you are trying to do. In turn, you’ll get to know your customers better and be able to meet their expectations. I still take reservations for my restaurants, and sometimes I have the opportunity to close the loop while I am on the floor. From reserving a table to presenting the cheque, I tick mark every touchpoint on the path to purchase. This means first-hand feedback, the opportunity to serve right, the opportunity to do service recovery if required, and most importantly, the opportunity to stay connected.
There are no off days
We are up and about 365 days, and not everyone is a fit for this industry. When we are on the shop floor, we put our game faces on, and we do what we do with a lot of pride and honesty. We can’t afford to have a dull day at work; there are no easy days, no lean days. Every day gives us the chance to wow our guests and we create and take every such chance. I tell my team, you have to play this role of yours every day, without fail, and don’t be on the floor if you aren’t feeling up to it.
Invest in your team
You can’t be everywhere, and you are only as strong as your weakest link. You can create the ethos of a brand, but it’s your team that has to believe it, live it and perform it every day.
My internal customer, “my team” is the most crucial part of my business. A happy team leads to happy guests. Due to the demand and supply parity, we may not get what we want in terms of skill set, but we ensure that we work on and with our teams to make them an absolute fit for the brand. Each team member’s growth and evolution should be a priority because when the team levels up, so do you.
Process and fluidity
Staying nimble and fluid has been my key mantra for success. I layout processes, standard operating procedures and protocols to ensure stability and consistency. Having said that, I am also aware that in these ever-changing dynamics, I’ll need to adapt to and sometimes preempt change, keeping the business fluid to survive. Change is the only constant and one needs to be proactive to sustain.
This is not a cheat code to building successful Food and Beverage establishments, but this is what I feel has been crucial for me. I hope each one wanting to be a part of this wonderful industry finds his/her own mantras and ways to reach where they want to reach.