SOCIAL is a path-breaking urban hangout that is designed to take you offline while still keeping you connected. From an all-day café serving great food, coffee, and cocktails, SOCIAL transforms from this creatively charged, collaborative space into a high energy bar when work hours end, striking the perfect balance between work x play. Each outpost is a representation of the neighbourhood it resides in, from the pin code to the people. It has been designed as a second home, workplace, and hangout, all wrapped up in one mind-blowing experience.
Impresario Handmade Restaurants was founded in 2001 with its maiden venture Mocha – Coffees & Conversations. Today, Impresario boasts a network of 59 restaurants across 16 Indian cities and multiple brands.The company’s core strength lies in understanding the changing dining out habits of young India and delivering quality experiences tailored to delight its patrons.
Divya Aggarwal, Head of Marketing, Impresario Handmade Restaurants spoke to us on her vision for Impressio Handmade Restaurants and way forward in the New Normal.
After a successful 10+ years in Marketing for big titles like Twitter, Nestle, Star Plus, what made you switch to hospitality brands?
I have been extremely fortunate to work in marketing across different brands ranging from big to small. Looking back at my experience across different segments, while working with Nestle I was very fortunate to have handled Maggi noodles, which is one of the largest and most loved brands in India, Star was an extremely exciting experience in terms of working on content marketing in a dynamic industry, while Twitter helped me in learning my digital credentials.
What I really liked about the brand Impresario Handmade Restaurants and working in hospitality, for starters, was definitely the vision of RiyaazAmlani, CEO & MD, Impresario Handmade Restaurants. Riyaaz is a visionary and he thought of the brand as a place where young millennials can spend time together and we have managed to convert that vision into reality bringing the brand at the center stage of what the millennials are doing. Also, looking at my position from the perspective of role and responsibility, my role here is much larger, and is inclusive of content marketing, digitalization, innovation, along with CRM and brand management. I saw it as an interesting opportunity to amalgamate all the different experiences that I have had till now and culminating them together into building something which is unique and exclusive while helping Riyaaz in driving his vision for Impresario Handmade Restaurants as a brand.
What is the idea/ thought behind the Impresario Handmade Restaurants?
Impresario Handmade Restaurants was founded in 2001, it’s maiden venture being Mocha, a brand which signified coffee and conversations. Today we have expanded our footprint to 57 restaurants across 16 cities with multiple brands in India. The umbrella of brands include SOCIAL, antiSOCIAL, Smoke House Deli, Salt Water Cafe, Flea Bazaar Café, Ishaara, Slink & Bardot, SouffleS’ilVous Plait, Prithvi Café, and The Tasting Room. The idea behind the brand is really understanding the changing dining out habits of young millenials and delivering quality experiences to our consumers. Our core strength lies in delivering cafe experiences which are scalable, profitable, to our customers as well as our investors, while creating a brand recall value. The whole philosophy is about serving communities. SOCIAL as a brand has been the face for inclusivity, where we ensure that our offering, restaurants, cafes, are very relevant to the hyperlocal community. The brand’s philosophy is about being a part of the community and serving the community. Basically we are a platform where people can come and hang out together, while consuming great food, beverages with the innovation around them.
The crisis has made more and more people move towards Digital platforms, your thoughts?
That is absolutely true about a lot of industries which would have otherwise taken a couple of years to switch to digitization but due to the pandemic in place, they have suddenly hastened the digitization process, because that is the only way to reach your customers. While customers were locked in, a lot of brands took the digital course for customer outreach. I think this trend is here to stay. In the case of our brand, from the day one into the lockdown we started strategizing on newer ways to take on the digital approach and within a few months we have already managed to lead the digitization drive with DotPe through our tech enabled platform. One of the very firsts that we are driving in the F&B Industry, we have created our own platform for delivery, contactless dining and takeaway, which I think is an amazing way to get more relevant consumer information, to keep customers closer to the brand and having a better understanding of them.
With the lockdown, how are you seeing the restaurant business in the near future?
