Anurag Katriar is the Founder and Managing Director of Indigo Hospitality Pvt Ltd and Trustee – National Restaurants Association of India (NRAI). Anurag or as his team fondly refers to him – AK, has been pivotal in the growth and success of various brands within the Indigo stable since the beginning of 2004. He was earlier part of deGustibus Hospitality Pvt Ltd, as the CEO and Executive Director, the company which earlier owned and operated the Indigo brands.
Indigo has always stood for honesty, consistency and profitability, with fundamentals that are very strong. AK’s vision for Indigo is to make it the most admired F&B Company in India and to be one of the first successful Indian F&B companies on a global platform. He also aims to create great value for every stakeholder – from shareholders to employees. He considers his employees as the biggest assets and counts decades of loyalty by several dozens of his employees as his biggest achievement.
Anurag has also served as the President of the National Restaurants Association of India, the most visible representative body of independent restaurateurs in the Country for two years until September-2021 before joining its Board of Trustees in Oct-2021.
2020 and 2021 were challenging years for the hospitality industry. In your opinion, how will travel/food trends change in 2022?
Without an iota of doubt, 2020 and 2021 were the most challenging times that I have faced in my career spanning almost three decades. Established businesses failed, business models got destroyed, several entrepreneurial dreams got shattered and lakhs of employees in the sector lost their livelihoods. The problem still persists. Restrictions on capacity utilization and operating hours combined with a general sense of fear in the minds of people owing to the continued pandemic threat continues to cripple us. While we did see some revival towards the Q-3 of this year, it has now been nullified with current shutdowns.
I am very hopeful with 2022 as I reckon the pandemic is running its last course. However, the restaurant industry will surely see some significant changes. I surely see most restaurateurs adapting to asset light and low risk models in the immediate term. The size of the menu and number of people working in a restaurant will get rationalized. There will be a lots of thrust on digitization and e-commerce will continue to grow. However, for me, the most significant change I expect to see is exit of non-serious players from the arena.
On the travel front, local travel will take a precedence over long-distance travel until large parts of the globe are free from the pandemic. Domestic locations will see a significant surge in traffic. People may take shorter but more breaks, which is good for the domestic travel market.
However, let us also bear in mind one stark reality that most people now have reduced incomes and the first casualty in such a scenario is the discretionary expenses. We must also understand that both travel and eating out draw lots of fuel from the discretionary income pool.
At work, which is your most challenging activity and why?
I have always worked on a dictum that my people take care of my work and I must take care of my people. That’s my prime job and it is a huge challenge under the current circumstances. Another challenging activity nowadays is to manage the fragile cash flows which becomes doubly difficult with sudden restrictions which adversely and suddenly impact the cash flows.
How important is it for a hotel to have a solid gastronomic offering?
It is extremely critical and is probably one of the biggest factors in creating a positioning for a hotel within its business geography. It is also commercially very important for a hotel to have elevated gastronomic experience across the board, whether it is banqueting or specially curated restaurant or coffee shop, considering that Food & Beverage forms a formidable part of the hotel revenue.
I feel that a hotel without credible food and beverage will always get a lower billing in the mind spaces of the larger consumer and at the same time, it will also be less attractive for the local populace.
Was a career in the hospitality industry something you always dreamt of? What is your advice to those aspiring to work in the same industry?
My earliest dream career as a young teenager was to get into defence services. However, with the passage of time, I met a few people from the hotel fraternity and slowly started getting more enamored with hospitality. By the time I was seventeen, I knew this is what I wanted to pursue.
My advice to the young aspirants in the Industry is very simple. If you have the passion for it, please pursue it or else don’t waste your time here. This industry may mean a lots of hard work, especially in initial years but it also gets very rewarding in the longer run.
I also say that the component of hospitality is there in every trade, only the proportion differs and therefore it opens up much larger career avenues for you than just traditional hotels and restaurants. However, passion remains the biggest key if you want to pursue a career in hospitality.
Which cities are your favourites for: 1) food 2) history 3) fashion?
It is very difficult for me to call out a city in each of these categories. I will try and put this in terms of regions instead.
Food: It has to be Delhi and North of India because of the sheer variety of offering. From delectable street food to traditional local food and high end eateries, they have it all. Being a street food buff, I have a clear bias towards this region, closely followed by Kolkata.
History: Rajasthan as a whole offers a huge piece of glorious ancient Indian history. However, it does not have too much to show for the modern Indian history encompassing the freedom movement.
Fashion: Mumbai without an iota of doubt. Being home to Bollywood perhaps helps.
What are some of the new measures your team has put into place to deal with the post-COVID-19 situation?
The pandemic has brought about lots of changes in the way we work. Some of the measures that I have adapted include reducing the component of fixed operating expenses, menu and people rationalization, foray into the delivery and takeaway kitchens, making the corporate office lighter, embracing technology more intently and taking a practical and unemotional call to shut down places that seem high risk in the current business environment. I am clear that pre-pandemic times and post-covid times are two different eras and therefore I am looking at everything afresh with current realities in mind.
What would you do if you weren’t in the profession you are currently?
Most probably a journalist. That is something that interests me immensely and I am a firm believer that your profession must emerge out of your passion.
When are you happiest?
As clichéd as it may sound, I am happiest when surrounded by my family and near ones. Apart from this, anything that brings out a sense of national pride in me makes me very happy, as does the feeling of getting recognition for what you do.
You’ve had such a successful career – what would you say has been your career highlight?
I am on a journey and I am enjoying every moment of it. I may have crossed a few milestones whilst on this journey but I really cannot pinpoint any achievements per se yet. I will happily count the highlights the day I hang my boots 😊. However, the biggest satisfaction I perhaps draw today is from the fact that a small town boy like me, coming from Hazaribag in Jharkhand, where no one had even heard of the term ‘hotel management’ dared to choose an uncharted path and has done reasonably well in his chosen career, earning a few accolades, lots of love and countless blessings on the way. The fact that I have been able to help the industry at large in my own small way gives me a great sense of pride too.
Tell us about your delivery kitchen concept at Indigo Hospitality and what is it’s USP?
When the pandemic confined people into their homes, delivering food to these homes was a natural course correction. Platform 7 by Indigo was essentially born out of this thought and changing consumer habits played a catalyst to this decision making. We realized that there were a plethora of cloud or dark kitchens all over the place but these places were largely invisible, tucked somewhere behind the beyond. A consumer did not know where is his food coming from. We saw this as a huge opportunity and therefore decided to have ‘visible’ locations, i.e., kitchens which can be seen by the consumers. These are ‘Delivery and Take away kitchens’ and not some unknown dark/ghost kitchen.
From the food perspective, Platform 7 has multiple brands encompassing all popular cuisines. Indigo Hindustani Project, Indigo Asian Project, Indigo Italiano Project, Indigo Burger Project and Indigo Pot meal Project serve food of different hues with one common thread, all of these brands come with the well-known Indigo quality promise. Our long standing ethos of ‘Good Food-Served Well’ at our restaurants extends to this initiative too.