We plan to tap at least 12 cities in the current year and open 60 outlets by 2014
20 Feb 2013

Ranked among the Top 20 Indian restaurants by the Michelin Guide, Barbeque Nation, is a seven year old brand now. Initiating the concept of Do Yourself Cuisine, the restaurant has pan India presence and has been earning good revenues.

In this exclusive interview with India Hospitality Review, Sana Mirza spoke to Prosenjit Roy Choudhary, CEO, Barbeque Nation, to know the inspiration behind the concept, the existing number of outlets and his expansion plans. He also spoke about the new geographies Barbeque Nation is looking to explore in near future.

Barbeque Nation was established in 2006. How has the journey been so far?

Barbeque Nation is almost a seven year old brand now. The journey has been fruitful. It has grown a lot in the last couple of years. And I am sure it is going to grow further. There have been ups and downs. But it is all about learning, what and how we have been doing. And that is how we have improvised ourselves. So an exciting journey so far.

What inspired you to initiate the concept of live charcoal grill and what challenges did you face in popularizing this concept among Indian diners?

When we started with restaurants we didn’t want a restaurant that just serves food. Cooking in a tedious process and we wanted to keep the hassle-part away and fun part in within the restaurants.

We knew that kebabs and barbeques were not new in the industry, but we thought of presenting it on a live charcoal grill right on the table, and this is how this concept was initiated.

As far as the inspiration of this idea goes, I was taking care of Sayaji Group’s hotel in Indore, we started a pool side restaurant, way back in 1999, where we used to serve kebabs. Because of the biting cold, the kebabs used to turn cold. We were getting lots of complaints from the customers that the kebabs were served cold.

Going through the fact that the nomads in Japan used to carry a grill along with them to cook food, we came up with the idea of having a charcoal grill as near as possible to the customer, and what can be better than a live charcoal grill on the table itself.

There was hardly any challenge as that became the USP of the brand. We are seen as pioneers in promoting Do Yourself Cuisine, which means you can do your own stuff. It has added on to the positive side of the story rather than creating any challenges.

This concept made us very popular among the Indian diners. So it worked wonderfully for us in terms of positioning ourselves and at the same time doing a good job.

Why was the need felt to establish Barbeque Nation as a separate restaurant chain apart from Sayaji Hotels?

Sayaji Hotels has a long term investment. In 2005, we decided to move on to the retail sector in India. At that time the retail sector was in its nascent stages. In order to give national footprints and, keeping in mind the future of the restaurant, we decided to move away from Sayaji Hotel and Barbeque Nation was separated from the hotel brand.

How was the year 2012 for Barbeque Nation? What were the major highs and lows?

2012 was pretty good. We have grown in terms of numbers to an extent of 100 per cent. In 2011-12 we had 18 operating outlets, and we will be closing 2012-13 with 36 outlets. As far as the growth in terms of opening new outlets is concerned we are growing at a rate 24 per cent year on year.

2011-12 was more of consolidation. In 2010 we had only eight outlets. Then we pumped up our number to 18. 2012-13 is again going to be a good year as we look to double our total outlets from 18 to 36.

Share with us the total number of outlets of Barbeque Nation at present. How important are Tier II and III cities for you?

In 2010 we had only eight outlets. In 2011-12 we had 18 operating outlets.

In the year 2013-14, we will be looking at tier II and III cities. We already have presence in tier II cities like Baroda, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Lucknow. Then we would be essentially looking at other places like Bhubaneshwar, Guwahati, Nagpur and other cities and put in out footprints across India. The tier II and III cities are growing at a much higher rate than the so-called metros. Our small stores in Jaipur and Baroda, our investment in small cities is far better than the metro level cities.

Keeping in mind the fact that, metro cities have multiple branches, while tier II and III cities we have only a single outlet, it makes sense. We are planning to tap at least 12 cities in the current year so that by the end of 2014 we are running almost 60 outlets.

How has Barbeque Nation performed in terms of revenue generation over the last few years?

Revenue generation has been quite consistent, I should say. Last year with 18 outlets, few of them not fully operational, few of them were on a run-on basis, we earned INR 136 crore (top line), and this year we would be around INR 200 plus crore.

By 2014, with all the additional outlets, I am expecting to reach almost INR 380-400 crore revenue generation.

How much investment goes into establishing a single outlet? Do you think the add-on cost of live charcoal grill is a concerning issue?

The minimum investment to open a single outlet is around INR 300 crore. The add-on cost of the live charcoal grill is not really a concerning issue. It has worked for us very well. Very minimal investment goes into establishing a live charcoal grill and the charcoals that are being used.

How many consumers does Barbeque Nation cater to in a day? Tell us about your consumer base at large.

Our customer base is around 30 lakh plus approximately in a year. We cater to at least 35 lakh meals in a year. We cater to almost three lakh people in a month.

Barbeque Nation is among the Top 20 restaurants in India according to the Michelin Guide. How important is this recognition for you?

Any recognition is important. We are really putting in some serious efforts and are getting good reviews from our customers. You will be surprised to know that we have a Facebook fan page of 55,000 now. That is something very heartening to see.

Along with Michelin's acknowledgment, it is important for us that the customers give us right feedback along with other recognitions we have received till now.

How frequently do you upgrade the menu at Barbeque Nation? Who is in charge of finalizing the menu?

It’s something that we do very frequently, there is a huge scope on improvement too and we are working on it. We do menu change twice in a week. Essentially each Barbeque Nation undergoes three menu changes.

We have a proper Research and Development (R&D) department and a R&D head gives the guidelines. There is a lot of localization which is required in the Indian scenario. For example, the menu in Chennai will have curd rice for sure. Where as in Delhi, you may not have curd rice at all. There is a lot of localisation that has to be done in India because of the diversity in terms of the palette.

We essentially try and keep the local dishes also, and we give each outlet the local guidelines. The menu is done more on the local taste.

As you offer unlimited quantity of food to each customer, how do you maintain the quality and variety of food?

For the consistency part of it, we have realized that we are growing. We have substantial number of outlets at present and we are trying to put up almost 60 stores by the end of next year. We are building separate commissaries, where separate kitchens will be set up and different food will be cooked at the commissary level. The finishing job will be done at the outlet level.

This is being done keeping in mind the consistency. We are going to have delivery of consistent food all over the outlets.

This is how we are going to take care of quality too. Once you are sure of the purchase, sure about the production cycle, you are sure of distribution as well. That’s how we try and maintain the consistency and quality of the food we serve.

Tell us about the expansion plans of Barbeque Nation in the next five years.

In the next two year we will be concentrating only in India. We are also exploring international geographies. We have got some serious trade enquiries from Australia, UAE especially from Dubai. We would be exploring the opportunities of expanding outside India now.

So our big focus now is to explore Australia and UAE in the coming years.

What are your expectations from the current year?

In the current year we will be doing consolidation of the new outlets. We are also expecting an overall growth of 24 per cent and a growth of 21 per cent in terms of earnings.