By Megha Poddar
Isn’t it ironic that something that is necessary for our very survival (meaning it has to be consistent) is also a high factor for satisfaction, entertainment, and even recreation in our day-to-day lives ( which also means that it must be constantly innovating and modernizing).Strictly speaking innovation in any industry is seen as an integral driving force, not only for having a superior edge over the competition, but also for their long-term existence. So why do we go back even more to restaurants that have been serving us the same dishes with exactly the same taste for years. And yet, we are drawn to high-end restaurants that are constantly innovating not only in their presentation and service, but also in cuisines, techniques and cooking styles. The reason is simple. It comes down to inherent human nature. We want comfort and consistency to feel at home and at the same time we want to experiment and have different experiences, otherwise we will find life boring and mundane. This very pattern has heavily infiltrated our food choices. And what better place to experience than a restaurant – because customers usually see a restaurant as a place to go for a great experience because other people are cooking and taking care of hospitality.
The influx of technology into our daily lives has opened up a range of options available worldwide in terms of innovative foods, but these can be easily broken down into dishes that are “Instagram foods” (the one curated just to look good in photos and reels) and on the other hand those that taste really good. The average person expects a dish to be BOTH of the above when going to a restaurant, a dish that looks good and tastes good. However, very few understand what is behind the scenes to make this kind of equation SUSTAINABLE for the restaurant.
To be clear, building a sustainable restaurant business model based on continuous innovation is almost unique.
In the kitchen, innovation is usually protected only by secrecy, tacit knowledge is disproportionately important and innovations have a short shelf life. While in other industries innovation is protected by patents, explicit knowledge is more important for production and innovations can be exploited for much longer.
For high-end restaurants to become both efficient and consistent in producing complex dishes, the people who work in these establishments must practice a lot cooking the same dishes. It’s both about problem-solving recipes and developing the tacit knowledge needed to cook them well. An efficient and cohesive restaurant not only works better economically, but it’s also an easier place to work. The people who work there know what to do and how to do it quickly and well. Each new dish introduced means that the restaurant must again find how to be consistent and efficient. In many cases, even the kitchen’s role organization and its network of suppliers may need to change to accommodate new dishes. Innovating is even more difficult when consumers expect near perfection, as is the case in high-end cooking. For a high-end restaurant, this means devoting even more resources (time, effort, money, product) to refining new dishes before they can be allowed on the menu. In practice, this often means that there is significant expense to create, equip and staff a culinary R&D lab to support a relatively low-margin restaurant business.
However, as they say, the customer is king and restaurants should do what they can to give high-end consumers what they deem aspirational. In India we have had a lot of culinary experts who have from time to time given us innovation in terms of experimenting with ingredients, turning traditional dishes into visual delights, molecular gastronomy, playing with cooking methodology live and providing customers with a fresher seamless kitchen journey. during their visits. This not only attracts enthusiasm, but also enables word of mouth advertising – the proven strongest for any business to grow. Innovation in food has also taken the path of backward integration, where products and raw materials themselves are also experiencing a wave of innovation. But the average guest is usually not bothered by this unless they are dealing with raw materials (home cooking), which does not happen when visiting a restaurant. What matters most here is a seamless innovation experience that involves three parties – the consumer, the restaurant and its staff – all playing their part in unison to experience the dish in its experimental format.
Restaurants will always continue to struggle with this dilemma. Be innovative or be consistently sustainable. Therefore, it is essential to find a balance. Many of them have tried to achieve this by going the route of pop-ups, weekend menus, festive/seasonal dishes and inviting different chefs for a limited period of time while keeping their basic menus as consistent and rememberable for their customers.
The author is CEO and Founder – White Light Food.