Shakir Haq, CEO of Empire Group of Restaurants, holds a demonstrated history of working in the hospitality industry. The Empire Restaurant was started back in 1966 by Mr. Abdul Rahim Haji, and now it is carried on by their third generation. It is a unique place, where every creation and every element has its own meaning because they contribute to creating a journey to re-discover the gastronomic culture. The Empire Restaurant has been in the industry for five decades now. It is among the leading restaurant chains in Bangalore with over 31 outlets across Bangalore and Mysore.
In Conversation With Shakir Haq Of The Hotel Empire
In an exclusive conversation with The Restaurant Times, Shakir Haq of Hotel Empire shares his thoughts on the safety measures their restaurant chain adopted during the corona crisis and how restaurants can prepare for the second wave of COVID-19.
Safety Standards Adopted By Hotel Empire During The Crisis
During the initial days of the lockdown, the Empire Hotel created SOPs regarding the COVID-19 situation and how high touchpoints such as the entry and exit of staff members, customer screening, sanitization within the premises, etc., should be maintained. Bringing a change in the backend aspects with training, internal controls, hygiene, and sanitation gave them an excellent opportunity to departmentalize the entire organization.
Shakir mentions that they had to go through a lot of restructuring within the organization. In the pre-COVID times, the group had been operating 35 outlets with over 2700 employees. However, in the current scenario, they are operating 31 outlets with only 1600 employees.
Haq mentions that a significant change in the dining preferences and increasing levels of delivery and takeaway orders lead them to reduce 50% of the seating capacity. Hotel Empire also made many structural changes, changed the outlet timings, and focused on opening those outlets that brought more than 15% of the sales post-midnight.
From the initial days of the lockdown, Shakir says that they equipped the business operations and processes in such a way that they can readily receive customers for walk-ins. The team had multiple brainstorming sessions with large industry players, and Shakir believes that technology was the major deciding factor to bridge the gap.
He emphasized that the sudden surge in dining sales and walk-ins has been mainly because customers have been looking at safe dining options. Hotel Empire implemented measures such as contactless dining and serving food on the trolley where customers can pick up the food on their own to instill confidence in the dining experience.
To communicate the safety standards Empire Hotel had undertaken, the brand has partnered with the famous actor and television host, Danish Sait. The video campaign was a massive success among the Bengaluru locals in communicating the safety standards and rebuilding the trust.
If Wave 2 of COVID-19 comes in India, how does Empire Group plan to handle it?
In case there is a second wave of COVID-19, restaurants need to take precautionary measures in advance. Shakir suggests taking steady measures as the recovery in the restaurant industry will still take a long time. According to Haq, the brand has already analyzed and optimized the impact of costs and forecasted a shift in customer behavior.
These are some of the main areas where the brand plans to lay the most emphasis on in the coming months:
Planning for better financial control
When the business is slowing down, there is a need for better financial support. Hotel Empire has already negotiated better deals with the landlords and received support from vendors and suppliers, thereby positioning themselves better at achieving break-even in the business.
Making delivery business efficient
Shakir Haq believes that delivery and takeaway orders would again observe a huge spike once the festive season is over. The brand is looking forward to increasing the in-house deliveries and creating various promotional activities and campaigns with renowned players in the restaurant business.
Delivering better value to customers
Customer expectations are constantly evolving, and they are now looking at brands that are safe and reliable. Quality of food and service of utmost importance in the restaurant business. Unless that is not right, the restaurant business would not succeed or flourish.
According to Haq, customers are seeking value more than loyalty. He suggests that restaurants must draw a wide range of promotional activities to create an excellent brand recall and position the brand correctly.
Rather than offering a lot of discounts, Hotel Empire is focused on creating more value in the menu and selling what the customers are seeking. Value-added offers such as combos, better meals, and unlimited packages provide better convenience and ease. The brand is also trying to build loyalty programs where customers can be benefitted from value-based points or services.
Key Takeaways for sustaining the restaurant business in 2021
Shakir emphasizes having a positive approach and understanding how one can re-energize the business and establish a better connection with customers and employees. Hiring and sourcing the right people and then looking after them is important with the right welfare programs etc is going to be of extreme importance in the coming years. Shakir also mentions that the Empire group is looking at ways to recycle kitchen waste and plastic waste to save costs and conserve the environment at the same time. The brand also aims at eliminating plastic in the next 5 years.
Haq strongly believes in implementing adaptive changes to bring more relevance and convenience for customers as well as sorting out the structural problems in advance to be able to sustain the business and reach break-even quickly!
Watch Shakir Haq in an exclusive F&B Talks session with The Restaurant Times.