With this ongoing pandemic and the lockdown, a few trends are going to change, it’s a very dynamic overall environment. The few changes in trends that one can surely predict are for instance, the importance of delivery, which will surely increase, as people will venture out less and there will be space in restaurants. Also the importance of understanding what works better in serving the customers at home. In terms of the menu, curating shorter menus, with more innovative options. For instance, we launched the SOCIAL Mixers, where we basically created cocktail concoctions with our most loved cocktails, since our customers could not come to our restaurants, we decided to take our mixers to their homes. The focus will be on these categories, of how to take experiences to customers, to their homes, the focus will be on digitization, innovation, shorter menus, more relevant food items, newer food items and delivery, I think these are some of the trends that we can see in the near future.
It has been 5+ months into the crisis/ lockdown, how has it impacted your brand & how effectively have you used the lockdown period?
Like I mentioned earlier, the fact that we are in the restaurant business and restaurants were shut, we still had to serve our customers. Food and social experiences are something everyone finds precious. So we started thinking of how to get these experiences/food to our customers, starting right from delivery, coming up with categories, bringing experiences in house, also giving people a chance to spend time together and with food, for instance our Smoke House Deli DIY Kits gave families a chance to come together to cook and get that comfortable tasty restaurant food at home. With the DIY Kits, customers could recreate classics from the menu such as Burgers, Pastas, marinated mains Pizza’s and Hot Chocolates.
We focused on emotions and consumer responses to our various activations and getting our products entailed and enriched within that. Another thing that our brand stands for is community, so we thought of ways to serve our communities, like music and programming. From the beginning of the lockdown we started an activation called SOCIAL Indoors, where our partnering musicians started going live from our digital handles, with the idea of keeping people entertained while they are in their houses. We also ventured into something called antiSOCIAL Live Sessions, where we created digital IP’s with artists, bands and comedians and streamed it live from our digital handles. We tied up with Budweiser and curated a special Friday Menu, creating a complete experiential at home.
We have recently come up with something very exciting called the SOCIAL Party Starter, where we are curating parties for people inside their homes, along with providing food, beverages, we also offer a bartender who creates cocktails using the SOCIAL Mixers and special curated playlists. The idea was to keep providing quality experiences to the customers, irrespective of the lockdown. The tech enabled platform, which I spoke about earlier, also fitted in quite well here, providing a platform to our own people and get them entailed by creating our own delivery fleet. We are thinking about everyone, our customers, and our staff and about how to go through this experience through maximum perseverance while reassuring our customers about quality, hygiene and safety and understanding what is important to them. For instance, in the case of our customers, it’s important for them to know how food is being prepared and we ensure that we follow all the measures and communicate it to them during deliveries. These are some of the ways we have effectively used the lockdown period.
What will be your communication strategy post lock down?
Our strategy post the lockdown will be to build a lot of reassurance, while conveying the message to people that we are taking all the precautions and have opened our outlets following all the safety norms. Whether it’s social distancing, checking if people are wearing their masks, ensuring our outlets are clean, hygienic. Even if it means we have to keep lesser tables, have less people at our outlets, we will take care of complete safety. The idea is to provide a place where people can come without a worry while understanding that we are cautious. Reassuring, communicating, and being transparent at each point in the restaurant so that they can still have their experience that they used to get before the pandemic.
Where do you see this venture in the next 3 years?
I think this answer does get impacted by what we are going through right now in terms of the pandemic, nobody is clear when things will open up and what will circumstances be like, once they do. The vision for the company for the next few years was definitely to expand, to keep curating special cafe experiences for our customers. With SOCIAL, as a brand, the idea was to reach smaller cities, to give the same SOCIAL Offline experience to people, wherever they are, and serve the local creative communities, the way we have been doing while taking care of things like being the benchmark in the industry, in terms of digitizing or creating unique experiences. That is still a vision for the brand but we have to navigate our way post the pandemic. Overall as an organization, we are extremely in sync with what’s happening around and we will accommodate our views whenever required while keeping the brand philosophy intact.