Waiter, one documentary film please

Sep 02, 2012, 08:38 IST | Phorum Dalal

It's not easy being in the food business, as any restaurateur will tell you. That's probably why, in addition to concentrating on the food, city eateries are plating up entertainment � from documentary screenings to stand-up comedy gigs � sometimes even free of cost, in an attempt to build a community of patrons and up footfalls

Last month, 28 year-old Vinay Lalwani walked into his favourite restaurant at Andheri (W) around 7 pm. He ordered his regular drink and shared a few light moments with his friends as he sat back in his chair, loosening up to the music in the background. By 8 pm, all orders were halted and pin drop silence replaced the high decibels of chatter and music. Stand-up comedian Vir Das took to the stage and the next hour was punctuated by timely giggles and laughter following Das’s humourous punches. 

A poetry slam at Cafe Zoe last month

The event saw numbers at Apicius swelling to 200 people. At 8 pm, doors had to be closed to stop entry due to overcrowding. “We made around Rs 2 to 3 lakh,” smiles 25 year-old Atirek Garg, owner of Apicius. Like Andheri-based Lalwani, most customers that night were more than happy to eat their dinner to the accompaniment of Das. “It’s nice having an evening double up as one that includes dinner and a performance. I don’t have to beat traffic to reach an event venue, watch the show, and navigate traffic once again to find a place to eat. Once I’ve walked into a restaurant that has a performance, my evening is sorted,” says the agriculturist.

Vir Das performed at Apicius in Andheri (west) last Thursday. Pic/Sunil Tiwari

“Performing at a restaurant is an entirely different experience compared to 1,000 to 2,000-seater auditoriums. When the space is smaller, it gives me the opportunity for quirky, experimental acts,” says Das, whose second performance at the venue was called Cardinal Penguin — a script-less act on the lines of popular TV show Whose Line is it Anyway — last Thursday. He adds that this is cost-effective too, as all a performer requires is a makeshift stage and micro speakers.

A performance for dessert
Apicius is not alone. In the past six months, along with great food and service, eateries in the city have been serving Mumbaiites various forms of entertainment to complete their experience. City restaurateurs are welcoming the increase in footfalls and the buzz generated around their venue that comes with these extras. On offer are music documentary screenings, stand-up comedy acts, workshops, seminars and book clubs. According to Shruti Seth, owner of event management company, My Company, “The lines are blurring. Now, attending an event, eating good food and enjoying a few drinks with friends is all being seen as one big experience. People are coming to restaurants to grab a drink, enjoy a sit-down dinner and expect entertainment. Auditoriums confine you to your seat, so this is a great move by restaurants. They’re offering a complete experience,” she feels.

Nikhil Dsouza performs an unplugged set at Chez Moi, Bandra early this year

That could explain why all-day restaurants, such as 36 Oak and Barley at Kemps Corner, are transforming their dull hours into performance hours. “We realised that people in the vicinity have nothing to do between 4 and 7pm. All we have is a bookstore. Women and kids want to get out, learn something new and take part in interesting get-togethers,” says owner and chef Nachiket Shetye. That’s why it screened Echoes, a documentary by Satya Rath on August 19, and hosted a naturopathy workshop by nutritionist Charmaine on D’souza August 26.

“These events bring us more customers, and it is also an opportunity to give back to the neighbourhood. If the speakers do not charge a fee, we keep the event free. We create special menus for these events, which are attended by upto 50 people at a time,” adds Shetye. Similarly, Aman Dua, owner of Chez Moi in Bandra, created the package One Night Only last November. “We ask artistes to do something they have never done before. Our events have included Nikhil Dsouza doing an unplugged set and Ankur Tewari singing songs he had written in school and college that had never before been performed.

A lecture on nutrition at 36 Oak and Barley was held in August

Sid Coutto attempted an impromptu music night with only a guitar and a loop machine. He randomly asked people in the audience about themselves, their lives, their day and instantly came up with a song on them,” says Dua, adding that they see a rotating audience of about 70-100 covers in one
evening. Dua doesn’t charge an extra fee but considers these nights marketing tools. “Each event attracts its audience, helping the restaurant reach out to a wider audience across all spectrums,” he feels. He chose a music-based event because “you can’t go wrong with it.”

Food remains main course
But eateries, restaurants and resto-bars haven’t forgotten that their main draw is good food. Café Zoe at Lower Parel doesn’t do music gigs, but it opens itself to outsiders who want to host a unique event — be it a book club, a lecture or a poetry slam. However, Tarini Mohindar, co-owner, is quick to add, “We are a restaurant first. Our idea is to create a neighbourhood space where people can converge as a community. We want more people walking in as regulars, and having the freedom to explore anything of their interest. Many people have approached us, asking for permission to conduct events, and we are happy to let them do so till 8 pm.”

Cashing in on the footfalls, goodwill and buzz resulting from these events is all good, but restaurateur Bruno Loosli, CEO, MARS Enterprise, sounds a word of caution. “While it is true that restaurants realise that they will lose out on patrons to venues like Comedy Store that offer both food and entertainment, it can also backfire if the event is not managed professionally, and the performer in question is not a crowd puller. At the end of the day, the entertainment offered should not clash with or overshadow the star of the show — the food.”

What’s coming up where
September 2
At the Sunday brunch at Out of the Blue, Powai activities such as storytelling, art and craft, and coffee cup reading are organised.
At: Level 1, Haiko Place, Hiranandani Gardens, Powai

September 5
Workshop by gynaecologist Dr Kiran Coelho Of Hinduja Healthcare Surgical on Women’s Health the Through Ages
At: 36 Oak&Barley, Kemps Corner

September 6
An interactive session on Feng Shui by Dr Kalania
At: 36 Oak&Barley, Kemps Corner

October 6
Wedding Planning Workshop by Wedding Planning experts, Sushil Wadhwa and Priti Sidhwani
At: 36 Oak&Barley, Kemps Corner  

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