Saturday, September 09, 2006

Desi Food Machine

I often wonder, how long will it take for the first global Indian fast food chain to come alive? We have quite a few city centric fast food chains – the Jumbo King vada pav stalls outside the Mumbai local stations, the Udipi restaurants (Sagar in Delhi, Shiv Sagar in Mumbai, Saravana Bhavan in Chennai/Delhi/Dubai/California), the north Indian chains (Haldiram’s, Bikanervala in Delhi) – but nothing to give any of the global western Quick Service Restaurants like McDonald’s, Domino’s or KFC a run for their dollars. It’s funny when you think about Indian fast food: a roomali roll is not that different from a wrap, a vada pav not that far from a burger, a dosa is almost a pancake. And even while they are similar, Indian food has infinite variety – a dosa can have as many combinations (consider the dough, the filling, the oil/butter content, the chutneys on the side) as there are towns in Tamil Nadu. So why shouldn’t we take this around India and the rest of the world, and why not use what the successful global QSRs have done well to make this happen?

I have a thought: a lean, mean global Desi Food Machine (DFM), with unbeatable scale (restaurants in the 1000s across India and the world), great revenues and profitability (high capacity utilizations with quick turnaround times) and best of all, really tasty Indian food (customized to local taste, but undeniably Indian). Let me elaborate.

The first part is scale. Let's use the McD and KFC model here – locate stores near high-footfall locations: tourist spots, business centers, transport hubs, any place that has the populace hustling and bustling around. We should start with India: the metros and then the smaller cities, and then target every major city: again starting with those with a sizable Indian population, and expanding to other cities. Eventually, every major world city will have at least one, if not more DFM outlets, and Ronald McDonald and Col. Sanders should get a shiver in their plastic spines every time they hear that a DFM is being set up near their own restaurants.

The second part is the economics. Three factors will drive economics: high footfall, quick table turnaround and high item profitability. While great locations will take care of high footfalls, quick turnarounds will be driven by great table management (something the Udipi joints excel at) and process standardization inside the kitchen and on the restaurant floor. High item profitability will be driven off lean sourcing and process standardization.

The third part is great food. The usual crib with global fast food is that taste sucks. While DFM food will be standardized and served quick, there will be no allowance for poor taste. The food will be customized for local palates, both for Indian tongues and foreign sensibilities, and getting the unique taste right will be key to DFM's success. This seems to be the one bit that the McDonald’s of the world can’t get fully right, hopefully this is something our DFM will be able to crack open.

I agree that McD’s is not the place I’d like to take V out to lunch, but look at how successful it has been in promoting the burger culture across the world. Why shouldn’t we conquer the world with our dosa and vada pav? Forget the culture bit for a second, it’s just a business idea that is waiting to happen, and I recently read an interview of just the person who might make it happen. Good luck, Sarath, I really hope you succeed!


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