Why theme restaurants are spicing up India’s dining scene

Eye-catching design that both contributes to the dining experience and looks good on social media is a must for India’s growing number of theme restaurants.

April 23, 2019

Eating out in one of India’s new generation of restaurants is as much as the social media friendly design as it about the food. 

Theme restaurants – think dining in a rainforest or a replica Italian bistro from years gone by – are gaining ground among middle-class consumers keen for new experiences. 

Bombay Canteen, a theme restaurant in Mumbai, is housed in a recreated, old-fashioned Mumbai bungalow that represents the city’s architectural history. It offers a view into the city’s history through its décor, printed tiles and manually-lettered pricing boards. 

Patrons at Plum, a collaboration between hospitality company First Fiddle F&B and Bent Chair, a home furnishing and décor brand, can buy every item they see, from the pictures hanging on the wall to the cutlery at the Mumbai and Delhi outlets. 

“Theme-based restaurants are here to stay in India,” says Shubhranshu Pani, managing director – Retail Services and Stressed Asset Management Group, JLL India. “Today’s consumers, which largely comprise of young people, are keen to try new kinds of cuisines, especially if the restaurant is endorsed by a celebrity and offers a different experience.”

Others such as Toy Room in Aerocity, New Delhi, and Social at Sarjapur Road, Bengaluru are designed on similar lines, with a particular focus on encouraging visitors to take photos and post them on their social handles.

“Interactive elements in the restaurant’s design are responding to Millennials’ social media needs,” says Pani. “This group, in particular, prefers the unconventional over traditional dining options.” 

Designing for the consumer 

The food and beverage (F&B) sector – the fastest-growing part of retail in India – grew at a rate of 11 percent compounded annual growth between 2013 and 2017, according to JLL.

Having a top-class menu is important. But India’s theme restaurants connect with consumers through great spaces that tell a story, creating an inviting atmosphere and making for a memorable experience.

Designing picture-perfect spaces that customers share within their social media networks, is part of the strategy. 

“While theme restaurants often present us a story, tales are shared with consumers in a manner that makes the visitors feel special,” says Pani. “People visiting these outlets expect quality food and service. Much of the brand positioning through these stories are a result of the reinvention of the local tradition and culture. And the youth across our cities is willing to splurge on the small, yet meaningful differentiating factor.” 

Finding the right space

The cost of opening a restaurant tends to be higher than retail segments. Because of this, F&B companies often negotiate for longer lease periods with the space owners. 

But the biggest challenge these chains face is in taking their brand story to different locations and still making a strong connection with the consumer. While some chains are location specific, expansion to other regions depends on the right partner and entry strategy. 

“It is because of this reason the expansion of concept has been slow,” says Pani. “While a number of other smaller metros may offer a good catchment they may not have the right landlord, ready to partner with the brand or the right location to open an outlet.” 

“As brands work on their expansion strategy to new locations, entry into newer markets will be based on a combination of strategies including location assessment, competitive landscape, pricing models, infrastructure and operational costs,” he says. 

Nevertheless, Pani believes that there is both a strong appetite and growing potential for this new generation of restaurants.

“Concept restaurants are busy building a strong brand in the country. The good part is that a large section of consumers is aware and is ready to accept the innovation that these brands are bringing in. Brands that are positively impacting the consumer journey will see growth in the long term,” Pani says.

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