Serving experience on a platter
You live through your dreams and then you help other people to turn their dreams into reality. Ravi Wazir, principal consultant, Phoenix Hospitality Solutions, fulfilled his childhood dream of working in hospitality sector, managed his own catering business, authored a book and now advises people in hospitality business-among other things, why humour is invaluable. In conversation with YourStory he unwinds his journey and shares valuable consumer insights of food business.
As a child, I used to visit my paternal grandfather in Pahalgam, Kashmir, during my summer vacations. Horses, rivers, mountains, natural springs... The very mention of Kashmir brings back these precious memories to life. But, one image remains etched in my mind forever is that of my grandfather and his hotel. Mountview Hotel as it was known was quite popular then with the middle class traveler.
There were days when guests used to fall ill, tourists wanted to visit shops in the locality for authentic traditional items, visitors got hurt due to being overly adventurous, or some travelers simply desired to enjoy local hospitality. Regardless of what happened, my grandfather was always there for his guests. The pride and sensitivity with which he cared for them was remarkable. This was my initiation into hospitality and I knew very quickly that this is what I would like to do for a living.
Back home in Mumbai, on my first application to the coveted IHM Dadar, I failed the entrance exam. I was forced to settle for the one year course at YMCA International House at Bombay Central. During this time, I lost my father who had gone to help his ailing father with the family hotel business. Soon afterwards, insurgency forced my grandfather to sell off his hotel. Suddenly, at 17, I was without a career and bereft of my father’s guidance. Still, i knew that hospitality would always be my calling.
I applied once again for admission to IHM. This time I went prepared and got through. After graduating in '88, I worked as an employee for the first few years and realised that there was huge demand for institutional catering. The few suppliers that existed at the time were either housewives or one or two professional organizations like Radha Krishna Hospitality Services. I decided to fill the gap and started Sun Catering Services in 1996.
I set-up a kitchen and marketed meal options to two sets of target clients – companies that provided meals to their executives and executives in their individual capacities. Under the brand name Sun Catering Services, I offered “ghar ka khana” as my USP. They loved it! Within two years I had developed a reasonably good patron base but not enough. I needed to increase my sales and opted to do so by expanding my product offering to include party catering to the menu. To my surprise, my fiercely loyal corporate clients were less co-operative than I had hoped and gave me fewer opportunities than I needed to cover their parties.
On probing further, I discovered that it was their perception which prevented them from doing so... the perception that “ghar ka khana” was my specialty and not party catering. Ironically, it was with years of effort that I had established “ghar ka khana” as the differentiator in their mind. Now even I couldn't alter this perception! Three years down the line, I found myself unable to take the business forward adequately. After a lot of consultation with my mentors, I decided that the only thing to do was to wind up the business.
My experience in business taught me many things: the concept of capacity utilization, the power of consumer perception, the value of time, the meaning of opportunity cost, the impact of an employee's expense account on the business, and loads of other things that I could never have learnt so well in either a classroom or while working for a company.
I subsequently felt that if I wasn't doing business myself, the next best thing would be to help those who were. I thus decided to help entrepreneurs whom my experience would benefit. I went back to work as an employee with a renewed passion and did the best I could... leading teams, developing business models, influencing work cultures, driving my employer's initiatives. One particular employment option in late 2003, evolved into a consulting opportunity.
Juggling the demands of multiple entrepreneurs for brief periods of time as a consultant hasn’t been easy. I find that considering the diversity in business styles of each entrepreneur and the pace at which they demand change, a good sense of humor can be invaluable. After all, the industry lives by the mantra of a ready smile and keeping as many customers happy as often as possible.
Along the way, I authored a book on restaurant start-ups, which has been received well by hospitality professionals and captains of industry.
Consultancy, like entrepreneurship comes at a price – the opportunity cost of not having a monthly paycheck... which is something I have learnt to live with. The way I see it is – whether as an employee, consultant, or writer, my main interest lies in helping entrepreneurs succeed!