i’ve been a chef for over three decades now! i trained in chennai and started off with the taj hotel group. i’ve owned nilgiri’s indian restaurant in sydney for over 15 years. i’m on a mission to dispel the myth that indian food is no more than a ‘curry in a hurry’! come with me as i try and educate. indian food is my passion (alongside cricket!) and i’m enjoying exploring the new social media to fulfil this passion! i’ve also published cookery books, been on tv, the radio, won awards! now i’m also moving into making cookery videos. these are simple and easy to follow and don’t go on for hours like some Bollywood movies!
Firstly, a belated happy mother’s day to all the mums of this world!!
Last Sunday at nilgiri’s we had a great time.
The place was buzzing with action even on Saturday evening. We had a full house booked for Mother’s day lunch and dinner on Sunday. This has not happened here since 2009.
On Saturday night, my stalwart, Deepak, wouldn’t let me take any more bookings.
“Not a single table is free chef.” Deepak told me “So please do not take any more bookings.” These were his clear instructions to everyone, but especially me! He meant it. We were full.
I am very lucky. I have a great team, both in front and at back of house. They even tell me what to do and certainly what not to do!
The chefs in nilgiri’s kitchen are masters in their own field. They just go about doing their job.
Well no, it is not a job for them. They live to cook, it is their passion!! How bl..y lucky am I?
From passion comes energy and with that energy my kitchens buzz.
So, Sunday begins perfectly as there are no cancellations, no last-minute hiccups and no staff calling in sick. Even the kitchen hands are here on time and pumped up, raring to go.
This is going to be a ‘cracker’ of a day. I can feel it in my bones!!
We have a private party upstairs, in our main dining room, and they have asked for a Bengali menu. Hey, that’s no problem. This is what we specialise in at nilgiri’s, ethnic Indian food from every region!!
The four private rooms: jal, agni, bhoomi and vavu are also booked and they are having the “Mother’s day special menu”. The food is to be served in each of the rooms which means each room requires its own waiter. But no, this isn’t a problem at all. It’s a situation I like!!
Akash, downstairs, is booked out as well and we have a buffet here too.
I’m happy because I know that all the chefs are in complete control of their work. There is no panic and no one is running around like a headless ch..k! Everything is under control and working smoothly and busily.
It’s 11.50 am, Sunday and Akhil and all the wait staff are in their designated areas and ready to go. The chefs are all in position! They have organised their work stations, prepared everything and waiting for the orders. This is just another game of cricket for them!!
Time ticks on and it’s now 12.00 pm, sharp.
In walk the first diners to take their table and then the second, and so it goes on. . .
The weather outside is bright, crisp and sunny and inside it’s warm, glowing and full with the sound of chatter. Mums or grandmothers are being given presents. I like this feeling!
Soon the guests for the upstairs private function room are also trickling in.
I can hear Jagjit Singh and Chitra Singh singing the slow and melodious Hosh Walo Ko Khabar Kya. . . on the music system.
Oh, this song! I am having a great time as this day, and this song, make me feel youthful!
I go around the restaurant to make sure all systems are working well when Kabir, at the reception, informs me that the private room upstairs, booked for 12 people, has not turned up. They were supposed to be here by 12.30 pm. It is now nearing 1 pm.
I ask Kabir to call them up to check how far away are they from the restaurant. Kabir tells me he has already done that and there is no response.
“That’s alright.” I say to him hoping against all hopes that they turn up. And it’s back to business. Time moves on and still the private room guests do not come.
I run a small business with a good reputation. Why does nilgiri’s have a good reputation? Because my great team and I rely on my customers to pay so that I can pay my team. And, so the circle continues and nilgiri’s good reputation is maintained.
Unfortunately, some people just don’t seem to understand this.
Sadly, it is becoming a regular feature in Sydney to have around 10 to 15 seats of confirmed bookings not turn up on a given day and I respect my customers too much to not ‘overbook’ the restaurant.
Can you imagine? You ring to book a table at a restaurant for a big group, or for four, and then you don’t bother going. You don’t even have the courtesy to inform the restaurant.
But these no-shows are more than just loss of revenue for the business (they could well have been our profit for the day) but it is also about the loss of confidence for my staff.
It’s disheartening for my staff to be let-down by the the ‘no-shows’. They take their job seriously and would like to be treated with respect. If I can’t make a date with someone, for whatever reason, I let them know. Easy!
Just like a few of our regulars who could not make it this year. They made bookings and then called up to say that they were unable to come, for whatever reason. The key is that they called before we had to call them.
These people give me hope. They (and you know who you are!) are the people who have an appreciation/respect of what we do and who will always call up a few days before the event or as soon as they know they can’t make it.
For me, every staff member in my restaurant is like my partner (yes, even if it’s a junior partner) and is assigned an area of the business to look after as if it were his own.
This means that they run that area of the business, such as looking after the needs of the guest and making sure that they are happy and will return.
My staff are also given a figure to work around (called average spend) which is important and helps the business pay its bills.
This style of operation has worked for us and the staff as it helps them become entrepreneurs rather than just workers. If they are proud of their work and can see benefits in working professionally, well, as we all know, the rest follows. It’s not rocket science!
Of course, there are incentives for all but most work to achieve their target and not the incentive. This is their time to learn, there is plenty of time to earn after being with me!
So. let’s get on with the day.
Every guest is happy with the food and the service (it really helps when you get these two things right!).
But no time to rest. Let’s get ready for dinner.
Ah well, dear reader dinner is another game. But I’m sure you can guess. Yes, the storyline is very similar.
Another table of 6 people and two tables of 4 do not turn up. No show!
I have no doubt that these 24 people who did not turn up must have a genuine reason for not having come. We’re all busy, unforeseen events arise. But for twenty-four people?
However, in the back of my mind I have doubts in believing this because all they had to do was call us, and none of them did! How amazing is that?
We could have given the table away to someone who was keen to dine in my restaurant.
In my business the most perishable commodity is, no, not the food or the beverages in the restaurant. I know, you were thinking paneer or fresh vegetables, right?!
But it’s the seats. If there are no bu–s on seats there is no bl..dy restaurant, this is not a hard concept to understand and as my friend, John, says it is as ‘clear as mud!!
So friends and lovers of good food, my restaurant, nilgiri’s is a part of a journey that started in India a long time ago and is still going.
Every day is a page added to this unfinished book. What’s the next chapter going to be? Where is it going to be set? Well, I can’t tell you that yet, but as I turn another leaf over, I hope you’ll be there with me.
I hear Jagjit Singh and Chitra Singh singing in the background Safar mein dhoop to hogi……..!!
Anah daata sukhi bhaava!!