Retailers have lots of learn from the restaurant experience

Dishoom continues to roll with its bacon naan.

As retailers look to deliver more immersive experiences in-store there is a lot they can learn from the restaurant industry where some operators are creating very rich stories in their venues.

Among them is Indian restaurant chain Dishoom that has been building a successful business initially in London but soon it will have an outpost up in Edinburgh.

Ahead of his presentation at the forthcoming Retail Week Live conference on March 7-8 Shamil Thakrar, co-founder of Dishoom, chatted to Retail Insider: “When customers cross the threshold into our environment they might be leaving a grey rainy King’s Cross but they enter a different world. We take licence to disorientate them and give them a sense of leaving where they were.”

This comes from concentrating on the smallest of details in the interior that fits tightly with a heavily researched story for each restaurant that is built up from extensive research.

“We take the details extremely seriously and write a story for every store. We do research trips to India. We then visit the country again to buy the furniture. Our Kensington restaurant launched as an immersive theatre experience with performances for the first few nights,” he says.

Although Thakrar says “any fool can spend lots of money” and he has tight budgets he admits that there is a decent level of spend committed to each Dishoom unit. This is justified by the high volumes they attract, which gives the venues a “good pounding”. King’s Cross for example does 9,000 covers per week of which 20% is breakfast.

To attract people into an ethnic restaurant throughout the day is unique and Dishoom has fuelled this through the massive early success it enjoyed with its bacon naan roll that continues to pull in the customers.

To achieve the high volumes Thakrar has pitched the prices at a competitive level – that ensures Dishoom fits into the casual dining sector. This has also helped him achieve his aim of building a democratic offering.

“I like to think that Dishoom has some of the best Indian food you can get anywhere and its casual dining. It’s not white tablecloths. We charge the same money as casual places like Carluccio’s. Part of our core value is this democratisation. We care about people mixing. Pret A Manger is similar in this respect – people from hedge funds and students will be eating together,” he says.

Rather like in the retail sector the success of many concepts is partly a result of the founders being newcomers into the industry who naively do things differently. They set themselves apart from the normal.

This has certainly been the case with Dishoom as Thakrar says they have approached things with a Buddhist type of thinking: “There are many possibilities in the beginners’ mind while in the experts mind there are few.”

Glynn Davis, editor of Retail Insider