Takeaway

How Novotel floated its cloud kitchens

Vinay Kamath | Updated on August 11, 2021

Fresh to home: Kooxtails, Novotel’s home-delivered cocktails priced at ₹1,999 a box, averaged sales of four-to-five boxes a day last year

The Accor group hotel beat lockdown blues with some smart pivots

* The cocktail mixes, branded Kooxtails, are an offering from Novotel’s restaurant called Koox and part of Novotel’s Covid-lockdown pivot, were launched in April 2020

* Prior to the first lockdown in March 2020, Novotel, part of the Accor group, on Chamiers Road, in the heart of Chennai, was planning to up its food takeaway game

* “There is undoubtedly lesser cost involved in takeaways and delivery due to many aspects such as energy costs, manpower and so on,” adds Supreet Roy

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There’s an array of cartons strewn on the table. The boxes are in all sizes, from large ones to small, compact ones. Supreet Roy picks up one of the small boxes and flips the lid open. Inside, test tubes are neatly arrangedwith different coloured liquids. Roy, Novotel Chennai’s general manager, hastens to add that it’s not a chemistry experiment afoot but ready-to-make cocktail concoctions. One can have a choice of either a lavender gimlet or a red fire Mexican Margarita or even a peach-and-mint martini. Or, if one doesn’t want alcohol, the mixes can be turned into refreshing mocktails. The box has four types of concoctions which will make 16 cocktails in all. Drink recipes and serving tips are mentioned inside the box as well.

Supreet Roy, General Manager, Novotel Chennai

 

“The recipes are here, the drinks mixes are here and so are the garnishes; you can add your alcohol, put some ice and shake and it’s ready. Sitting at home you can make your own cocktails and enjoy a good evening with your family,” says the affable Roy. The cocktail mixes, branded Kooxtails, are an offering from Novotel’s restaurant called Koox and part of Novotel’s Covid-lockdown pivot, were launched in April 2020, to keep its kitchens busy and also cater to its loyal customers cooped up at home. Kooxtails, priced at ₹1,999 a box, averaged sales of four-to-five boxes a day last year and this year, with more in-dining allowed, around two-three boxes a day.

Along the way, Novotel also launched more fare such as cloud kitchens: The Degh Story was unveiled a few months ago for Indian cuisine, specifically Lucknowi; Fudged, a range of sugar-free desserts; Tossed, which offers do-it-yourself pastas and pizzas; and Cake Boutique, an exclusive cakes brand. On the anvil too are an Asian kitchen, and a beverage brand of drinks as well.

Roy reaches for another small carton; this is the sushi box, he says. Sushi is an important part of the cuisine at Koox and at its peak was selling 400 portions a month. The lockdown hampered the sushi offering only temporarily as the demand for its delivery went up. Now, the sushi is very delicate and a little shake can unravel it. “We measured the size of the sushi, and the boxes have been designed accordingly. This has been done to ensure that the sushis don’t get damaged during delivery,” explains Roy of the precision involved. Each box contains eight pieces of sushi, along with soy sauce in a glass bottle, wasabi and gari. “We also provide table mats and chopsticks depending upon the number of people dining,” he adds. Novotel has delivered over 200 boxes of sushi till date.

Roy’s cloud kitchen plans were no up-in-the-clouds plan. Prior to the first lockdown in March 2020, Novotel, part of the Accor group, on Chamiers Road, in the heart of Chennai, was planning to up its food takeaway game. “We wanted to make our food more popular in the city because in a city hotel you can only make your mark with F&B; we were strong in food and I come from an F&B background,” elaborates Roy.

The sudden lockdown had hotels scrambling for business but the pre-planning helped Novotel. During the first lockdown, Novotel found a lot of its regular guests calling and asking for food delivery. The hotel does business with many of the consulates in Chennai and a few of the guests were asking for food deliveries as their cooks contracted Covid-19. “Then a few started asking for ingredients, some asked for recipes and we wondered what to do with such requests. One morning, I saw my daughter doing DIY boxes with paints as part of a game and then I had a brainwave to come up with DIY kits for the hotel. We started with ravioli and pastas as they are popular options,” Roy explains. Also, amateur cooks experienced the joy of putting together a hot meal!

Soon, its DIY boxes became popular with Novotel’s clientele. “We wanted to do a proper business. It’s just a 10 -minute job once you receive the box. If you send the food all assembled, the taste will not be the same, as it may get soggy with the sauce and it also gets cold. If you try warming it may overcook and you won’t get the flavours,” he explains. The DIY kit is cheaper than what is charged in the restaurant for a sit-down meal.

Roy gestures to all the different boxes on the table. Each of the cloud kitchens have their own set of boxes. Roy and his team worked many months with suppliers to get it right as the boxes are made from sugarcane molasses and paper to minimize the use of plastic.

Each of the cloud kitchens launched during the pandemic took a lot of thought. For The Degh Story, Roy and his team of chefs researched for several months. “Just to understand what is not there in the city, I took out menus of different restaurants, looked at the gaps; saw what’s not on offer,” says Roy. Kebabs is the core of The Degh Story along with signature dals. The chefs are also working on a unique gosht ka halwa, which will be a special dish from the kitchen.

The cloud kitchens and deliveries and takeaways are working well for Novotel as Roy says revenue from it has been fairly substantial since it launched during the first lockdown. With no extra capital expenses for a dark kitchen, the profitability is much higher: In Novotel’s case, at least 7-8 per cent higher for its cloud kitchens over a restaurant kitchen. “There is undoubtedly lesser cost involved in takeaways and delivery due to many aspects such as energy costs, manpower and so on,” adds Roy.

Novotel, emphasises Roy, would plan to keep both its in-dining restaurant business and the cloud kitchen operations on parallel tracks. Revenues from the latter have been fairly substantial from launch. “We have seen good success and we have to look at our dark kitchens as a permanent thing. We will have a full fledged counter, a dispense counter and a takeaway. We see a good future in this,” he says, as there are enough number of people in the city who want to come out and dine and another lot who don’t want to come out but want good food. “We are trying to give the best to both and all requires an alignment of resources and it’s a good enterprise to be in. Whenever there is a lockdown we can smoothly transition to the other enterprise,” Roy points out.

Novotel’s director, sales, Gaurav Ganapathy points out that when it started the takeaway, it was thought that only the regular guests would be interested but then they discovered that even corporates were keen on takeaway food as a treat to their employees. “We did 460 boxes of lunch for one corporate; a lunch order which the company sponsored for their employees,” he says. Takeaway pizzas are also frequent orders from corporates who want it for their employees who work in the night shifts. “One night, we have delivered 90 pizzas to one corporate in 120 minutes!” Then there are the regulars, who are on a ‘subscription’ and get three meals delivered a day too.

Ask Roy if one of the hotel’s cloud kitchen brands can become a full-fledged restaurant, he says yes, emphatically and he’s moving towards that. “But I am not sure if I want to make it on premises or off-premises. We may make it off-premise under the Novotel brand. I want to perhaps make a The Degh Story somewhere else and that becomes another venue for me,” he says. That could be a Novotel first.

Published on August 11, 2021

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