Monday, 5 May 2014

DLF, Don't Kill A Great Idea With Growth That You're Finding Hard To Manage

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

LAST NIGHT, the Cyber Hub, DLF's 'food mall' that's got Delhi-NCR talking because of restaurants such as Made in Punjab, Dhaba by Claridges, Sodabottleopenerwala and Zambar, not to forget Soi 7 and Nando's, ran out of gas. Literally, not metaphorically. Thousands of diners (someone estimated the number to be 10,000), as a result, had to go back without a meal, which must have come as a rude jolt for patrons, especially those who had come from distant parts of Delhi. The water supply too dried up, so what was a bustling Cyber Hub turned into a ghost of itself by the late evening. After the recent excise raids on a couple of popular watering holes at the Cyber Hub that led them to stop serving alcohol in the open areas,  this was yet another round of avoidable bad news.
Gas and water supply problems at Gurgaon's
Cyber Hub follow excise raids on certain
restaurants and compound the problems of the
establishments at the DLF showpiece 'food
mall'. Image: Courtesy of

Imagine the plight of the people being told in the middle of a meal that their restaurant cannot serve them anymore because the piped nature gas (PNG) supply was playing truant. For a newbie foodie hub, it couldn't have been a greater public relations disaster. The 'perception damage' caused by the episode may leave a lasting impact on the sales figures of Cyber Hub restaurants, which were on a high because of the intense public interest in the venue and its offerings. If that happens, it'll be a sad day for a great idea.
Did DLF not anticipate the volume of PNG and water likely to be used after the Cyber Hub came up? Or worse, did it not care? A food mall initially designed to house 42 outlets, already has 45, and counting (the latest additions being Quiznos, the American quick service restaurant brand famous for its toasted subs, and Spanish Chef Nuria Rodriguez's Imperfecto). And many more, including Farzi Cafe, Smokey's, Cafe Delhi Heights, Amici Cafe and Raasta, are slated to open in the coming months (and DLF, I believe, is charging them higher rentals).
Can Cyber Hub accommodate so many new restaurants without pausing to take stock of the infrastructure? Cyber Hub restaurants, I am told, are paying up to Rs 1.5 lakh a month for their PNG supply and they are not allowed under Indraprastha Gas Limited rules to keep regular LPG cylinders as backup. Those with tandoors can tide over, to an extent, such emergencies, but what about restaurants that don't have this safety net?
When I first put up a post about Cyber Hub gas crisis on the Indian Restaurant Spy page on Facebook, Arun Kumar TR, Zambar's Master Chef, was the first to respond and his posts are heart-rending. His first: "This is not the first time ... Kills the concept ... What do we tell customers? No gas!!!" His second: "It has happened before too! The day we opened ... full house and resulted in a huge backlash! Customers are not interested in explanations." His third: "Tonight all over ... Cyber Hub has emptied out."
Zorawar Kalra, Managing Director of Massive Restaurants, voiced the concern that was yet to be expressed. "This has happened multiple times," he posted. "Made in Punjab is still able to serve tandoori items, but I feel real sorry for my fellow restaurateurs as they end up with nothing to serve and lose sales on one of the most important nights -- Sunday. The cost implications are huge."
If this has been happening "multiple times", what has DLF done about it? And more importantly, does it plan to compensate the restaurateurs who have turned the Cyber Hub into the real estate giant's most successful public venture yet? One of my most ardent commentators, Anurag Mehrotra, who has recently relocated to Atlanta from Gurgaon, said it all when he posted: "Farmers don't get water, factories don't get electricity, restaurants don't get gas. Welcome to India!"