Priya Ramani’s recent piece on how a Bangalore Dosa Chain went viral referenced this long read in the Mint from early last year, which talks about a fairly successful restaurant concept unique to the city of Bangalore called Darshini’s.
“Darshinis are a quintessential part of Bengaluru’s food culture—they are casual, no-frills, quick-service restaurants (QSRs); no self-respecting Bengaluru street is complete without at least one darshini…The name darshini itself, unique to Bengaluru, came via a curious route—part of a brand name that later became a generic term. While similar establishments had existed for decades before the term emerged in the 1980s, it was Cafe Darshini, a QSR-style restaurant inspired by the McDonald’s of the world, that launched the term, and with it came a host of new eateries with similar names—Ganesha Darshini, Sri Krishna Darshini, Sri Darshini Veg, Indira Darshini.
Eventually, the term came to mean a specific kind of casual dining restaurant—it was codified into official city terminology when the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) started issuing licences for “darshini type hotels” in the mid-2000s.”
Whilst the restaurant industry is known for high fatality rates, Darshinis have defied that given the quick turnarounds enabling high asset turns for the owners. However, given Bangalore’s status as a home for the most Indian start ups trying to disrupt the status quo, the article focuses on how the darshini model is also being reimagined.
“Always class-agnostic spaces where blue- and white-collar workers, retirees and home-makers stand shoulder-to-shoulder without a thought, the gentrification of darshinis has been a gradual but inexorable process as the city changed and even traditional pockets like Jayanagar started seeing a huge influx of students, IT executives and professionals from every sphere. The process started with the likes of Bengaluru Cafe, Taaza Thindi and South Kitchen adopting more Westernised names and deliberately rustic décor, along with a corporatised management style and greater emphasis on hygiene and standardisation.”
From being managed like a cottage industry with single outlet owners, there is increased focus on efficiencies and scalability.
“Nagesh P.G., one of the partners at the eatery started by his nephews, used to be a foreman and manager at Robert Bosch Engineering and Business Solutions and he tells us how the team has applied process-management solutions and lingo to the business of thindi-making. “FIFO (First In First Out), JIT (Just In Time), CIP (Continuous Improvement Process)—these are all shop-floor concepts that we have applied to the café. We learnt a lot from TPS—Toyota Production System,” says Nagesh. “We have a DIR table at the end of every day—‘Do It Right’, you know—where we go over the day’s activities…what went wrong, what could be done better,” he adds, before taking a peek into a waste-bin nearby—“that will tell you more than anything else what customers are liking and not liking”.
Applying process and inventory management systems to running a darshini is what we would call a “Peak Bengaluru moment” and an indicator of how the business is transforming.”
The biggest disruptor so far has been The Rameshwaram Café:
“The Rameshwaram café @ Brookefield—a 14,000 sq. ft space with a garden area, a cavernous inner hall and a serious-looking open kitchen where uniformed cooks and kitchen staff serve specific dishes from assigned points at the counter….Once inside, I walk to one of the digital kiosks in a corner of the hall, using a touch-screen to place my order and pay through UPI. I walk back to the kitchen counter to hand over a printed token, stand in line to take my plate of Ghee Podi Idli, a speciality here, and a masala dosa”
Unlike traditional darshinis popular in old Bangalore areas, Rameshwaram consciously located itself to appeal to the young and tech savvy and accordingly adopted modern marketing techniques as well:
“…has an Instagram page that churns out slickly produced reels and posts. Its outlets are arguably the first darshinis in Bengaluru to take social media by storm—while you will find YouTube videos and Facebook posts about old favourites like Vidyarthi Bhavan, they are usually made by fans, the owners of these places being too old-school to bother with social media.”
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