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Exclusive | Innovation will attract consumers: BBQ Nation's Varma

Visiting a restaurant today is not an easy task. Different, creative, innovative, unusual are aspects that food lover are always on the look-out for. Understanding these desires and demands, Barbeque Nation was set up in 2006, serving food innovatively. With ‘grill-on-the-table’ concept, BBQ Nation, as its fondly called, has come a long way.

A casual dining restaurant chains in India, it now has 39 outlets across the nation and offers a happy blend of American, Mediterranean, Oriental and Indian cuisines in both vegetarian and non-vegetarian choices. 

Adgully caught up Vikram Varma, Head – Marketing, Barbeque Nation to know more about Pat Chapman Grills the World festival, strategies at the company and more.

A new member to the BBQ Nation team, Varma joined the company 3 months back. Sharing his thoughts about the company’s journey, he said, “The brand journey of BBQ Nation has been fairly satisfying. When the brand decided to put the novel concept of a grill on the table, they were the only ones who thought so. Over the years, while the offering pattern remains the same, value for money of the customers is also what the real focus is. Thus, tasting success in one place, the brand travelled to other geographies and is now present in all metros and is now looking at growing our presence in tier I cities”.

Barbeque Nation currently has 39 outlets and by the end of this month shall have the 40th outlet in Ahmedabad. “We have been working very keenly in tier I cities and I believe that there is enough of action in metros and tier I cities atleast for the next 2 – 3 years. So, I believe tier II and III will take some time, also because spreading too thin into multiple cities is not our strategy because managing the supply chain and delivering quality in our restaurants becomes a very big challenge. Hence, we would like to stick to the cluster strategy where we enter a city and open atelast 2 -4 outlets, depending on the size, population, disposable income of the citizens and then move onto any other city”.
While grill on the table was a fairly new concept, sharing his thoughts on the challenges consumers may have faced while accepting this concept, he said, “Well, there are still some customers who enter a BBQ Nation for the first time and are unaware of the offerings. That is where our servers and chefs come in and assist the customers to relishing the BBQ Nation experience”.

Speaking about the month long festival and their association with Chef Pat Chapman, he said, “There was an idea that something innovative needs to be so as to make our product appear and taste different. So, merely changing a red masala to a green masala doesn’t make substantial difference. So we thought can we do something international that will bring in that edge of difference and that is where we thought of Pat Chapman, who is internationally sound and well versed with the Indian pallet as well. We worked together and brought to table 14 new marinates, which have been sources for creating the next generation of starters at BBQ Nation”.

Varma states that there is a fair amount of ‘brand love’ for our consumer’s side which is understood from the number of repeats the restaurant gets. “We believe that it is because of our service, value-for-money and irresistible food innovation that we keep doing that bring customers back to us”, he added.

Explaining at length about the marketing strategies that have worked for BBQ Nation, Varma said, “BBQ Nation is a very consumer – oriented company and have a very strong feed-back mechanism, wherein after every meal, we try to get 60 – 80 % of our customers to fill up the feedback forms to that it enables us to serve them better. It helps us gauge the customer’s expectations, reactions to offering etc, thus making feedback an internal element of the system. We also have a ‘Guest Satisfaction Index’ – GSI which gets published across our system and those scores are taken very seriously as those work as success parameters for the employees at the company. These have been core customer – driven initiatives from our side, and it becomes as part of the marketing initiative and sometimes also take the role of a business thought process. Apart from this, we have been doing a lot of festivals over the last few months, and there is a huge opportunity we see to innovate and understand the customers well, the way they think and then do things they way they like. So at the of the day, it all boils down to the customers as it is a consumer – driven business, we need to understand that and then deliver what they feel”.

With its unique independent dining experience offering, it has won the trust of more than 4 lac FB fans till date. He added, “Digital is the main stay in our marketing strategy and most of our campaigns are digitally led. We don’t go point blank on the conventional media like radio or print or television. Instead we first look at how we can be in touch with our consumers online, that is because online is where people are looking for options. For example, many consumers just go to Zomato and can directly call our restaurant. Hence we work very closely with outfits like Zomato, where our good service is acknowledged and is rated well on such restaurant finders”.

According to Varma, cities of Hyderabad, Bangalore, Pune, Lucknow, and metro like Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai are doing very well.

When quizzed about growing competition in the space they operate, Varma said, “We have seen some restaurants taking to similar concepts like ours, however, it has not affected us or our consumers! It in many ways has helped grow the market and add onto the option list of consumers. So, from an industry perspective, I would say, competition is always healthy! Also, one needs to understand that the one who innovates, gets to keep the customer”.

Speaking of trends he foresees in the Indian hospitality and dining industry, Varama opined, “Indian taste buds are now getting to the next level as there is a discerning section of the population who travel abroad and bring in those international desires which we as an industry try and cater to. Hence, I think a lot of cuisine – based restaurants have and will continue mushroom in the coming years. Also, from a technology side, you see things like molecular gastronomy and neuro-gastronomy  etc coming up and gaining acceptance”. Varma concluded that the company wished to touch the magical figure of 100 outlets in the next 3-4 years!

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